The superhero movie has reached a point that all popular genres eventually attain. The point at which the genre is running out of energy and clichés start forming. The horror franchise met it and so have romantic comedies. Once you reach this point, the genre naturally branches out to unexplored areas to test the water and get a new response.
Within the superhero domain we have seen some interesting developments recently. As opposed to the traditional crime-fighting hero, in the past year Hollywood has been providing us with a bit of variation. We have one film set in the 1960s, one set on another planet, one based during World War Two and another that revolves around a Norse god wielding a hammer. You also get films like last year's bloodthirsty Kick-Ass, which Super resembles in spirit.
Super can now be added to the list of experiments in a particular genre. The film asks the question 'what would happen if you decided to become a real life superhero?' While Kick-Ass decided to go in a distinct comic book fashion of storytelling and action just much more extreme than usual, Super decides to absolutely remain grounded in the real world and never depart it.
This dark comedy, brought to you by the writer/director of Slither, centres around Frank (Wilson), whose wife Sarah (Tyler) hooks up with a smooth-talking drug dealer named Jacques (Bacon). Frank decides to transform himself into a superhero by the name of The Crimson Bolt. Then, with the help of a trusty wrench, Frank wages a one-man war on crime. Libby (Page), a local comic book store employee, transforms herself into superheroine Boltie and becomes Frank's sidekick. The two then team up to take Jacques down.
The film is really entertaining with all the actors on top form. Wilson is a good lead and manages to not only portray The Crimson Bolt well, but also creates a character that is a little perverse and shows how extreme you'd need to be to actually adopt the role as a crime fighter. Page has also stepped into her most memorable role since Juno as a rather savage and misguided individual desperate to live out her comic book fantasies at whatever cost. Even the smaller roles are on top form with Nathan Fillion getting plenty of laughs and Bacon playing the smooth and sleazy villain.
The most apparent feature of Super, however, is by far the violence. It is brutal! Those of a squeamish disposition be warned: this is not for you. The shocking and ferocious action is all part of the real world aesthetic. This isn't Batman using batarangs and martial arts, this is a man armed with a wrench, cinder blocks and home-made pipe bombs. There were some moments that had me recoiling in disgust while laughing at the creative rampage that The Crimson Bolt went on. It fully deserves its 18 certificate.
I really enjoyed the exploration of the individuals who decided to dress up to protect others. First and foremost the mental state of these two, it must be said, wasn't top notch. They were portrayed as strange and perverse individuals. It felt like a way for these two characters to vent all their anger and frustration on others who they felt deserved it. Whether you cut in line or deal drugs, the Crimson Bolt will come for you.
Certain aspects of real crime fighting were brought up like how would you actually find crime? Where would you change into your suit quickly? And what if someone pulls out a gun? The answers to all these questions and more are dealt with expertly.
Even though the characters may have revelled in living their fantasy, the repercussions of their hobby catches up with them with devastating results. The film really emphasises the characters living out a fantasy with action sequences containing graphics you might see in the 60s Batman TV show, but then at other moments felt extremely raw thanks to the gritty realism.
There is a strange religious element in the film which contributes to inspiring our hero to take up his super-persona. I found this didn't work with the rest of the film and felt disconnected. Perhaps Gunn was struggling to think of the motivation for Frank to start helping others. Otherwise the film was hilarious throughout, with the audience bursting into laughter on every cue.
So, Super is definitely a worthy addition to the superhero genre and is a film which has such a high impact on the viewer it will not be forgotten, like Kick-Ass last year. I only hope it finds the audience it deserves and people will realise that there is room to manoeuvre within the superhero realm and be creative. Gunn is clearly a director who likes to play around with a genre and he can be very proud with this effort which now has two honours. Firstly, the best line of 2011 – 'Shut up CRIME!' – as well as the prestige of being one of my favourite films of 2011 so far.
EXTRAS ★★ A behind-the-scenes featurette (18:39), and the theatrical trailer.