Why in the blue hell didn’t I make this review No.50? It’s either because I wanted the 50th review to be a bit of a joke or that I watched this after I watched Mortal Kombat Annihilation and so this is the order it is reviewed in. The answer is actually a little of both. Hey, did you know that James Gunn wrote the Scooby Doo movie? It’s pretty cool when some guy known for more adult movies suddenly takes on a kids film. Brian Yuzna (Director of Faust and the Reanimator sequels) wrote Honey I Shrunk The Kids. How do these guys get jobs writing kids films? At what point did the producers of Scooby Doo go “You know who should write this? That James Gunn guy that did Tromeo and Juliet.”? Anyway.. read the review.
I think in order to get where Super came from you need to know the director. James Gunn has always displayed an anarchic edge to his work. Scooby Doo had enough gags for the adults who grew up watching the cartoons, the Dawn Of The Dead remake avoided trying to be a similar social commentary to the original film and instead focused on intensity and Slither put slugs on Elizabeth Banks. His work always seems to manage to be both fun and at least a little smarter than you’d expect. In this respect Super is at the extremes of fun and intelligence.
Super tells the story of a man named Frank (Rainn Wilson) who in his life claims to have only experienced two perfect moments. The first being his wedding day to his way too hot for him wife Sarah and the second being the day he helped and officer of the law chase doing a criminal. After Sarah leaves him for her drug pedaling boss Jaques (Kevin Bacon) Frank enters a spiral of gloom. He prays to God to guide him in what he should do and after being caressed by the slippery wetness of a half dozen tentacles and having his brain brushed by the holy one himself Frank comes to the conclusion that he needs to fight crime and rescue his wife. Along the way he meets Libby (Ellen Page) who works in the local comic book store and she eventually joins him as his kid sidekick Boltie.
It would be all too easy to write this off as a Kick-Ass clone. Fact is this has a hell of a lot more going on on every level than Kick-Ass. Don’t get me wrong, Kick-Ass is a damn enjoyable film that has a little bit of smarts to let your brain chew on. Super is a full blown 4 course meal by comparison. It raises questions of faith, mental stability, violence, love, the loss of love and manages to flip between being heartwarming and genuinely disturbing at a moments notice. This is a film that deserves discussion and I think even should be studied at film schools. There’s just too much going on for it to be written off as a little cult Kick-Ass clone. This story is as much about a man becoming a hero as it is about a man coping with the departure of his wife. It is as much about the delusions of a mad man as it is about coping with a self identifiable weakness.
Frank’s wife Sarah (Live Tyler) is a recovering junkie. After leaving Frank she appears to be working at a strip club owned by Jaques, presumably to fund her drug habit. We see via a flashback that she ended up with Frank when he was there for her during her recovery from the drug abuse that sent her to jail. Frank was a safety net that she needed and she maybe took it too far by actually marrying him and by the time she’s left him she’s realised he isn’t the one for her and has slipped back to drugs. Frank, of course, doesn’t see this. All he pieces together is that Jaques has stolen her from him and is keeping her drugged up. We see all the same things Frank see’s in this relationship but because he is clearly a little unhinged and upset we have an understanding that he does not. Frank is a man who believes he has seen visions from God. He also is not the best planner for his attacks on crime. In the early stages of his new career as a crime fighter people see him as a crazed man brutally attacking random people.
The violence is indeed brutal. Franks weapon of choice as The Crimson Bolt is a pipe wrench which he uses to head splitting effect. As the film progresses he steps further towards going too far. the final act though will have you rooting for him like you wouldn’t believe. it is a bloody, brutal and extremely honest finale. The film never steps outside the realms of realism and because of this the final scenes truly do come as a shock. It’s hard to say just what makes Franks rampage over the course of the film so poignant over the course of the film without describing exactly what goes down in the final 15 minutes but I’ll just say that it’s entirely brilliant.
Every character in this film is a multi-layered and fully rounded person. It’s rare in modern cinema to feel as though these people exist outside of the film to the degree that you could believe they’re real people. Saying that True Grit managed that for me the other day. Maybe there’s a renaissance of actual character writing in cinema coming about. The fact that this is the second genuinely well written film I’ve seen in as many days has left me somewhat hopeful that the days of idiotic filler disposable cinema is coming to an end. For now at least. Cinema always moves around in cycles between flash and substance every 10-15 years.
The direction really deserves some major credit in this film. The last James Gunn film I saw, like many, was Slither. Now Slither is a damn enjoyable film but that’s all it is. Super is art. There’s one scene that as I was watching I was impressed with a very simple piece of camera work. Frank is on his knees crying and praying to God for direction. it’s hard to watch because one thing Rainn Wilson can do really well is play a desperate loser. He looks in mental and physical pain and it’s the sort of thing where if you saw a friend, or even some random guy in that state you’d try not to watch. The camera during this scene shifts from one side of Franks face to the other almost as though it is trying not to look. His face is in held in the centre for a second and then the camera shakily shifts away from him moving his face to the left of the screen. It’s a beautiful shot. If there’s one gripe I have with the camera direction it’s that it utilises hand held shaky cam a little too much in scenes that don’t need it. it’s a modern cinematic trend and I do wonder if some directors have forgotten that sometimes locking the camera and keeping things traditional is just as effective.
The film was made for a miniscule, $2 million and like the film Monsters you can see every penny up on the screen. this is likely thanks to his days working at Troma making films for a fraction of that budget. It’s a marvel just how good the cast is on that budget considering Kevin Bacon alone could probably command $2 million as a wage alone. Everyone gives a strong performance with a special note to Rainn Wilson who has possibly pulled off a career defining piece of work here. It certainly makes up for being in Transformers Revenge Of The Fallen. if anyone stands out it’s Ellen Page who feels a little like she’s trying too hard to be over the top. But maybe that’s exactly what Libby needed to be. It’s hard to imagine her being any other way that’s for sure. Libby is a (not very) closet psychopath. She revels in harming people and literally get’s off on the idea of causing harm and being a costumed crime fighter. She’s not the sort of person someone as close to the edge as Frank should be near. But without her Frank couldn’t complete his goal, he wouldn’t have stood a chance.
I honestly can’t praise this film enough. There’s a few minor issues I’d take but it’s a film that deserves to be watched, rewatched and studied. This is the super hero genre as an art form. it is also a refreshingly complete story that leaves zero room for a pointless sequel. I never ever want to see a comic book or an animated series based on this unless it is drawn by Frank himself (big hands and all) and is pure fantasy. I’m hoping this get’s James Gunn noticed by the guys in power and they start throwing money at his projects in a similar fashion to that of directors like Darren Aronofsky. Gunn deserves, especially after this display, to be allowed to be unrestrained by budget. I get the feeling he’ll have no trouble attracting the top actors to work with him after this. Watch Super and listen to it’s truths and then tell crime to shut up. Just don’t go dressing up in a homemade superhero costume to do it. You’ll get yourself into a whole load of bother if you do.