A sad sack decides he has been chosen by God to be a superhero in Super, a darker, lower-rent version of Kick-Ass.
Frank (Rainn Wilson) is devastated when his wife, Sarah (Liv Tyler), a former addict, returns her to drinking and drugging ways and leaves him for Jacques (Kevin Bacon), a drug dealer and all-around sleaze. While wallowing in despair, so broken he doesn’t even have the heart to adopt a pet rabbit for fear it will die, Frank sees the religious superhero show featuring the Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion). The Holy Avenger and his own borderline mania lead to an epiphany: Frank has been chosen, perhaps by God, to right the world’s wrongs. He designs himself a suit, comes up with a name (the Crimson Bolt) and hits the streets. When the streets hit back, he does a little research into superheroes without powers and comes up with a weapon — a wrench — that can help him thwart crooks, drug dealers and perverts in their dastardly plans. Along the way, he gains an admirer, Libby (Ellen Page), the comic book store clerk whose enthusiasm for superhero vigilantism borders on the thuggish.
When I say “darker, lower-rent version of Kick-Ass” I don’t mean it as a criticism. Both movies generally cover the same territory, but Kick-Ass is flasher and more comic-book-y about its “what if a regular person became a superhero” tale. In Super, we get a bit more of an examination of the morality of being a superhero — it’s one thing to hit an obvious evil-doer with a wrench while he’s attacking a woman in a wheelchair or picking up a child prostitute, but what about cracking the head of somebody who cuts in line or keys a car? Libby eventually decides to become the Crimson Bolt’s sidekick and her enthusiasm is more about the awesomeness of superheroing than the morality behind it. Frank wants to save his wife and eventually everybody who is being preyed on by evil; Libby wants to, well, kick ass. The movie shows us the difference between these two approaches: as Frank explains, how can he say “shut up, evil” (his catchphrase) if he’s doing evil as well?
Super is uneven but not unsuccessful. Like seemingly everybody from The Office, Wilson is able to mix extreme weirdness and believable sweetness in a character and make it feel natural. The movie tempers its superhero absurdity (and some title credits of animated doodles that are truly geek-fabulous) by not shying away from the horror of actual violence. And while Page doesn’t always manage to shake off her more irritating affectations, Bacon and Fillion provide nice comic moments to the minor-key story of main character Frank.
Super is currently available through OnDemand in the IFC Films section and that seems a perfect forum for this quirky violent not-for-everybody comedy. B-
Not rated. Written and directed by James Gunn, Super is an hour and 36 minutes long and distributed by IFC Films.