Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Super (2011) – Review

Super is funny, but not a comedy – features costumed heroes, but not a superhero adventure – and has graphic bloodshed, but not a gorefest. More so than last year’s Kick-Ass (resembling Defendor a bit, but without a mentally challenged protagonist, as far as we know), this film is about an ordinary man who puts on a costume to fight injustice – and the real consequences that stem from that decision. While Kick-Ass features characters that somewhat resemble comic book superheroes who seem to be able to do things outside the realm of plausibility (i.e. Big Daddy and Hit-Girl), Super is presented in an un-bashfully, if not a bit unnerving realistic manner – The Crimson Bolt literally walks up to a perceived criminal and hits him in the head with a wrench. Director James Gunn stages the film in a very organic manner – missing is the gloss and exaggeration of Hollywood film. There certainly is an indie flare (or quirkiness) to the film. The characters are not likable, but the audience connects seemingly out of a higher moral responsibility – Frank D’Arbo (The Crimson Bolt) has put on the costume to save his wife from a drug dealer who is leading her down a destructive path. While the viewer does not like Frank, would not want to hang out with Frank, the mission that Frank has set himself on appeals to a core moral need: protect the ones we love, which puts the audience firmly behind Frank and invested in the outcome. Plus, his misery sort of endears him to the viewer. The film would be interesting at that, but Gunn twists it enough to make it all the more compelling (or off-putting depending on your preferences). The narrative comments on Christian religion – from the purposely hypocritical The Holy Avenger TV series to Frank’s visions of God and demons make the film quite subversive. Frank feels that being The Crimson Bolt and hurting people (be them criminals in his mind) may be wrong and prays to God for guidance. Through the interpretations  of signs and visions, he comes to believe that God wants him to do what he must do, which in a sense is true for some Christians (and people in general) – they take what they believe are signs and justify their actions and intent. The interesting question with this film is whether Frank is just or not. On one hand he is doing things that most would not consider appropriate or moral behavior, but on the other he is doing it to save his wife and only to supposedly bad people. But Gunn twists it even more by making the violence gory and graphic. Yet, many of the violent scenes are humorous. The characters are just odd enough and the montage and framing of the film is done in such a way to make it all seem a little goofy and out there, which informs the audience that it should be funny (at least it did me). Gunn has a lot going on in the film outside of what the viewer sees on screen, which makes it an interesting piece. Super is not going to appeal to everyone. There is way too much gore, religion-joking and strangeness to engage the general moving going audience – but this was never a film for them anyway. It is funny, yet kind of disturbing shaping an interesting commentary on good and bad and the grey area in between (where we all mostly live).

Technical and acting achievements: James Gunn’s vision for the film came through very well. Visually, it feels rooted in reality, likely aided by the naturalistic and somewhat pseudo-documentary style of cinematographer Steve Gainer. However, much like Gunn’s first feature Slither, Super also has sort of a B-movie quality and appeal to it, particularly the use of gore. Production designer William A. Elliot’s locations give the film such a grimy almost forgotten dreg of suburban/small-town America look, which really plays into the narrative as well. Tyler Bates’s score sounds noting like a typical superhero movie (and that is a good thing). The original score plays off the indie sensibilities of the film, and is mixed with a rock/punk soundtrack that works well and not so much at different moments. The opening credits are fairly brilliant; featuring an animated dance number that introduces the characters and really sums up what the viewer is about to experience. The cast is good, with mostly low key performances (given the subject matter). Nathan Fillion is pretty funny as The Holy Avenger. But the film belongs to its lead and co-lead. Rainn Wilson plays the role just right, equal parts quiet, shy and restrained and on the brink of insanity. He is not likable (as said above), but very charismatic. Ellen Page steals the film. She is cute, yet scary as she is totally mad (in a homicidal way), as if she took the charisma from her performance in Juno and laid it over a budding serial killer. It is a lot of fun to watch, as she demands the audience’s attention whenever she is onscreen.

Super is fun and entertaining, but the very in-your-face violence may not be for everyone. Its indie charm mixes strangely well with its B-movie shocks. 7/10

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