Ah, the superhero/comic book flick; a very highly trending genre in Tinseltown these days. Several have been made, many have missed the marked and fewer have gotten it right. However, for the true film snobs out there, comic book flicks have never reached that higher and more sophisticated level of auteurism required to be a “real movie”; that designation is usually reserved for those really deep independent movies about the struggles of life and what it truly means to be human and while watching paint dry. Writer/director James Gunn has married the two genres together in a tale of standing up for what one believes while having the courage to fight evil in any form. Simply put, this movie is Super.
Here is the story of a middle-aged man who once felt his life was fairly perfect until his wife up and left one day and the world as he knew it fell apart right under his feet. After receiving a sign from God, and reading a few comics, Frank Darbo decides to become a costumed vigilante and fight crime as The Crimson Bolt. This unsuspecting and unlikely do-gooder sets out, with his trusty monkey wrench, on a one man mission to clean crime off the streets and win his wife back from the clutches of the vile gangster Jacques (I’ve always wanted to use that vile gangster bit!). With the familiar formula of ordinary guy turned super hero, this flick presents this clichéd plot in a very fresh way with a dark and humorous realism to it. The story covers the uncertainty and awkwardness of a normal guy setting out to be a super hero for the first time then shifts by taking an extremely real world approach to what would actually happen if an Average Joe took to the streets and started brutally beating criminals to a pulp. The almost obligatory sidekick shows up but provides a remarkably different twist to this formulaic ingredient with the sidekick being more enthusiastic, if not over enthusiastic, than the main hero himself about fighting and beating up on ‘crime’. The narrative of this flick plays much like Kick-Ass, conveying a similar template, but with a little more realism and loads more heart.
Leading the cast is Rainn Wilson as Frank Darbo/The Crimson Bolt. Known mostly has a funny man, Rainn definitely brings on the yucks but he also brings a substantial amount of pathos to the character. He really creates sympathy for Frank making it easy to take his side early and follow him on his journey to becoming a masked crusader of justice. Liv Tyler plays Sarah, Frank’s wife, and displays her usual charm and ability to be lovable. However, later in the film, her character is also taken to dark places and Tyler maintains her grace while adding a deep sense of pity for the character. Kevin Bacon comes in as Jacques and plays the character with the absolute darkness and nastiness that he should have had in X-Men: First Class. But it was Ellen Page as Libby/Boltie (the Bolt’s sidekick) that stole the show in this flick. Page presents Libby in an extremely spunky, cute, and a little psychotic way, but that cumulate in a character that is just endearing in so many ways and just so darned cute. All the actors, throughout the picture, are able to really put their acting chops on display as a cohesive unit to bring a hilariously dark spin on the comic book hero formula.
Utilizing a fresh take on the zero to hero story, Super works not only as a comic book movie but as a movie all its own. Much like the Nolan Batman franchise, this film performs mostly as an independent, dark comedy with comic book elements to it. It captures the awesomeness of super hero stories and seamlessly weaves it with the emotional and human approach expected in an independent film. A strong story with strong character moments, provided by equally strong performances, Super is great example of the universal appeal a comic book movie can have.
- It’s Super and, “the Force is strong with this one.”