Review: Super

Super (2010, directed by James Gunn)

Some people are born to be heroes, receiving the spark at birth that makes them one of the few among us capable of doing the extraordinary when necessary. And some have heroism thrust upon them, and find themselves in the right place at the right time in order to do the right thing.

Frank D'Arbo is none of those people.

James Gunn's Super is yet another film about an everyday Joe who feels a powerful need to don a costume and take a swing at evil. If it seems like the genre is played out, Super proves that it isn't. Its adherence to a DIY aesthetic, both in terms of plot and production values, gives it a realistic(-ish) grounding that makes the comedy work all the better. And moreso than most low-rent wannabe superhero movies, comedy is what Super does best. Rainn Wilson brings the perfect amount of brooding ineptitude to Frank's efforts to transform himself into the Crimson Bolt, scourge of criminals and theater line-butters alike. Nathan Fillion is at his deadpan best as the Holy Avenger, the star of a Christian kid's show and Frank's inspiration (well, he's also inspired by a hallucination in which he's attacked and his skull opened up by hentai tentacles and his brain is touched by the tiniest tip of God's finger). Even Kevin Bacon gets in some great lines as the drug dealer who steals away Frank's wife.

But when it comes to the comedy quotient of Super, nobody bring the pain quite like Ellen Page does. We're used to seeing her as a wisecracking, wise-beyond-her-years teen and occasionally as a two-dimensional projection in someone's dream world (based on the latest NASA tracking on Inception's plot, anyway). What we're not used to seeing is her as a total spaz. She plays Libby -- comic shop employee, wannabe sidekick to the Crimson Bolt (Boltie!) and sufferer from any number of possible mild personality disorders -- with a full-throated roar of stupid that has to be seen to be believed, and has me worried that her research for the role involved her following around a couple of my ex-girlfriends for a few days. She is unbelievably funny as the wildly enthusiastic Libby, and the cosplay sex between her and Wilson is probably the funniest single scene in any movie this year. Page's "It's all gushie" will be burned into your memory forever, and with any luck will be on t-shirts by next summer.

Of course, it's still a movie about an ordinary man trying to become a superhero, which means that just like Kickass, it forgets all about the inherently ludicrous nature of that quest when it comes time for the big finale. The Crimson Bolt goes from being a joke in a badly-made costume who flails away at people with a pipe wrench to transforming into a brightly-colored Punisher for the final assault on Bacon's ranch, blowing away perps with reckless abandon and uncannily good aim. At least when the movie decides to take the premise seriously it doesn't shy away from the consequences, but it's still a cliched way to take it home. One of these days, someone's going to come up with a better ending for this story.

Until then though, Super is the best of the bunch. Shut up, crime! The Crimson Bolt has his eye on you!

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