The real-world superhero genre is a tough nut to crack. I mean the ‘Kick-Ass’ franchise went from masterpiece to disgusting shock-fest in a single movie. ‘Super’ doesn’t quite reach those heights . . . but neither does it plummet to those vacuous lows.
Rainn Wilson plays Frank Darbo a middle-aged man who’s too dull to keep his wife (Liv Tyler) from regressing towards her drug-fuelled past and walking out on him. Still deeply in love with her, he vows to save her from her evil pimp, Jacques (Kevin Bacon), and, urged on by a wacky tentacled fever dream, ‘Crimson Bolt’ is born.
Like Kick-Ass before it, Super hits all the expected story beats. In fact, James Gunn (writer & director) is so confident in the plots uniformity that he skims across the entire narrative in the inspired hand-drawn opening credits sequence. That also stands as the first of many wonderful uses of music. It may be cliché to play melancholic indie songs over melancholic indie scenes, but Gunn executes it perfectly.
In fact, the film is pretty flawless for the first half. It’s moving, charmingly-crafted and deals with real emotions but, while Ellen Page’s introduction moves the plot forwards, her character also pushes the tone backwards. Boltie’s strange reaction to violence is often too uncomfortable to be enjoyable and her performance, scripted or not, just doesn’t ring true. It’s a real shame because Wilson is truly excellent and, on her day, Page can be a joy to watch.
It’s often horrific and it loses its way in the second half, but ‘Super’ is a more-than-welcome addition to the real-life heroes subgenre and it stands as a perfect vehicle for Gunn’s wackiness and Wilson’s delicate performance.