The Review: When you look at the summer of 2011’s roster of blockbusters, it’s easy to think that Hollywood has run out of original ideas. Much of that will come from the single biggest consistent theme appearing in the titles: Thor, Captain America, The Green Lantern and others all taking their lead from the pages of comic books. In recent years a sub-genre of the comic book world has sprung up in movies, examining the possibilities of what would happen if an average Joe without super powers was to put on a costume and attempt to fight crime. The most prominent example of this, of course, is Kick-Ass, coming as it did with a strong cast and a reputation for edginess based on a pre-teenage girl beating people up and swearing. But it’s by no means the only entry in the field, and the latest comes from writer / director James Gunn, who’s built a reputation built on edgier fare of the likes of Slither.
Watching Super does invite comparisons to Kick-Ass, and the first of those is quite how mainstream Kick-Ass actually was, relatively speaking. The story of a teenager who puts on a costume and fights crime, it has a fairly conventional narrative and, other than Hit Girl, doesn’t actually push too many boundaries. Crucially, Kick-Ass puts on a costume to fight crime, and to try to understand why no-one’s ever done it before, but his motives are as selfless as many of the mainstream superheroes. Frank D’Arbo (Rainn Wilson), on the other hand, has slightly more personal motives for a life of fighting crime; he’s trying to get to the bottom of the departure of his wife, Sarah (Liv Tyler), who’s left him and is now in the company of some criminal types, headed by Jacques (Kevin Bacon), but he’s also had, in the midst of his depression, a vision from The Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion) who lays out the mission from God that he needs to undertake.
So if Kick-Ass, somewhat surprisingly, turns out to be the mainstream darling, Super is definitely its edgier cousin, the one that you don’t talk about at parties. Much of this is down to the performances of the leads; Wilson is definitely not anyone’s first choice for a romantic lead, and casts a believable shadow as the offbeat loner putting on the Crimson Bolt suit and failing miserably to find any crime to interact with for long stretches. Wilson also recruited fellow Juno cast member Ellen Page for the role of his sidekick, Boltie, who brings a hyperactive enthusiasm, also tinged with a hint of madness. Pretty much every character is fundamentally flawed and so situations pan out more how you would imagine in the real world, if a man picked up a giant wrench and attempted to club people to death with it under the guise of meting out justice. Kevin Bacon also does serviceable work as the villain, although doesn’t quite hit the heights of his turn in the X-Men franchise earlier this year.
The violence has more of an edge to it, with a couple of moments that are definitely not for the squeamish, and Gunn pushes this film into some dark places, so the humour (and there’s probably slightly less of it than you’d expect, although Fillon’s turn as The Holy Avenger is worth the price of admission alone for any Browncoats) is offset by the brutality of the characters and their actions. But as with any film making its mark in an existing genre, the question has to be whether there’s any worth in treading the same ground again, and for this Super’s satire is probably a little sharper, even if the film as a whole has a rough-edged feel, helped by animated cartoon drawings and the general shoddiness of Frank’s costume, plans and general demeanour. The comedy is dark, the violence is random and the plot pans out in not entirely expected ways, and while it doesn’t quite hit the heights of the best of the comic book genre as a whole, or find quite the levels of pathos that it had the potential for, if there’s a dark spot in your heart then Super was just meant for it.
Why see it at the cinema: The slightly washed out look doesn’t naturally lend itself to the cinema screen, but the collective experience, with a good few laughs and the odd squeamish moment, is worth signing up for.
The Score: 8/10
The Review: I reckon, if hard pushed, we could all remember a particular dream we’d had at some point in our lives. Our brains, for some as yet unknown reason, go off on flights of fancy while we’re asleep, and some we can remember as clearly as events that have happened to us. When I was just a child, I had a dream that Tim Brooke-Taylor, ostensibly one of the gentlest men in show business, beat me up in my back garden. I once dreamed for two weeks solid, and in every dream everyone in that dream had a dog with them. I once stood on the runway of an airport and watched as a 747 crashed and exploded at the other end. And I once had a dream that I was in a purple room with no doors or windows, and that I was hungry.
What our subconscious is doing, rather than giving us Daliesque landscapes to run about in with four headed giraffes and unlimited naked orgies (although if you are dreaming that, well done and can I come and live in your head?), is giving us variants on the world we know, grounded in reality but extrapolated further. What Christopher Nolan has seen is the potential to play around in your head, but assuming your head is the extrapolated reality dream world, and not the Dali-giraffe-orgy one. So if you’ve heard that this is a David Lynch-like study of what the potential of dreams are, then you’ve heard wrong. Dreams are merely the canvas for what Nolan is attempting to construct.
I can only assume that he reads and studies Heath Robinson and M.C. Escher during the day, then eats a fair bit of cheese before bedtime, because what he has constructed is an intricate and complex adventure within that space. Into that world, he’s deposited one of the finest rosters of actors since The Dark Knight (and some Nolan regulars, including Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe and Michael Caine get varying length turns here), but although most of them, especially the lesser known such as Tom Hardy, shine with what they’re given, the movie is anchored around Leonardo DiCaprio. Aged 35 and finally starting to show it, this and Shutter Island have seen his acting achieve a new level of nuance recently and he’s comfortably able to take the weight of the emotional hooks the movie hangs on him.
There are two key women in DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb’s life, Ariadne (Ellen Page) and Mal (Marion Cotillard), and it’s his interactions with the two that drive the plot forward. And here’s where any attempts to explain said plot are likely to come off as completely futile, even if they weren’t likely to spoil things. This is a global movie, filmed in seven countries on four continents, and once it’s established the basic rules in the first fifteen minutes, it starts running and almost never stops. It’s a heist movie, but that’s about all you get to ground you; then the rules are gradually layered on over the next hour or so until we’re in a world completely of Nolan’s construction, at which point he launches the key heist.
A key trope of horror movies, occasionally edging into science fiction, is that of the dream within the dream. Wake up and you then realise you’re still dreaming. What Nolan has done is take this a stage further; debates rage about the merits of 3D when it comes to the visual dimensions, but what Inception does is take the dimensions through the plot, and specifically through the heist that forms the last hour or more of the movie. So you get Bond movie, sci-fi action, conventional action movie and even psychological thriller, with all of them running at the same time but at different rates, and events in the levels filtering up and down. It’s a five dimensional action movie, done for the most part without the ridiculous over-cranking of a Michael Bay, and in that sense it’s never less than brilliant.
But there are concepts and ideas running through this that, once your pulse has steadied from the action beats, will try to engage your mind. The emotions of the movie are all wrapped up in that dimension – there is a huge depth of emotion here, but in the same way as the secrets that the character’s minds lock away, it’s not immediately accessible and you will be required to fully open yourself up to the experience to get the most from it. Thankfully, the quality of the direction, acting, editing and script will allow you to do that if you’re willing. And just to show he’s not tired of it, having done a whole movie by giving us layered variations on what we’ve seen before, he takes another route. Not the deliberate cliff-hangers of his Batman movies, or the twisty-turniness of Memento or The Prestige, here we get the debate ending. A simple choice from the last shot which will define you and what you want to take from the movie, and is bound to generate healthy pub debate for as long as Inception is watched, whether that be ten minutes or fifty years.
Why see it at the cinema: This is bold, thought-provoking cinema at its action-oriented best, and it was intended to be seen in the cinema. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the reaction of your fellow cinema-goers to the final shot is worth the price of admission alone.
The Score: 10/10