Super

Super. 2010. James Gunn, director. United States.

Super is a peculiar film which brings together two actors I very much enjoy.

The first of these is Rainn Wilson (recognizable as Dwight Schrute of The Office). Wilson plays a cook named Frank. In a strikingly authentic moment, viewers glimpse something of his inner torment when overhearing a prayer of his: “Other people have goodness. They have good things. They have love and tenderness and people who care about their lives. They are not humiliated at every turn. Other people have things God”. Frank owns only two such moments which have brought him pleasure and one of these, his marrying of a recovering addict named Sarah, has unraveled.

The happenings of Super, in fact, are precipitated by the sudden departure of that Sarah. Previous to her leaving Frank, a character named Jacques arrives on the doorstep of Frank. Jacques inquires into the whereabouts of Sarah, and Frank, oblivious to the fact that Jacques has succeeded in luring Sarah from him, shares his breakfast with the man. Roger Ebert, while not an enthusiast for Super, nonetheless congratulates Kevin Bacon for his performance as Jacques; noting his is a character “who visits as if an ambassador from another, better, movie”.

Super is not a bad film. It is “pretty dark … pretty messed up … and has a twisted sense of humor” – to quote Rainn Wilson – but it is not, in my opinion, a bad film. That is not to say that it will appeal to every viewer, however: The violence on display is strong and bloody and the vocabulary employed throughout is not gentle and so if characteristics such as these typically place a picture beyond the tolerance level of a particular viewer, then Super also will merit being bypassed.

While not a bad film, I find it difficult to say just how good this one is. Redeeming Super, in my estimation, is the remarkable turn the picture takes in its final quarter (and particularly the performance of Wilson during these moments). What makes it difficult to evaluate, however, is that the intention of its writer and director – against which this final product deserves to be judged – is not readily apparent.

This is not a typical superhero movie and I think a larger critique of that genre could be identified as existing, here, in Super. Viewers are offered some approximation of what it would really look like if persons were to act out the fantasies they privately entertain. The result is that, upon losing Sarah, something really does seem to snap in the brain of Frank. The religious experience which motivates his decision to become a superhero does not lessen the degree to which Frank truly appears insane.

I mentioned Super bringing together two gifted actors I very much enjoy and I noted the first of these being Rainn Wilson. The other is Ellen Page. The decision of Frank to become a superhero brings him into contact with her character Libby; a clerk at a local comic book store who, perhaps, is in need of even more psychiatric attention than Frank. With her assistance, Frank settles on a red spandex suit and a large wrench to sport as a weapon and, thereafter, brings his brand of vigilante justice to his surroundings.

This peculiar, but oddly touching film, has more to say than it might seem at first viewing.

Super has an MPAA rating of R for “strong bloody violence, pervasive language, sexual content and drug use”.

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