8 July 2011

SUPER- Review

At the end of a strange week in film, comes Super, the new film from Slither helmer James Gunn. Following in the footsteps of last year's Kick-Ass and Defendor, comparisons to those two movies are not only inevitable, but also mandatory. If the superhero movie genre is slightly exhausted, can it be that we're already close to exhausing its post-modern variant too?

Super is the story of Frank, a devout Christian who's as happy as can be for someone who believes happiness is overrated. That all changes when his wife Sarah, a recovering drug addict, leaves him and shacks up with Jacque, a charismatic dealer and crime lord. Distraught, Frank becomes convinced that he has a higher purpose. To wit, he believes that God wants him to dress in costume and deliver His wrath as The Crimson Bolt. As you do.

If this film makes you appreciate anything about Kick-Ass, it's just how restrained Matthew Vaughn's film actually was, despite all of the moral hoo-ha it engendered. That film is a crowd-pleaser, and surprisingly appealing. The other counterpoint, Defendor, appealed to many, but didn't have nearly as much popular goodwill as Kick-Ass. To me, Super is closer to the latter than the former, but it does have Kick-Ass' sense of humour and tendency towards quite alarming hyper-violence.

Does it go too far? Well, that's gonna be the main question that decides whether or not you like this one. Certainly, it's not easily swallowed and the mood is much less consistent than in Gunn's previous film, Slither. The film's being marketed as a comedy, but whatever it is, I really don't think it's that. Even as a black comedy, it's not even close to what the marketing depicts. Most surprising of all, it actually poses quite a dramatic challenge for lead actor Rainn Wilson.

Yes, that's Rainn Wilson from the US version of The Office, best known in cinema for his roles as the "funny" best friend in My Super Ex-Girlfriend, and the "funny" astrophysics professor in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. He proves his mettle as Frank, equally capable of collapsing in gut-wrenching angst as he is when spouting deadpan one-liners like "Shut up, crime". The parts of Super that unequivocally do work, and there are more than a few, hinge entirely on his performance as a well-meaning psychopath.

As Jacques, Kevin Bacon was another highlight. He's pretty detached and cool for the most part, but Bacon is always wired, giving the character that edge of jittery danger that makes him a good baddy to root against in a film as subversive as this. If anyone suffers for that aspect, it's Ellen Page. She's reliably excellent as Libby, a comic book fanatic with clear self-esteem issues, but I could never be sure how to feel about that character. She's a deranged nymphomaniac, who's either a great comedy creation or a conflagration of numerous personality disorders we really shouldn't be poking fun at.

Either way, her character arc makes the film feel somewhat padded to feature-length- her evolution into Frank's kid sidekick, Boltie, comes at a point where the film seems to be running on empty. The main story distracts from her, but her arc may actually knock the wind out of the film's ultimate resolution. After a climactic showdown, a cracking fight on which it seems much of the budget was spent, the film comes to a dramatic and heartfelt conclusion that links better to Frank as we first met him, than it does to where we've seen him go in the last 90 minutes.

While there are good things about it, I can't decide if I actually like Super or not. It's very well made, on an indie budget that allows James Gunn to do whatever the fuck he wants. And believe me, he does exactly that. Super is wrong in so many different ways, and I'm torn between enjoying the lo-fi high concept bonkers side of it all, and being deeply troubled by the more disturbing aspects. At the very least, it kept me on my toes, and it was always surprising. It's not a film you'll forget in a hurry, whichever way you look at it, and it might just be the start of a new chapter for Rainn Wilson, the dramatic actor.

Super is now showing in select cinemas nationwide, and arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on August 1st.
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I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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