By Carl Kozlowski
April 4, 2011
At what point does the stress of modern living become too much to bear, so much so that it can cause a perfectly good person to snap? That question has been the focus of two of the most memorable films in recent decades—Taxi Driver and Falling Down. Now a new film called Super is adding its own potent and surprising answers to that question.
Starring Rainn Wilson, who plays Dwight Schrute on the popular NBC sitcom The Office, Super follows last year’s Kick Ass, exploring what would happen if an average person without special powers donned a superhero costume and strived to fight crime anyway. Both films pack a subversive punch, as Kick Ass focused on children and teenagers swearing and battling their way through a crime wave, while Super walks a daring tightrope by mixing comedic moments with suddenly shocking violence and an unflinching, sympathetic depiction of a man wrestling with his faith and calling.
Wilson plays Frank, an utter weakling who has been comically stepped on his entire life. The one good thing in his life is his gorgeous wife, Sarah (Liv Tyler), but even she is caught up in a ravaging drug addiction and has begun disappearing for hours on end.
When a mysterious and sleazy guy named Jacque (Kevin Bacon) shows up at Frank’s house looking for Sarah a day before she clears all her stuff out and leaves for good, Frank reaches his breaking point. He has earlier revealed that he’s prone to humorously bizarre visions of Christ advising him on his life, but now he falls to his knees in a scene that’s almost difficult to watch in its sincerity and naked emotion.
Asking God why He allows some people like him to never catch a break in life and to always suffer, Frank vows that if he can just win his wife back, he will do anything for God and will never ask another favor again. He immediately feels the call to become a superhero, fashioning a suit and persona he names Crimson Bolt, and proceeds to fight the crime on his city’s streets.
At first, he overreacts to a couple cutting in line at a movie theater and sends the crowd running by beating the man with a wrench. Soon he steps up to fight bigger crimes, eventually drawing the attention of local news outlets and an obsessed fan in Libby (Ellen Page), a girl in her late teens who creates her own sidekick persona as Boltie, pushing their crime fighting to outrageous extremes that frighten even Frank. And they haven’t even begun to mete out their justice on Jacques and his henchmen for stealing his wife and polluting their city with drugs...
Super is the new film from writer-director James Gunn, whose prior movie, 2006‘s Slither, also wedded the horror, comedy, action and sci-fi genres to create unique entertainment. But here, Gunn’s moments of light and dark are unforgettably stronger, drawing sympathy for Frank even as it forces viewers to consider whether he’s completely lost his mind.
Yet even at those moments where one might expect the film to indict Frank or mock his faith and sense of mission as both a spiritual crusade and an earthly battle against evil, the film offers its biggest surprises by maintaining its respect for Frank. He may take things too far at times, but ultimately he's shown as a good man genuinely trying to uphold good values and shine one little light in an ever darker world.
Be warned that this film is loaded with profanity and surprisingly serious violence appears at times, plus a non-nude sex scene of very questionable circumstances, but trust me that it is a film that will offer plenty to consider about faith, right and wrong and what our responsibility to do good in society is.
Wilson is stunning throughout, as he shatters the impression he has built among viewers through his beloved yet often one-dimensional portrayal of Dwight Schrute. He delivers a completely unpredictable and wide-ranging performance that in a perfect world would be Oscar-worthy. Page offers up solid support in her meatiest role since her Oscar-nominated turn in Juno, and Bacon is sublimely sleazy as well. Super will be too extreme for many viewers, but for those who can handle somewhat disturbing material, it’s a heroic film indeed.