In this edition of The Forgotten, Steve Parkes (Cinema Cope) explains why Super (James Gunn, 2010), an underrated super hero movie of sorts (which was dwarfed by bigger films released around the same time) is worth a watch. Thanks for sharing this film with us Steve. [Ed]
Around 2009/10 at least four Superhero-as-vigilante films came out, including the completely forgotten Defendor (with Woody Harrelson and Kat Dennings), and the most successful of them, Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass, based on the Mark Millar comic book series.
I enjoyed Kick-Ass, but the best of these movies is the nearly forgotten Super. If Super is on some people’s radar at all at the moment, that’s probably because it gets the occasional mention in articles about its writer/director, James Gunn. Gunn is getting a lot of attention at the moment thanks to the success of Guardians of the Galaxy. Prior to Guardians, he had only directed Super, and the 80s-set horror-comedy Slither.
Super premiered at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival (coincidently, where this blog’s editor is off to right now), to mixed reviews. It has about a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and only made approximately $330,000 at the box office. One of the few people who did see it was Avengers helmer Joss Whedon, who liked it enough to recommend it to Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige. Sometime later, Gunn was on board to direct Guardians, a risk that has paid off for Marvel as it has become the highest grossing film at the US domestic box office this year.
Super is a grittier, cheaper, and darker version of the superhero vigilante story than Kick-Ass. Kick-Ass is sometimes described as a black comedy, but it’s soy latte decaf satire compared to Super’s double espresso.
Underneath Kick-Ass’ cavalcade of action/comedy violence there’s quite a positive and simple message – essentially, life is worth living so don’t be cynical. In a way, Super has that message too, nuzzled somewhere deep down amongst its nuanced takes on pathetic Superhero fanboy obsession, vigilante justice and moral standards, and a character study of a really sad, psychologically disturbed character. That character is the protagonist Frank (Rainn Wilson), who’s much more troubled than the usual geeky lead characters in these types of movies. There are plenty of other seriously flawed characters in the film – well, virtually everybody actually.
Frank is a cook at a grubby diner, living a bland suburban existence. He has had two perfect moments in his life: his wedding day (he married Sarah, played by Liv Tyler), and the time he pointed a cop in the right direction to help catch a crook. He records these two perfect moments by drawing a crude picture for each, and pinning them to his bedroom wall.
His wife Sarah is a recovering drug addict, and found Frank to be a comforting, stabilising influence. However, once she is drawn back to her addictions, she leaves him for the more exiting (and more drug fuelled) life with Jacques (a super-slimy Kevin Bacon). Following a bizarre vision Frank has after watching late night religious programming, Frank decides he as a calling to become a superhero: the Crimson Bolt.
He eventually teams up with a woman from the local comic book store, Libby (Ellen Page), who turns out to be more superhero vigilante obsessed, and overall slightly nuttier, than Frank. Frank’s own “crime fighting” as Crimson Bolt borders on petty, personal revenge. Even when public opinion swings in his favour, there’s luck involved. Some of the people he attacked vigilante style turned out to have some serious felony arrest records, including child molestation. Were it not for that, he may have been seen only as a random nut. But even Frank is shocked at Boltie’s demented commitment to ‘beating crime’.
Super is a genuinely dark, violent comedy (it went unrated in the US cinema release) with a peculiar tone. It is, as they say, not to everyone’s taste. For example, it features one of the most awkward sex scenes in film, followed immediately by Frank seeing another vision in his vomit. Guardians of the Galaxy this isn’t.
It is, however, a dark yet honest and quite clearly heartfelt story from Gunn. He’s claimed to really get what it feels like to be an ‘outsider’, and Super demonstrates that well.
Even some of the critics who reviewed Super favourably found fault with the ending, indicating that it was a little too pat. I found this reaction strange. The ending to me was finely balanced and bittersweet. It added to my list of perfect moments.