The past few years have seen an emergence of somewhat dark, subversive superhero films, such as Kick Ass and Defendor, with the newest entry being writer-director James Gunn’s Super. Rainn Wilson plays Frank, who takes on the alter-ego of the Crimson Bolt following the departure of his heroin-addicted wife Sarah (Liv Tyler), donning his homemade costume and wielding a tyre iron to fight for justice against the evils of society. After generating some interest from the news media, Frank unwittingly attracts the attention of the young, foul-mouthed sidekick wannabe Libby (an excellent Ellen Page), and the duo begin to formulate a plan to ‘rescue’ the estranged Sarah from the clutches of small-time local drug dealer Jock (Kevin Bacon). Betraying Gunn’s z-grade beginnings working for Troma Entertainment (even featuring a blink and you’ll miss it cameo from Troma maestro Lloyd Kaufmann), Super is a micro-budget, violent, and darkly comic affair, putting a unique spin on the real-world superhero formula. Also of note for fanboys and girls is the presence of geek icons Nathan Fillion and Linda Cardellini in small but memorable roles, adding to Super’s charm and credibility.
The film is fun, but some may see it as a movie of missed opportunities. So many indie films deal with issues of depression and heartbreak, and with Super, Gunn had the potential to deal with these ideas in a wholly original way, which initially it seems like the film is trying to do. Frank’s transition from loser fry cook to masked vigilante is clearly an escape from his crippling depression, and coupled with the bizarre visions of religious icons, leads to delusions of grandeur betraying a deeply disturbed individual. Indeed, all of his attacks on the criminal fraternity, while arguably coming from a noble place, truthfully make him nothing more than a criminal himself, and perhaps a much more dangerous one than the people he chooses to fight. After lashing out at a couple for doing nothing more than disobeying common courtesy, Frank begins to doubt his ways, but Gunn chooses to abandon any larger questions, instead opting for a more outlandish path for the story. Still, Super is intended to be a comedy, and in that respect it works well. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but personally if the story had continued into darker, more serious territory I think it could have had greater impact.