The Pitch: Shut up, crime! (And also shut up people who say this is just a Kick-Ass rip-off…)
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