Kick-Ass redefined the superhero genre last year with its winning stylized combination of outrageous humor, graphic violence, and underdog tales. But in development since 2002, James Gunn’s Super has finally taken flight and well, is real kick-ass—or super kick-ass. Yes, the two are very similar in their deliveries of realistic but campy gore and gut-busting laughs. However, Gunn’s twisted film makes better use of masked crime-fighting cliches as well as surprising dramatics to create a truly psychotic tale of regular-people-turned-crazy-“heroes.”
The true identity of the subject in this imaginary comic-book-turned-to-life is Frank D’Arbo (Rainn Wilson), a 40-something diner cook who has always had trouble with himself, but has some sense of well-being when it comes to his love for his wife, Sarah (Liv Tyler). When Sarah, a recovering drug addict, falls under the spell of the dealer Jacques (Kevin Bacon) and goes missing, Frank reaches a breaking point. But after a vision derived from watching The Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion) on TV and further inspiration from a young comic book salesgirl named Libby (Ellen Page), Frank dons a red mask and jumpsuit and carries a wrench as his weapon of choice to become a superhero: The Crimson Bolt. Later, Libby insists on becoming Frank’s “kid sidekick” and reluctantly, he joins forces with her alter-ego, Boltie.
Gunn and the cast delve into the exploration of what being a superhero [without having actual superpowers] entails, taking all that we’ve ever learned from comic books and their film, television, and animation adaptations and reinforcing the formulas with primal brutality. Shortly after Frank decides on his vigilante name and costume, he subversively gives them the wrench as payback for defying the “rules” of civilian order: “Don’t steal! Don’t molest children! Don’t deal drugs! Don’t cut in line!” In real life, these are obvious no-no’s, but in Gunn’s world, the avenge of The Crimson Bolt in the streets is so terrifying, that sometimes we end up feeling more sorry for the would-be criminals. Oddly, you’ll probably end up laughing anyway, though the intense final action sequence is mostly executed with a serious face and helps a true hero emerge.
Wilson is dynamic as the unstable Frank, though it’s difficult to feel whether you can sympathize with him or laugh when he cries for Sarah at the beginning of the film. The insanity of the characters and action in Super surely makes way for exaggerated portrayals, and that happens to make the film one devilishly delightful mess. As both the miserable and brokenhearted regular Joe and the commanding yet uncontrollable Crimson Bolt, no one could have pulled this role as perfectly and with ease as Wilson. But the title of scene-stealer belongs to Miss Page. Libby’s first appearance may have her talking like Juno for the third or fourth time ever, but as she comes to realizations about Frank and his secret identity, Page’s immersion into an absolutely demented role becomes evident. Once she puts on Boltie’s yellow and green costume and caresses herself in it, much to Frank’s discomfort, Page holds nothing back. She cheers, makes demonic laughter, and yells obscenities as she gets the bad guys. Then there’s her very inappropriate performance in an awkward intimate scene with Wilson’s character, which will either leave you horrified or incoherent from laughter, but more likely from both. Whatever way, her overall presence in Super will leave an impression.
And whatever way Super leaves you, it’s a movie that’s hard to forget. Perhaps it will leave you disturbed by its gritty killings and beatings and psychological elements. Perhaps it will leave you in pain from laughing, or by stifling it. Perhaps it may even leave you sad, as *MILD SPOILER (Maybe)* the ending is not one someone might expect. Or perhaps it will leave you feeling all of these emotions, or more. Super does follow a blueprint, but with its performances by outstanding and well-renowned actors, bloody action, and ultra-dark hilarity, it also pushes boundaries that aren’t found in vanilla cinema. The result is an extremely cracked yet wickedly fun fantasy in a real world.