In the last few years there have been a few movies about ordinary people becoming superheroes, sometimes they have been more serious in tone a la The Watchmen and Dark Knight. While others have been light action romps such as Kick Ass and Defendor. Now there's a new film joining those ranks, enter James Gunn's Super, a film about a man whose wife is wooed away by a drug dealer and he becomes a superhero named Crimson Bolt to rescue her. However, the tone of this film is a little harder to place. It is first and for most a comedy yet the film has sharp tonal shifts throughout which makes the film in some ways disturbing. You may find yourself guffawing at one moment then feel your heartstrings being pulled in the next only to have it interrupted by an extreme act of violence. Anyone familiar with James Gunn's previous effort, Slither, can conjure up an idea of what the violent scenes will be like. What makes them alarming is that most of the more violent scenes are sandwiched between ordinary moments, making a quick shot of someone getting a monkey wrench to the face all the more shocking. For example a man and his girlfriend butt in line while our protaganist is waiting to get into a movie theatre, after asking them to get to the back of the line, to which they refuse, we watch our hero walk to his car and put on his super suit. Only his ass is hanging out the window as he's changing. This hilarious shot is followed by the hero promptly striking both of the butters with a monkey wrench over the head. Yes, shocking to say the least.
Rainn Wilson plays the lead as Frank and is terrifically cast as he's able to balance the comedic and dramatic shifts flawlessly. The always angelic Liv Tyler plays the distressed wife in complete dramatic excellence. Kevin Bacon is the evil drug dealer who is hilarious and terrifying all at the same time. However, the standout is Ellen Page who plays an eccentric comic book store clerk who becomes the Crimson Bolt's kid sidekick Boltie. I'm not the biggest fan of Ellen Page but that may have changed with this film. It's unlike any role I've seen her in. She's bat shit crazy, sexy, funny, and sweet.
If you write this off as just another Kick Ass or Defendor you'd be doing yourself a disservice. Super is a fun happy sad insane romp that needs to be seen to be believed.
Super was not at all what I was expecting. I thought it was going to be another entry in the growing Kick-Ass/Defendor/Watchmen superhero sub-genre of heroes sans superpowers. And for that reason, I was kind of dreading it. But it took me by surprise, and was less about a man as a superhero and more as about a man as a wounded, tragic figure, neither hero nor antihero, just a normal guy caught up in circumstances beyond his control...until they aren't. Basically Falling Down with a cheesy costume.
Rainn Wilson as The Crimson Bolt does an extraordinary job conveying both the comedic and tragic sides of the mask, and Ellen Page is insane as his enamoured comic store clerk/sidekick Boltie. The tonal shifts in the film between sly humour, heart-wrenching sadness, and gruesome (and I mean GRUE-SOME! As Kris kept repeating, this one's a hard-R) violence at first take a bit of time to get into, but once you see where the film is going, it all somehow works. That we actually feel deep loss and disbelief when Boltie is killed is testament to the great work the actors did towards creating believability and pathos in the characters that could have been caricatures. The supporting cast, and blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameos from the likes of Lloyd Kauffman (a tribute to Gunn's days in the Troma writer's mill) and others are superb. All around, and excellent, strange film that defies expectations.
Director James (Slither) Gunn is batting 1.000 right now, let's hope he can maintain that pace. Also MM 2010 is a very solid 2-for-2, a marked improvement over last year's opening "galas" that didn't quite deliver. We're off to a wonderful start here, and I'm really looking forward to tonight's film, the beguiling Bunraku...