★★ / ★★★★
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.