If you’ve ever wondered what kind of crazy person would actually become a superhero . . . or if you just like seeing people get whacked in the face with wrenches . . . I may have found the film for you.
I had every intention of seeing this movie in theaters, but . . . I don’t know, it was just gone one day. I didn’t even realize I had missed it at first. So, obviously we had to rent it, cause . . . seriously. Dark irreverent comedy about superheroes? Written and directed by James Gunn? Cameo by Nathan Fillion? Duh. That practically has my name on it.
But Super turned out to be a bit . . . crazier . . . than I had anticipated. I think I mostly liked it. I think. But I’m not quite sure yet.
Frank (Rainn Wilson) is just an average schmo, sorta, whose wife, Sarah (Liv Tyler), leaves him for Jacques (Kevin Bacon) and his vast supply of drugs. Frank decides to become a superhero in order to save her from Jacques’s nefarious clutches. Libby (Ellen Page) eagerly assists.
1. I have nothing bad to say about the acting in this movie at all. Nothing.
Rainn Wilson is great at keeping his character somewhere between sad and hilarious—not an easy feat, certainly not in a film like this, where a bad or even mediocre performance could easily have derailed the entire film. He’s really awkward and funny and scary. You sympathize with him, but at the same time, you’re also like . . . whoa, buddy. Backing up now. Going to take it nice and slow.
Ellen Page bring such energy to her role. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen her do before, and it’s fucking hysterical to watch. She has some of the best lines in the whole movie, and she just kind of makes you smile . . . you know, assuming you like unrepentant violence and whatnot. Which, obviously, I do.
And Kevin Bacon, man . . . I’m just gaining all sorts of appreciating for the Kevin Bacon villain this year. His comic timing is genius in this film. His scene eating eggs with Rainn Wilson . . . hee. Love.
2. Okay, so maybe I can say something a little bad about the acting. The only performance that’s not exactly phenomenal is Liv Tyler . . . but that’s really not much of a knock to the actress because her role is very one-note. Maybe a fantastic actress could have made Sarah more interesting . . . but I doubt by very much.
3. Super got a lot of mixed reviews, and many people who didn’t like the movie knocked it for its strange tone and bad script. I can understand tone issues . . . we’ll get to that . . . but the script, man, I love this script. I think the dialogue is excellent. Here are only a few of the lines that I really enjoyed:
Libby: “Whoa, what are those?”
Frank: “I don’t know if I’m doing it right. If I am . . . bombs.”
Jacques: “Alright, pal. Haven’t I been nice to you? I mean, I’ve been nice, right? I complimented your cooking.”
Jacques:”You really think that killing me, stabbing me to death, is going to change the world?”
Frank: “I can’t know that for sure, unless I try.”
Frank: “That’s what happens in between the panels.”
Libby: “Wow, in between the lines. Is that where we are now? We could do anything here.”
Frank: “YOU DON’T BUTT IN LINE! YOU DON’T SELL DRUGS! YOU DON’T MOLEST CHILDREN! YOU DON’T PROFIT OFF THE MISERY OF OTHERS! THE RULES WERE SET A LONG TIME AGO! THEY DON’T CHANGE!”
(This last one is really sold in the delivery. Well, most dialogue is, but still. Rainn Wilson is hilarious and frightening here.)
4. Now, tone . . . tone is hard.
Super is a very strange, very dark, exceptionally violent film. If you’re not a big fan of overt violence in film, you will not like this movie. There’s really no getting around that.
There’s also no getting around the fact that Super is just weird. It’s a hard film to recommend or not recommend because it’s just not for everybody. You’ve really got to like superhero deconstruction stories. You’ve also really got to like black humor, insanity, and sudden, violent deaths. This movie’s the kind of comedy that not everyone will perceive as a comedy. It’s certainly not a laugh out loud every two minutes kind of movie.
But the moments it does startle you into laughing are great—and that’s exactly what Super does, startle you into laughing. It’s subversive and entertaining and just kind of nuts . . . but it also walks a very difficult line when it comes to tone, and a lot of people are going to be on the opposite side of that line.
5. There are things in Super that I’m not totally crazy about. One scene between Frank and Libby, for instance. It just seems kind of . . . squicky . . . not to mention totally unnecessary.
More importantly, though, I have problems with the very end. The actual note the movie ends on, how it wraps up . . . that’s the part that seems inconsistent to me. It introduces an idea that I didn’t think had enough support and concludes with a character making a choice that I didn’t buy for a second. It seems like a weirdly implausible ending that doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. And it’s unfortunate, really, because as strange as this movie is, I really think I’ll like it more and more each time I watch it . . . but that ending, I think that ending is going to continue leaving a sour taste in my mouth with any and all repeat viewings.
6. Nathan Fillion cameo? Never a bad idea.
There’s one costume I won’t be wearing to Comic Con anytime soon.
7. I also like Kevin Bacon’s Goon Squad. Henchmen are underused. A great henchman can bring a lot to your villain, and to your film, in general.
Notable henchmen here are Sean Gunn and Michael Rooker. Sean Gunn has some funny lines, and for any Gilmore Girls fans out there, it’s just kind of amusing to see Kirk with a mohawk. And Rooker, he’s the most sympathetic of the villains, which is interesting because Rooker isn’t widely known for playing sympathetic characters (The Bone Collector, Slither, The Walking Dead, etc). It’s all him, though, all acting through facial expression and intonation. Rooker really deserves more than a supporting role in something.
