Here Is A Man Who Stood Up, by Rudie Obias
As an audience, we like rooting for the underdog. We like the idea of upsetting the favorite. Something about coming from behind or overcoming your personal best is pretty exciting to us. In the new film from James Gunn, Super, we are not prone to rooting for the underdog here, more like the filmmakers making us feel bad for rooting for the underdog, especially if that underdog is psychotic, idealistic and hopelessly obsessed with finding purpose.
In Super, James Gunn takes those ideas and mixes them with the ideals and glorification of the superhero and soon after subverts them by asking the question, “what if”. This is not a new concept; we saw this in Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass from 2010, but where that film fails in answering that question, it seemed more interested in following those comic book troupes and embracing their cartoonish side, Super succeeds by really questioning the motives of its characters and more importantly, their actions.
Super is the story of Frank (Rainn Wilson), a short order cook in a dingy diner whose wife (Liv Tyler) leaves him for a sleazy upstart drug dealer (Kevin Bacon). To over compensate for his shortcomings as a husband, a man and even a human being, he prays to God to make him super and exceptional. He feels it’s his duty to become a real-life costumed superhero. He adopts the name “The Crimson Bolt” and patrols the streets preventing crime. But when a local spunky comic books store clerk (Ellen Page) discovers his true identity, she wants in on the action and adopts the persona, “Boltie,” his sidekick. This is taken and played as comedic; the sequences involving crime fighting are highly effective in regards to laughter. But there is a moment in the film where the laughter quickly turns into true horror. Effectively, James Gunn makes a statement about violence, fan boy enthusiasm, morality and justice. This was also the moment Super succeeds, for me, but easily I can see how it might not for others. James Gunn pushes his chips in the center of the table and hopes he has a winning hand, whether the film succeeds or fails is up to you. And for my money, he does.
Super is a very bold film. Not to be mistaken for a typical comic book movie, it’s far more interesting in that. The morality placed on its characters and audience is completely fascinating. Really, Super feels like Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver in that manner. Both dealing with the self-importance of its main characters and subverts an audience’s expectation and notions in what can happen in these sorts of films. And, ideally, the movie lives up to its title.