I make it a policy to avoid eye contact with people in costumes posting signs in the neighborhood like this.

Theatrical Release Date: 04/15/2011
Director: James Gunn
Cast: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon, Liv Tyler, Michael Rooker, Andre Royo, Nathan Fillion
Rated: Not Rated by the MPAA
Runtime: 1 hour, 36 minutes


This isn’t exactly the Hall of Justice.

Although it could be described as a low budget “Kick-Ass“, don’t let the veneer of “Super” fool you: this film may be in the same genre but it tackles the notion of your less-than-average Joe Schmoe donning tights and fighting crime in a completely different manner.

Our protagonist is Frank D’Arbo. Played by Rainn Wilson, his greatest achievement in life was marrying a waitress (Liv Tyler) at the restaurant where he works. However, his life takes a turn for the decidedly worse when she runs off with Jacques (Kevin Bacon), opting to reject the notion of a suburban lifestyle in favor of being supplied with the drug habit she failed to kick completely.

This flips a switch in Frank’s brain and leaves him vulnerable to pursuing perhaps the worst course of action in order to get her back. Thanks to a television program wherein a costumed Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion) battles a demon (played by writer/director James Gunn himself) trying to tempt otherwise virtuous people, Frank invents the alter-ego of The Crimson Bolt. After getting some tips on how to become a superpower-less crime fighter from the local comic book shop employee, Libby (Ellen Page), he sets out to fight crime and eventually work his way up to “rescuing” his wife.

Frank is basically a cross between Travis Bickle and The Tick. And while I’m not equating his performance or the film on a level anywhere near “Taxi Driver”, in using this approach, the tone feels simultaneously natural and surreal. It’s clear to the audience that he is experiencing a mental break but obviously, he sees his costumed vigilantism as a means to exact justice and right the wrongs. His nobility of purpose is both honorable and pathetic – which seems about right when you’re analyzing what it takes for someone to put on a mask, grab a pipe wrench and fight whatever “crime” is at hand; whether that’s dealing drugs or butting in line. (Pro-tip: Don’t butt in line.)

Helping him along the way, Libby not only provides some initial inspiration but become his faithful sidekick, Boltie. There are a lot of things going on with her from a psychological point of view and it’s one of Page’s finest roles, showing the most dynamic range since 2005′s “Hard Candy”. Likewise, Kevin Bacon’s turn as the slimy, yet charming and polite, villain is an absolute joy to behold. He clearly relished the opportunity to play a character such as this and dominates nearly every scene he’s in.

Considering some of the gore and overtly silly elements thrown in here and there, it’s quite appropriate that Gunn (whose directorial start came with Troma films like “Tromeo and Juliet”) even gave Lloyd Kaufman a cameo, although this makes more sense than the average Troma film. And by silly (albeit delightfully fun), I mean doing things like letting Rob Zombie play the voice of God directing the Holy Avenger in his efforts and adding cartoon “Bamfs” to some of the action, a la 60′s-era Batman episodes.

Simply put, “Super” is a darkly comic, yet at times surprisingly heartfelt look into the twisted headspace of a man who’s been pushed too far and it gets a 4 out of 5. There are times when the production tends to lag a bit but if you want to see why ordinary people shouldn’t strap on tights and take matters into their own hands, this ought to do it. The characters face far more realistic consequences for their actions than most films would allow and it elevates this from a throw away cinematic ode to geeks into something almost sublimely profound.

If you aren’t a fan of the genre or don’t think the seemingly scattered nature of the production will gel enough for you, maybe this is something to skip … but don’t be so surprised if this becomes somewhat of a cult classic over time – as the niche demographic this appears geared towards converts their friends from skeptics into believers once this hits the home market.

4 out of 5