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There’s something to be said for superhero movies these days that aren’t Marvel or DC produced, genrebusting film, and anything made by James Gunn. So allow me — Super, Gunn’s most recent directorial feature, is easy to get into, hard to watch, and extremely difficult to parse out. Even that assessment isn’t entirely accurate; it isn’t hard to watch like Crank 2 nipple cutting or Dune, but the violence is unexpectedly brutal, and the tone vaccilates wildly. Of course, this is a James Gunn movie, so the violence is just right, as is the immorality and profanity, and everything else that makes for a fun time. It’s got the premise to go far, and yet I must be restrained in my praise — it won’t be glowing, but it will be. The movie is very, very entertaining, but it’s also highly demented, just as knocked in the head as everyone says. The problem is that it clashes with preconcieved notions about the story and where it’s going, and this extends even to the morality of the story.
We follow a down-on-his-luck loser, Frank D’Arbo, played by Rainn Wilson, as his wife is stolen by the scheezy Jacques, Kevin Bacon no less, and decides to turn to masked vigilantism for empowerment. This is one of those goof-ball origin stories, no? So all of the resulting trial and error and crime-bashing montage is par for the course — this is familiar territory. Why then is it veering off-course, settling on the road, veering, settling, and veering again so often? I’m not just referring to the surreal sequences of being touched by God or “Bombs,” or anything — there are more than a few moments of pure what the hell in this movie, both good and bad, depending on your disposition.
If you liked Slither, you’ll probably like this movie. A better comparison though would be Kick-Ass, though I’ve yet to see that movie. Woody Harrelson was also recently in a movie like this — where there are triple A superhero blockbusters, there will persist the indie scene, and independent superhero movies like Super can’t exploit special effects and CGI for ticket sales, and they certainly don’t have the marquee value of brand names like X-Men and Spider-Man. So Super decides to go the old-fashioned route. Or does it? It’s hard to decide just where Gunn was going with this movie, what he was trying to say or what emotions he wanted the audience to feel at any given moment.
It isn’t enough for a filmmaker to simply make a movie that’s fun, whose sole purpose is to be fun, because that doesn’t always yield ‘fun movie,’ as a result. Though Machete could’ve benefitted from that formula, I suppose. The problem with Super is that it feels unfocused, but not in the usual way a movie like this could be, it’s more in an abstract area that’s difficult for an audience member like me to pin down — the actual development. This is a script that’s been sitting in James Gunn’s desk since 2002 (so no, guys, there’s no base for controversy with this and Kick-Ass, which was published in 2008), so it’s very possible that it’s been through a number of revisions, or drastic changes correlating to James Gunn then and James Gunn now.
I don’t know what the answer is. Here’s the chief issue: While I know truly nothing of superheroes or the comic world, I can gather that after Watchmen, stories about superheroes were either the genuine article or post-modern. Super is neither, though we assumed one of two going in. We think we understand what we’re watching during the first act, that Super is a slightly less zany and much more violent Scott Pilgrim–especially after that credits sequence–but as the movie goes on, we don’t know what’s coming next. Like, to the max. I figured that when his brain was touched by God, ‘we don’t know what’s coming next’ meant crazy moments, but in reality, it was sacred elements like story elements and tone and theme. Even Scott Pilgrim gets the (correct) girl at the end, but with Super, who knows what’s gonna happen.
I must applaud a film for being so audacious, though this can easily be confused for laziness, unfortunately, but it’s difficult for me to run out and hold Super over my head on the African cliffs like Simba because it’s not that the movie goes in unexpected places that counts, it’s the places themselves, and by the end of the film, we’re expecting a point. We get one, but it’s not satisfactory. I decided before the movie was over that it was an ending and a point satisfactory to the character, which would make Super doubly akin to Scott Pilgrim, because this is a movie that sort of happens in the dude’s head, and why can’t a resolution be fine just for the character? But — then we have a last shot that’s similar to the ending of A History of Violence and Oldboy. In fact, it’s the identical shot. It’s one of ambiguity. What’s going on?
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. Just let yourself go and let Super wash over you. It’s a fun movie, with a few good lol out loud moments, like the wheelchair lady, D’Arbo explaining why Robin was named after a bird (because… they’re loyal), and Ellen Page expressing discontent at the villains knowing D’Arbo’s identity. While the action isn’t exactly John Woo, when it’s got Verhoeven levels of blood and gore, it doesn’t need to be. There’s a good amount of it, but the real reason to watch Super is for the characters. The writing is priceless, and I was invested in seeing just where all of these guys were going, from the main character D’Arbo right down to the henchman played by Michael Rooker, another in the cast of James Gunn familiars.
The cast is excellent, even in those I didn’t at first recognize, like James Gunn and Rob Zombie (though after seeing Dazed and Confused and not recognizing Ben Affleck or Cole Hauser I find I’m pretty oblivious when it comes to people). I could’ve stood to see more Nathan Fillion and Kevin Bacon, but the moments they had they reveled in. The standout however would most certainly have to be Ellen Page. I’d been pretty indifferent to Ellen Page up until this point, seeing her only in Inception and five minutes of Juno, but this movie’s convinced me of her brilliance. You can tell an actor’s going all out when the accent pokes through; she handles the complicated character Libby quite well, and she’s one hell of a character. She starts out pretty normal, and by the time the movie’s over she’s been through quite a range: off-the-wall enthusiastic, psychotic, rapist, and crybaby. A number of pretty bold modes.
Super? Check it.
“They know your secret identity? FUCK!”