Rainn Wilson portrays mild-mannered Frank D’Arbo / The Crimson Bolt in ’Super.’
While offering a ’Shut up’ to crime, ’Super’ also quiets the viewers expectations as the film mixes the superhero and independent film genres.
Over the last few years, movie audiences have come accustomed to seeing superheroes on the big screen every summer. As their success has grown, so has the amount of comic book-inspired films, whether they be direct adaptations or direct influences of the genre.
There are so many now that the summer just can’t hold them all, and this year in particular, we’ll be seeing men in tights all year round.
Unfortunately, 2011 started with the disappointing “Green Hornet,” a comical take on the hero that was neither comical nor heroic.
With “Thor,” “X-Men: First Class,” “Green Lantern,” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” eager to redeem Seth Rogan’s stinker, it may be easy for moviegoers to miss a quiet little indie film called “Super” that was recently released in select theaters and on cable on-demand. For those who can’t wait for the next good versus evil epic, I can assure you that the low-budget “Super” is neither quiet nor little, and that’s a good thing.
Starring the last guy you’d expect to see bounding around in a bright red costume, “Super” is the story of Frank D’Arbo, an average guy aptly played by Rainn Wilson who admits right away that the only perfect moments he ever had were marrying his wife and helping a police officer locate a criminal by pointing him in the right direction.
When he loses his wife to an arrogant drug dealer, it’s only natural that he turns to the only other thing that made him happy to save her – fighting crime.
As if he needed any more motivation than that, he is divinely inspired (at least he believes so) by a bizarre holy vision brought on by watching a cheesy Christian-themed superhero fight the devil on TV.
Calling himself the Crimson Bolt and wearing a costume that amusingly bears a logo with his own mask on it, he tackles petty crime with a monkey wrench, working his way up to the evil Jacques while shouting, “Shut up, crime!” While this may all sound hilarious, or just plain dumb if it isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry – it gets serious really quickly.
The beatdowns he delivers with his weapon of choice are actually quite brutal, and we discover that the reason his wife was so easily led astray was because she was a former drug addict. Frank is clearly mentally unstable, but he shifts from crazy in a funny way to crazy in a disturbing way depending on the scene.
When he meets Libby, a comic book geek who enthusiastically becomes his sidekick, Boltie, he finds that becoming a superhero is a fantasy for her in more ways than one.
In an unlikely cross between “Juno” and “Kick-Ass,” the movie blends those awkward, self-aware characters from practically every indie film you’ve ever seen with the harsh consequences of what costumed vigilantism would probably be like in reality.
Like “Kick-Ass,” it admits that you’d have to be pretty out there to run around in tights thinking you could save the world, but “Super” takes the insanity up a notch by being even more unpredictable.
Just when you think the film is going to settle into the sensibilities laid out by its predecessors in the genre, it throws you for a loop with a moment of violence or a strange plot twist. The characters, though, are where the real madness lies, but I won’t ruin it with nasty spoilers.
I will, however, give due credit to the absolutely awesome casting. Wilson, known to most as lovable dweeb Dwight Schrute from NBC’s “The Office,” shows us the darker side of nerdom in this role, and Ellen Page, becoming better known now for her serious roles, jumps in headfirst as the sadistic Libby.
I really couldn’t take my eyes off of either the entire time, but Page stole every scene by revealing what’s underneath the cute young girl demeanor in the most over-the-top way possible, but that isn’t a criticism. It was a blast to see the whole cast just let loose and revel in this quirky and erratic script, including surprises like Kevin Bacon as the villain and fan-favorite Nathan Fillion as The Holy Avenger.
Liv Tyler is decent in her plot-device role as Sarah, Frank’s wife, but random appearances by underrated actors like Michael Rooker, Sean Gunn, and Andre Royo made me wonder who was going to pop up next in each scene. The eclectic cast makes “Super” work, although they’re helped along by the black comedy and odd imagery embedded in the story.
Writer/director James Gunn, who brought us 2006’s monster movie throwback “Slither,” has demonstrated once again how well our favorite genres can merge together if handled correctly.
With no comic to stay true to, the movie is free to play with your expectations, and while it resembles movies like “Kick-Ass” that we’ve seen before, it definitely contains many of its own original ideas.
In the same way that indie films try to capture how people really act as opposed to the idealized black-and-white characters that Hollywood perpetuates and recycles again and again, “Super” utilizes this quasi-realistic aesthetic to examine the superhero genre. It doesn’t follow the conventions familiar to mainstream movie storytelling, and it doesn’t end how those films end either.
It leaves you puzzled, it leaves you thinking, and it doesn’t leave your head for the rest of the week.
Compared to most popcorn flicks, which is frankly what most superhero films are, that’s quite the feat for the pudgy Crimson Bolt.
Let’s hope other indie filmmakers take notice, because Hollywood certainly won’t.