Super (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Frank (Rainn Wilson) suspects that his marriage is in trouble. His wife is not as loving and energetic as usual. A couple of days later, she leaves with a drug dealer, Jacques (Kevin Bacon), and becomes a tester for the most recent drugs he has acquired. Frank turns to God so he can find a way to get his wife back. After dreaming that he has been touched by God, he comes to a conclusion that he is going to be a superhero, The Crimson Bolt, whose job is to punish evil doers, from people who cut in line to pedophiles.

“Super,” written and directed by James Gunn, is intended to be a comedy with an edgy dramatic undertone, but I found myself pitying Frank more than rooting for him. Acknowledging that feeling is important. How can I laugh at someone and derive pleasure from the images being relayed if a part of me hopes for the protagonist to seek serious professional help?

I saw the lead character as a broken man who just cannot accept that his wife no longer wants to be with him. Since his psychological break goes untreated, the sadness that accumulates in his mind and heart becomes an unmitigated anger. This man chose a wrench as his alter ego’s main weapon. He bashes people’s heads with it until their skulls crack and bleed to death. I failed to see Frank as The Crimson Bolt the superhero; I saw Frank as The Crimson Bolt the psychologically untreated person who desperately needs someone to talk to and possibly in need of medication.

There is one scene, however, that I found really amusing. We all have had the pleasure to line up at the movies–sometimes outside in the cold–after we have paid for our ticket. After waiting for what seems like an eternity, people who think they are privileged or special suddenly decide to cut in line. Frank is unable to put up with it so he decides to leave his position, dresses up as his superhero alter ego, and punishes those who have no sense of respect for those who actually take the time and have the patience to line up just like everyone else. It is funny because it touched upon feelings that we can all relate with and the fantasy of coming up to those who butt in and “punishing” them is realized. Instead of the comedy relying on Frank acting crazy, the comedy is attributed to the situation. By watching that scene, in a way, he becomes our alter ego. It ceases to feel as mean-spirited.

As the picture goes on, Libby (Ellen Page) comes to learn Frank’s extracurricular activities. She figures he can use some help so she embraces the honor of becoming his sidekick. As Boltie, she lusts for violence and laughs at the people she injures. When Frank and Libby discuss what being a superhero means, despite the irony that they aren’t, it works. The two actors feed off each other’s energy: Wilson is more brooding and introspective while Page is more like an unstoppable wildfire. But when the duo turn into The Crimson Bolt and Boltie, once again the maiming, bruising, killing become the source of humor.

I understand that “Super” wants to do something different by piling on bloody violence, dark humor, and psychological breakdown. On that level, I appreciated the effort. But as a whole, the violence feels so gratuitous. Toward the end when people’s limbs are being cut off and bodies are being blown up to smithereens accompanied by colorful comic book subtitles, I wondered how it is different from torture porn. The message becomes, “This is violent! …But it’s fun.” Actually, no, it isn’t. At least not to me.

8 replies »

    • I think “awkward” is a perfect word to describe the experience of watching this. I’m a fan of dark comedy, but even I have my limits. I think that’s why the sub-genre is so tricky: a slight clash between material and execution can demolish most of or the entire movie.

      According to the screen captures I’ve uploaded, I have written reviews around mid- to upper- 1000s so far. It doesn’t feel like it! That’s counting my reviews written in a single paragraph format, the good ol’ days! =P

  1. I’m always interested to read other people’s take on this movie. Not because I liked it so much (I did like it, but didn’t love it) but because it’s so different and everyone seems to get something else out of it. I found the line-butting scene funny for a couple different reasons, one is the fact that he goes to change into his costume in plain sight of everyone else in the line, and two is the absurdity of how far the punishment outweighs the crime. I also found the violence to be more stylized so as to be gratuitously comedic rather than horrifyingly realistic. Enjoyed reading your take on it.

    • Thank you for reading! Yeah, I guess tolerance when it comes to violent aspect of the film does weigh into one’s enjoyment of it. Can you imagine a person in his/her 60s or 70s watching this movie? My grandmother, for instance, will be horrified. Heck, I was!

  2. I can see how people got not go wild for this film, but I really enjoyed it. Very black and I thought that Wilson and Page (and Bacon) were all superb and straight-laced. Definitely goes for shocks, but I feel for it bit time.

    • It’s interesting to read people’s take on this movie because the opinions are wildly different. I can see why some people are drawn to it, but I definitely identify more with those who are repelled by it. One thing I’ve thought of about, though: since I am now aware of its level of violence, will I be able to enjoy it more the second viewing? Hmm…

  3. I was really hoping for more from this, especially after how great and underappreciated Slither was. But as good as a premise this was, it just tapped too far into the Travis Bickle mindset for its own good. And Ellen Page’s character was a front-runner for Most Intolerably Annoying Character of the New Willennium.

    • “Slither” is great! Funny, I was just thinking about that movie the other day, how I should watch it again and give it a re-re-review. Those slithery, wormy things are stuff out of nightmares.

      I cannot agree with you more about Boltie! Oh my god, I wanted someone to punch her in the face and knock her out for the rest of the movie.

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