8. I suppose we have to talk about Kick-Ass, don’t we? *Sighs*
There are a lot of people who seem very insistent that Super is a giant rip-off of Kick-Ass. These people are wrong. Sorry, I know that’s kind of on the confrontational side, but seriously: you’re mistaken. Never mind the fact that Super was written back in 2002 . . . it’s completely possible to have two different stories that begin with a similar jumping off point and end in completely different places. Hell, it happens in creative writing classes all the damn time. Your assignment for the weekend is to write a story beginning with the line, “A man and his pet beaver woke up stranded in the middle of the desert one day with nothing around them but a can of beans, a whip, and a giant pink tutu . . .”
Depending on the writer’s particular perversions, that story can and will go in some very different places.
So, yes, Kick-Ass and Super have similar set-ups: a regular person who decides to become a superhero despite having no powers of any kind. But that’s about where the similarity ends. Maybe a couple of jokes with the main hero getting his ass handed to him at one point or another, but otherwise . . . wildly, wildly different films. I enjoy the hell out of Kick-Ass, but it’s not going for the same story or message at all.
9. What Super does really well is remind the audience what a crazy motherfucker you would have to be to dress up like a superhero and go fight crime. I mean, there’s a reason why you daydream about it but never actually go do it . . . cause the people who do go do it are crazy. Not offbeat and lovable dreamers, mind you. Fucking crazy. The second Frank starts having visions . . . yeah, you know this is going to be a different kind of movie.
10. Another small problem . . . Frank is a touch inconsistent for me throughout the film. Once Libby starts being his sidekick, she kind of takes over the role of Psycho, relegating Frank to the straight man. (Well, straight-ish.) It’s not a problem with performance . . . I just think that dynamic was a little off in that regard. Still a lot of fun, though.
11. I love all the BAM and WHAM and KAPOW stuff as people are being violently slaughtered. Excellent.
12. Finally . . . Rob Zombie is God? How did I miss this?
So, I’m creating a (relatively) brief Spoiler Section to talk about the ending which I mostly didn’t like. If you don’t want to read any spoilers, it is now time to avert your eyes.
Okay. Frank and Libby suit up and storm Jacques’s house in order to rescue Sarah. Unfortunately, Jacques’s in the middle of a drug deal, so there’s even more bad guys to conquer. Frank and Libby enthusiastically kill a few of them, and then Libby gets half her fucking face blown off. Which is what you get for jumping up and down and hollering like a crazy person while you’re outside an enemy’s house, but still. It’s sad. Libby’s kind of awesome. Admittedly deranged, yes, but still pretty awesome.
Frank goes into Vengeance Mode and kills pretty much every lower level bad guy around, including Michael Rooker, whose head he repeatedly bashes into the ground. It’s an exceptionally brutal scene. I’ve never seen a head-bashing scene that made me wince quite so much. Then he faces off with Jacques, eventually kills him, and takes Sarah home.
The end? Not quite.
Fast-forward a few years. Frank voiceovers that Sarah stayed with him a couple of more months, probably out of obligation, before leaving him and getting married to some great guy. They build a family together, while Frank becomes, like, Uncle Frank, I guess, and now has a wall full of drawings and cards from Sarah’s kids. Frank says that he wasn’t the Chosen One (like, God’s Chosen One); Sarah is. Also, he has a bunny now. He sits on his bed and pets it and looks at his wall and cries.
And . . . now we’re at the end.
I have a couple of problems with this. My minor issue is wanting to know what Frank did with Libby’s body. Did he bury it? Did anybody investigate? Did none of her friends—who all meet creepy Frank—not put two and two together? I wish I could’ve seen a better wrap-up for Libby.
Still, this is a relatively minor quibble, especially when compared to Frank just being okay that Sarah’s left him. I mean, I like the general idea—it wasn’t important that he was with Sarah, just that he saved her—but the problem is . . . I just don’t buy it with Frank.
See, Frank’s kind of obsessive and nuts. I mean, the film goes out of its way to show you how crazy this guy is. Good-hearted, sure, but seriously . . . he’s a psycho. And the picture they’ve been painting of him for the past two hours doesn’t at all jive with this peaceful guy at the end of the film. It’s not even so much a tone issue—it’s a plausibility one. Unlike many other reviews I read, I don’t find the ending too happy or contrived—a crying weirdo sitting on his bed stroking a pet bunny is probably one of the sadder images I can come up with, actually. And Rainn Wilson is superb—he seems to be crying both tears of joy and the tears of a man who’s going to be alone for the rest of his life. I actually do like the scene . . . I just don’t buy it in the context of this movie. I simply can’t believe that Frank would just let Sarah go without more violence or suicide or something.
And the idea that she’s the special one, that she is God’s chosen, or whatever . . . it’s not a horrible idea, exactly, but it’s totally out of left field and doesn’t really work for me at all.
So, yes, I do have problems with the conclusion—it’s a seriously troublesome note for me to end the movie on. But I do think the rest of the film is smart and funny and outrageous in mostly excellent ways. The acting is stellar, and I like the overall story. It’s just a little hard to grade on the first viewing.
Ellen Page (This one was hard. Kevin Bacon’s a lot of fun, and Rainn Wilson’s role is particularly challenging. But Ellen Page is like the bright spot of this whole movie, and Libby is just so wildly different from anything else I’ve ever seen Page do.)
SUPER TENTATIVE GRADE:
Don’t steal another man’s wife. Or sell drugs. Or cut in line. Because some crazy motherfucker in tights could come up at any moment and hit you in the face with a fucking wrench.