Sunday, August 26, 2012

Recent (Non)Horror Review: SUPER (2010)

Super (2010)
Director: James Gunn
Seen via: MPI DVD (R1)
Rating: 7/10

I missed this when it came around at Actionfest '11, but finally got a chance to check it out on DVD...

I'm sort of tired of superheroes being deconstructed. I like superheroes. Sure they can be corny or farfetched, but they're also simultaneously able to explore some pretty deep issues through their simplified portrayal of the world. Tearing them down just seems... I don't know. It's shooting at an easy target. And while I realize smart criticisms like Watchmen blow anything I've just said to bits (the comics, not the movie), the recent proliferation of disaffected, irony-saturated fare such as Kick-Ass and The Boys hasn't held much appeal for me.

I like James Gunn though, so I was more inclined to give his take on the real-life superhero subgenre a take. Super came out a little too late it seems, just after the film adaptation of Kick-Ass had become a minor hit. For that reason, I think it was unfairly overlooked, as it has the smart, funny, and clever production that are characteristic of Gunn's work.

What makes this work where others have failed is that he gives us a likeable protagonist who never falls so far into madness that he becomes irredemable. Rainn Wilson plays Frank Darrbo, a soft sort of childlike man whose wife has just relapsed into her old drug habits and left him (for Kevin Bacon nonetheless). The split crushes Frank. Inspired by a Christian kid's show (clearly riffing on Bibleman) and a pretty massive set of hallucinations, the Crimson Bolt is born. Frank's moral code is fiercely intolerant of any evil, whether it's kidnapping, robbery, assualt, or cutting in line at the movies. Despite his swing towards violent vigilantism, Frank never struck me as a sociopath. He's clearly mentally ill, and is the victim and perpatrator of some heinous acts of violence, but in the end he's working to achieve something good (unlike the narcissistic protagonist of Kick-Ass). This ends up saving the film in my eyes, because once the Crimson Bolt hits the streets, he has to face some very, very dark foes that are grounded in reality. The ensuing chaos is bloody enough to keep any gore-hound satisfied.

Super is by turns violent and light-hearted, and sometimes these things clash. Mostly though, it's the story of someone who's just been pushed too far by life and wants to even things out, no matter the cost.

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