“You don’t butt in line! You don’t sell drugs! You don’t molest little children! You don’t profit off the misery of others! The rules were set a long time ago! They don’t change!”
The Scoop: 2011 R, directed by James Gunn and starring Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon, and Liv Tyler.
Tagline: Shut Up, Crime!
Summary Capsule: After losing his wife to a drug dealer, sad sack loser Frank decides he must become a superhero to win her back.
Al’s rating: This is the most messed-up movie I’ve seen in a long time.
Al’s review: SUPER is not a superhero movie. It’s really about a guy named Frank (Rainn Wilson) and the difference between right and wrong. When we meet Frank, he is drawing a picture of the two perfect moments in his life: the day he married his wife, Sarah (Liv Tyler), and the one time he helped a police officer stop a criminal. He’s pretty much fixated on these two moments, which is understandable once you see how much everything else in Frank’s life sucks. He’s a friendless short-order cook in a dead-end diner; his past is full of abuse and rejection; and his general self-esteem is somewhere south of nonexistent. Those two shining days are really all Frank has.
And then one of them gets taken away. Sarah starts hanging out with other men. He walks in on her, a recovering junkie, taking bong hits in the living room. A skeezy Roxbury Guy named Jacques (Kevin Bacon) shows up at his back door. Eventually, he comes home one day to discover Sarah is missing and all her clothes are gone from the closet. Frank decides his wife has been kidnapped by Jacques and goes to the police for help. He is turned away. He tracks down Jacques himself, but gets his ass kicked. Frank returns home, despondent, and goes to bed after sobbing out an angry, hysterical prayer to God. That night, he has a vision that changes his life.
It turns out Frank has had a lot of visions, everything from hearing voices to seeing demons. He’s not sure if the visions are divine, but this particular one seems to manifest based on his recent TV viewing habits (some Japanese tentacle porn and the adventures of a low-rent Christian superhero named The Holy Avenger). When he awakens, Frank believes he has been touched by God and now knows what he must do: he will become a superhero himself, right the city’s wrongs, and rescue the woman he loves!
And this is where SUPER becomes a laugh riot, right? Because it’s Dwight Schrute in a cape, right? Right?
Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Frank’s alter ego, The Crimson Bolt, doesn’t have any powers, which means Frank needs more than a suit and a logo. He does some research, reading up on heroes like Batman, Iron Man, and Green Arrow and then comes up with his own weapon of choice: a really, really big wrench.
Now, part of what follows is genuinely funny, like when Frank is braining pedophiles and street dealers. Things become a lot less funny when he beats a movie theater line-jumper and we watch the man’s nose explode and his skull crack open. Again I repeat: SUPER is not a superhero movie. This is a movie about an emotionally disturbed man attacking people with a blunt object.
Speaking of disturbed, Frank’s double life is discovered by an enthusiastic comic book nerd named Libby (Ellen Page). She likes the idea of being a superhero and talks her way into becoming The Crimson Bolt’s kid sidekick, Boltie. She wants to be the Robin to his Dark Knight, which might have actually calmed Frank down a bit if Libby wasn’t a complete sociopath. She screeches and hoots as she maims those deemed evildoers and has a rather alarming sexual reaction to all the violence around her. Frank isn’t sure he’s doing the right thing when he allows Libby to tag along, but she convinces him that she is simply “still learning” and she’ll figure out how to be a hero eventually.
In case I’m being less than clear, SUPER is the darkest comedy I’ve seen in years (and I *am* choosing to see it as a comedy because I’m not sure that I’m prepared to deal with this level of nihilism in any other way). The violence is heavy, brutal, and relentless. It’s so pervasive that it could’ve toppled the film if the performances surrounding it weren’t as good as they are. Rainn Wilson plays Frank as so awkward and weird that you have to laugh but so pathetic that you immediately feel bad about it. Ellen Page is a frightening brand of crazy, daring you to wonder how nuts she’ll get and then going one step further. Kevin Bacon makes sure that Jacques oozes slime and really makes you want to see him get what’s coming to him. Liv Tyler doesn’t have much to do other than look like a drugged-out angel, but that’s how Frank sees her anyway, so it’s really okay. Even the small parts are filled by insanely talented people having a good time, like Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker, Andre Royo (Bubs!), and Linda Cardinelli. Most of them don’t have more than one or two scenes, but all of them assist in making sure this movie never slows down and always has your attention.
One last thought: The immediate comparison that springs to mind when trying to explain SUPER is last year’s Kick Ass, but I think that’s a mistake. Yes, both movies feature “real people” trying to be superheroes, have lots and lots of realistic violence, and include a foulmouthed girl playing a kid sidekick. Kick-Ass, however, lacquers everything in a slippery rock n roll coating. Every time the movie wants you to feel “Jeez, this is messed up,” it can’t help adding “…but it’s pretty awesome, too, right?” SUPER doesn’t sugarcoat anything. It’s a story about sick people doing messed up things for a sense of personal satisfaction. If anything, SUPER is the story of The Punisher. In fact, I’d say it’s the Punisher movie that studios have been trying to make for twenty five years. It’s incredibly violent, seriously dark, plenty uncomfortable, and more than a little funny. If that sounds intriguing to you, then SUPER is worth a look. If you’re thinking “maybe not,” then trust your gut and stay far, far away.
- Any movie that opens with dancing bunnies has to be good, wholesome fun, right?
- Also, I love how the cartoons are out of breath at the end of their dance number.
- The Voice of God in Frank’s hallucination is played by Rob Zombie. Man, this movie is just not kind to religion, is it?
- Frank’s posters read “Watch Out Crime! The Crimson Bolt is in your hood!”
- They never let you forget how much getting hit with a wrench hurts!
- I have never found girl-on-guy rape jokes very funny, but it’s interesting how much less it bothers me in a movie like this where everything just feels messed up beyond description.
- So, that cop just sort of disappeared from the story, didn’t he?
- I like the acknowledgement that Kevlar vests are frickin’ heavy.
- Libby has Wolverine claws for the climax of the movie.
- At one point, Liv Tyler uses the phrase “f**ked up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional.” Her dad, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, wrote a song called FINE in the 1980s where F-I-N-E is an acronym for that same phrase.
- Say whatever else you will about this movie, but it has a badass soundtrack.
The Holy Avenger: All it takes to become a superhero is the choice to fight evil.
Frank: You weren’t supposed to kill him!
Libby: I’m still learning! You have to teach me these things!
Jacques: This isn’t about good and evil! This is about she loved me more because I! AM! INTERESTING!’
Frank: People look stupid when they cry.
Frank: You don’t butt in line! You don’t sell drugs! You don’t molest little children! You don’t profit off the misery of others! The rules were set a long time ago! They don’t change!
Jacques: You really think that stabbing me to death is going to change the world?
Frank: I can’t know that for sure unless I try.
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