Super: Of Average Intelligence

Back in September of last year, I was eagerly anticipating James Gunn’s superhero-without-powers Super. I didn’t manage to get tickets to the TIFF screening (that happens when you haven’t bought tickets months in advance), and without seeing it in theatres, I forgot all about the film. Until the DVD came out on Tuesday. It wasn’t exactly worth the wait.

The latest entry in a burgeoning superhero sub-genre (joining the likes of other superheroes-without-powers flicks Kick-Ass, Defendor, and Special), Super follows the adventures of Frank D’Arbo (Rainn Wilson), an ordinary everyman who works as a short-order cook at a greasy spoon and is happily married to the woman of his dreams – recovering drug addict Sarah (Liv Tyler). At the outset of the film, he only has two perfect moments: getting married to Sarah, and that time he pointed a police officer in the direction of a fleeing mugger. D’Arbo is a bit of a bland guy.

When Sarah relapses and goes to live with Jacques (a fantastic Kevin Bacon), a mid-level crook, D’Arbo snaps. He decides to win – nay – rescue Sarah back by donning a homemade red bodysuit and becoming the Crimson Bolt, a masked hero with a deadly wrench as his main weapon. This is all fine and dandy (the movie is about a superhero wannabe, after all), but how D’Arbo is inspired to become a superhero is through a lengthy absurd dream sequence that has him literally sitting on his bed with his head cut open and a swarm of tentacles caressing his brain. And then he’s touched by the finger of God. It’s a bit too outlandish.

The aspect of Super that initially drew me to the movie was that it was supposedly about a psychotic individual (think Travis Bickle) who dons a cape and mask and seeks justice for what he decides are social ills. One of the crimes that he brutally beats two people over? Butting in a movie line. It’s a great (albeit graphic) sequence that’s cathartic initially (who hasn’t wanted to brutally beat someone for cutting in line?) and then horrifying as D’Arbo smashes his wrench into the man’s head and a geyser of blood streams from his forehead. I really wanted this movie to be the superhero version of Michael Douglas’ classic turn as the fed-up everyman in Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down. Instead, it’s mostly typical superhero-without-superpowers shtick with a dark side (and those oddly out-of-place religious sequences).

Rainn Wilson as the Crimson Bolt.

This isn’t to say that Super is a bad movie. It’s merely a very average one. Two-thirds of the film feels limp – Frank beats up some thugs, gets shot up, recovers, rinse and repeat – without really advancing the story or providing visceral thrills. But the third act gives the film a shot of adrenaline and things really start moving. D’Arbo gets a sidekick – psychotic comic book store employee Libby (Ellen Page) who spends equal amounts of time viciously assaulting “criminals” (a term I use loosely) as she does trying to start a romance with Frank. And then there’s the attack on Jacques’ compound with an arsenal of weapons, bombs, and Libby’s homemade Wolverine claws. It’s a thrilling and empowering sequence (who doesn’t cheer inside when you see the everyman become an invincible killing machine of criminal scum?). It’s good that the film ends on a high note, but I found myself wondering: though it ends on a bang, the majority of the film is a whimper.

Grade: C+

Side note: Of the superhero-without-superpowers sub genre, I still think Kick-Ass is the cream of the crop, despite it’s many flaws. But I do have to commend Super for making Rainn Wilson seem like a viable (and believable) fighting machine.

 

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