Review: Super

Posted March 7th, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Super is in no way a typical super hero story. The film carries with it a very emotionally heavy tone accented by unrelenting and graphic violence. Its unpredictable nature works quite well and the entertainment value is high, however some aspects being left unexplained prevented it from reaching its full potential.

Rainn Wilson stars as Frank D’Arbo, a depressed man already on the edge who loses his recovering drug addict wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) to drug dealer Jacques (Kevin Bacon). After receiving a “vision” Frank becomes more of a vigilante than a super hero though under the guise of a costumed crime fighter named ‘The Crimson Bolt’. In doing so he hopes to find his purpose in life and eventually rescue his wife from Jacques and her addiction.

Super offers its own unique mix of comedy, action and drama. The dramatic elements help drive every development in the film and ultimately the sympathy for Frank made him someone to root for even as his actions were certainly questionable. The relationships are genuine particularly with Libby (Ellen Page) who becomes the sidekick ‘Boltie’. She had the most fun role in the film as an overly spirited contributor, though for much of the time she is treated as more of an annoyance by Frank.

What really works well for the movie is that it isn’t afraid to muck around in the moral ambiguity and surprise the audience with twists and turns in the story. It is difficult to discuss how this is done without revealing spoilers, but rest assured that the unexpected takes place and the eventual resolution is far from predictable. The score also does an excellent job of meshing with the emotional tone of each scene.

It would be difficult not to compare this film to last year’s Kick-Ass, which featured similar themes and character motivations. One line in fact is practically the same in both movies as the question is raised why no one has ever just up and decided to become a superhero. While Kick-Ass was more stylized Super is more gritty and unglamorous, though not necessarily more realistic or emotionally powerful because of it. At times Super struggled with whether it wanted to be completely serious or goofy while making a play for laughs. That unfortunately made it feel somewhat uneven.

Quite possibly the comic book method of storytelling ultimately made for the biggest issue with the film as it concentrated on the character development and progression and the big events yet little else. ‘The Crimson Bolt’ commits his acts by driving his own car to the locations where several witnesses are present and no one notes his license plate or make and model of vehicle which could lead to the police to Frank. Other than one detective the police are an unseen force that apparently have no forensic abilities. Finally there are dead bodies cleaned up and exposed of in some fashion that the audience never sees and never leads to increased police suspicion.

Super is a heavy but entertaining and unpredictable film with some great performances. There are a lot of laughs and just as many grimaces induced due to its graphic nature. Everyone involved with the film obviously cared a lot about it and that shined through but a few overlooked details may have kept it from reaching greatness by damaging the suspension of disbelief. All that being said the final act alone is well worth seeing as everything came together in a fantastic manner.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Super is rated R and opens in New York on April 1st and limited release on April 15th.