The real-world superhero genre has been getting a real workout lately. The teenage wish-fulfillment fantasy Kick-Ass is the most recent and high-profile example, but before that, Defendor and Special followed grown, troubled men in homemade costumes as they pursued a life of crime-fighting. Super walks down a similar road to the latter two, but with Kick-Ass's sense of humor and blood spatter, and the path it takes and the place it ends up are both different enough from the rest to make it worth watching. The mid-notch comedic cast helps, with Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page doing their regular things and Kevin Bacon stealing every scene as the alternately hilarious and scary villain, but the film also surprises the audience with its hallucinatory dream sequences and unadorned brutality, which keep things interesting. Plus, as everyone knows, everything tastes better with Bacon.
Wilson plays Frank, a schlubby, slightly dim short-order cook who feels he is losing his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler), a recovering drug addict who is slipping into old habits. When she leaves him for local strip club owner and drug supplier Jock (Kevin Bacon), Frank is in denial for a while, and is then turned away by Sarah (and Jock's goons) when he tries to free her from his control. After watching a little anime tentacle porn and a Bibleman-esque Christian superhero show starring Nathan Fillion, a mental breakdown incorporating both of those elements convinces Frank that God wants him to go out and fight crime. With a weapon (a lug wrench), a codename ("The Crimson Bolt") and a catchphrase ("Shut up, crime!"), Frank starts targeting drug dealers, muggers, molesters and line-cutters, and eventually gets called out in the news... as a violent psychopath. But that doesn't stop Libby (Page), a local comic shop employee and Frank's research assistant, from begging to be his sidekick, Boltie.
The movie, directed by Slither and The Specials director James Gunn, isn't escapist fare like Kick-Ass, where the character finds all the respect he ever wanted by putting on the mask; rather, it's a surreal, disturbing send-up of vigilante flicks like The Punisher, soaked in even more blood and peppered with even more curses than Kick-Ass ever had. Frank is clearly an idiot, as demonstrated when he reports his wife's infidelity to the police, and his crime-fighting is never shown as glamorous -- when unsuccessful, you feel sorry for him, and when successful, you feel sorry for the guy who just got bludgeoned with a wrench. And Libby has something wrong with her, even beyond her sexual predilection for costumes, possibly ADHD or some severe father issues. Their defects are largely played for comedy, but Frank's one-sided conversations with God and Libby's pathetic neediness occasionally come across as sad as they really are. The lesson taught here is that people in costumes are not brave champions of the innocent, they simply have something wrong with them. The climactic, bombastic raid on Jock's stronghold seems like it might almost glorify Frank's lifestyle, but it ultimately takes the remaining bloom off of the rose.
Wilson and Page portray their damaged characters by taking their usual screen personas and amping them up to the nth degree, until one is a bellowing bull moose and the other is a constantly buzzing bumblebee, so if you aren't already a fan of either, this film may not change your mind. Liv Tyler is serviceable as a sleepy junkie who gets a few tender moments in flashbacks, but Bacon is the movie's secret weapon as the scruffy, deceptively mellow criminal who seems to legitimately care for Sarah, but still wants to be seen as a nice guy in Frank's eyes, if at all possible. Add in small roles by Fillion, Michael Rooker (as a goon) and Fringe's Andre Royo (as a fellow cook), and you've got a pretty great cast -- it may not be up to Kick-Ass quality (it's hard to beat Nic Cage, Mark Strong and Chloe Moretz in that movie), but the film's offbeat, indie take on the Big Daddy/Hit-Girl dynamic is worth checking out if you consider yourself a comic-book movie connoisseur.
Did you see Super? Tell us what you thought below, then read more movie reviews here!
What are people saying about your favorite shows and stars right now? Find out with Talk Without Pity, the social media site for real TV fans. See Tweets and Facebook comments in real time and add your own -- all without leaving TWoP. Join the conversation now!