It would be easy to write Super off as a Kick-Ass knock-off arriving a year too late, a derivative entry to the recent glut of ‘average guy with no powers becomes a masked avenger’ efforts. But twenty minutes in, having just seen the main character have his skull sliced open by tentacles appearing from his bedroom walls and his exposed brain being touched by the finger of God, it’s apparent that we are dealing with a very different beast.
The second film from Troma Studios scribe James Gunn, following his cracking 2006 debut Slither, Super concerns perennial loser Frank D’Arbo (Rainn Wilson) and his transformation into a wrench-wielding vigilante after his improbably hot wife (Liv Tyler) leaves him for her drug dealer (Kevin Bacon). D’Arbo soon gets a sidekick in the form of a homicidal comic store employee (Ellen Page), and the two endeavour to reclaim Frank’s previous existence through more and more disturbing acts of violence.
This is a film that has been done a disservice by the misleading medium of the movie trailer. All promotional material portrayed the movie as a slapstick comedy in a superhero vein, Kick-Ass by way of Jackass, but Super, while frequently hilarious, is also dark, disturbing and emotionally charged.
One of the film’s more divisive elements is the shocking level of violence on display, doubtless a product of director Gunn’s time at B-movie factory Troma; heads are caved in with wrenches and smashed against stone floors, cars are driven into villains at high speed and faces are literally blown apart by gunshots. These scenes are, however, offset by a witty script and comic-book style visuals, creating an effect whereby the audience is invited to laugh at these events yet be horrified at the same time. Though many critics considered these scenes poorly handled and too extreme, I felt that Gunn found the perfect balance in his portrayal of ‘justice’ being served, always showing the absurdity of the situations in taking them to such gory extremes.
Similarly well judged are the performances. Wilson’s sad-sack hero incites as much sympathy as he does pity, and Page is excellent as his insane crime-fighting partner, even taking part in one of the year’s oddest and most disturbing sex scenes. Tyler and Bacon have little to do but that fault lies with the script, which if anything focuses a little too much on the protagonist: some character development among the supporting cast would not have gone amiss.
Super isn’t for everyone. Many will find the mix of humour and violence uncomfortable, or find it’s morals questionable. But to judge the film by these merits alone is unfair; the script finds unprecedented depth in many scenarios and relationships, and if nothing else leaves a lasting impression, the antithesis of the superficiality presented in the trailer. Either that or the less lofty notion of wanting to walk out into the street and shout ‘Shut up, Crime!’
Super (2011), directed by James Gunn, is available on Blu-ray disc and DVD from G2 Pictures, Certificate 18.