Sunday, December 18, 2011

"Super" isn't heroic

Super (2010) is a dark, depressing film that never quite gets its tone right. Rainn Wilson (The Office) stars as Frank, a regular guy married to Sarah, a former addict (Liv Tyler). He considers himself blessed to have her in his life, and loves her deeply. When Kate suddenly leaves him for a drug dealer named Jacques, Frank decides to become a superhero and “rescue” her. He starts by taking his anger over the situation out on petty criminals. Frank is aided by Libby (Ellen Page, Juno), who works in a comic book store. She eventually becomes his sidekick. As his quest to save Sarah continues, he becomes even more violent, with tragic results.

Unlike Kick Ass (2010), which has some similar themes, the story, characters and style here don’t mesh. The dark tone is unrelenting, and the violence in the film is ugly; it’s almost too realistic. The characters are under-developed, and not especially likable. Page’s character in particular is off-putting, and it’s tough to empathize with her. And how can we sympathize with Frank when he mercilessly beats on a guy who cuts ahead of him in a line (with a wrench, no less)? When the story ends, we don't feel the same sense of redemption as Frank. By trying to be “real,” the film loses the fantastical tone that energizes most superhero movies. The movie can't have it both ways, and it suffers as result.

The attempts at mixing humor with the story’s darker & more violent moments don’t work. Are we supposed to laugh at the comic book style captions (similar to the 60s Batman TV show) that pop up during the carnage filled finale? The film can’t seem to decide if it’s a straight vigilante tale like Death Wish or a more traditional superhero movie. Unlike films by directors like Quentin Tarantino & Sergio Leone, the balance between the violence & humor isn't as well handled. It’s a shame, because Writer-Director James Gunn has an interesting visual style, and there are a few good satirical moments, including Nathan Fillon as a Bible-inspired superhero who’s idolized by Frank. Had the film’s elements been combined more solidly, Super could have been a minor gem. The film is currently available on DVD & Blu-ray.

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