Frank Darbo (Rainn Wilson) is a loser with a lifetime of humiliation and rejection, and not an ounce of self-esteem in his body. His wife (Liv Tyler) walks all over him, and leaves him, and you can’t say that you didn’t saw it coming. He only had two perfect moments in his life and one of them was marrying his wife but that one is ruined now. So what do you got to do then?
His second perfect moment was pointing a police officer in the right direction to catch a criminal. He now focuses on this and transforms himself into a real life superhero by his own design, named Crimson Bolt. He’s the most awkward and antisocial superhero of all time. He already has a nemesis: the smooth guy Jacques (Kevin Bacon). Jacques is what Frank is not: social, outgoing, and fucking his ex-wife. Crimson Bolt then goes out into the world to hit people in the face with a pipe wrench.
Director James Gunn went on to direct Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), but Super (2010) seems like a smaller project of love. Coming from the film Slither (2006), he had shown a fine sense of taking the clichés of certain genres and running with them. Slither was about horror and disgusting aliens, and in Super he tackled the superhero genre. As you can also observe in Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn likes to use a quirky style and a darkly comedic tone. In Super too, the story is a comic-like and simple with quirky elements.
Super feels uncomfortably much like a silly cheap movie filmed for angsty teenagers. Frank Darbo isn’t a complex character, and neither are all the other characters. It feels like you’re indeed watching a comic. It’s even more apparent when the title screen is shown in drawings, with some generic punk rock overlaying the visuals, which goes on for too long. You know, it actually feels a bit childish, but I guess it is fitting for our main character who needs a superhero alter ego to stand up for himself.
Super came out in the same year as Kick-Ass (2010) and there are lots of similarities. I wonder if this is one of those cases of production companies stealing each other’s ideas. Kick-Ass became the successful one and I must admit that Super went right by me at the time and I always thought that I had already seen it, but I hadn’t, and neither had many other people. It must also be the generic title of the film.
In both films, our awkward male protagonist gets a feisty little girl as a side-kick and some romance ensues. In Kick-Ass we have Chloe Grace Moretz and here in Super we have Ellen Page. She enters the story as a typical manic-pixie-dream-girl and her lines sound… strange. Unnatural. By this time the film started to tire me. The incessant mediocre indie rock was perhaps wearing me down. The story seemed old and cartoonish in a bad way and all the elements of the film seemed so generic, so chewed-out. I guess the style didn’t sit right with me.
In the second half, though, something very weird happens. We zoom in to the violence. The comedic overtone gives way to gruesomeness and it throws you off because what’s the point of this now? Kick-Ass 2 made the same mistake. Is gruesome violence supposed to be funny because it is presented in a comedy film? The stark realism of violence doesn’t mix with the tongue-in-cheek characters of Frank and Ellen Page. It makes them look like proper psychopaths.
A saving grace for this film is the acting and some of the dialogue. Rainn Wilson is perfect as this uncomfortable failing man. It is like a funny inversion of the regular superhero story, because Frank doesn’t have that hero style. Honestly, though, the film bored and confused me a bit, even though there are some inventive scene and funny lines.