If people think Super is just a comedy about the guy from “The Office” putting on a suit and fighting crime, they should be warned. Writer/director James Gunn not only wrote Dawn of the Dead and wrote and directed Slither, but he hails from the Troma world, where he wrote Tromeo and Juliet and inspired Terror Firmer.
So as Frank D’Arbo, Rainn Wilson does put on a costume to become The Crimson Bolt, but he beats people violently with a pipe wrench. Comic book store clerk Libby (Ellen Page) joins him, but she’s even more bloodthirsty. So it’s a gorefest. Let’s call it “cautionary.”
Gunn went there in the movie, and he was willing to go there with me in an interview about Super. I tried to keep the spoilers minimal this time, so don’t worry too much about plot details.
Q: Most superhero movies seem to ask: Why don’t people try to stand up to crime? And their answer is because it’s really difficult, but the hero ultimately perseveres. Is your point of view that it’s actually irresponsible to do what Frank does?
James Gunn: I don’t know if I’m saying anything. I think this movie’s more about asking questions than giving anybody any answers but that’s definitely one way of looking at it.
Q: That was a question you asked.
JG: Yes, absolutely. I think the question of is Frank insane, is he sane, where’s the morality in this? We see Batman who puts on a cape and cowl and starts beating people up who he thinks are wrong and says that he’s right. We take it for granted that he’s doing the right thing. When we see that really played out, it’s like I don’t know, where do you draw those lines? The world isn’t really black and white like that. It’s pretty gray and where do you decide what’s right and what’s wrong and who gets to decide that and why?
Q: Then he gets Libby involved too.
JG: She pretty much gets herself involved though. That’s the thing. She ups Frank’s ante. She’s crazy as hell. As much as we think Frank has some issues, I think Frank does have some moral beliefs about what’s right and wrong. Libby I think really is in it truly for the violence so it’s kind of fun to see them playing together in their own little weird crazy minefield.
Q: With Crimson Bolt, is the costume irrelevant? Isn’t it just the crazy running around with a wrench that’s scary?
JG: Well, I think in our story in some ways, Super is only a superhero movie because the guy puts on a costume. Other than that, it’s really just the story about this guy and his journey. So yeah, in that way the costume is sort of irrelevant but I think it’s very relevant to Frank because I think that within that costume, he finds the freedom to act out in a way that he’s afraid to when people can see his face. He’s not a very free guy and when he puts on that costume, he’s able to be who he really is a little bit more.
Q: I meant the criminals just see a guy coming at them with a wrench.
JG: Yeah, I think in some ways they’re probably laughing at first when he has a superhero costume on. The costume was a hard thing to get right because we needed to find the right tone for the costume in the film so it was a lot of work actually.
Q: Were there other blueprints that didn’t make it?
JG: Yeah, there were. The costume designer, Mary Matthews, drew a whole bunch of different version of The Crimson Bolt’s costume and I kept being like, “No, no, no, no, no.” Then finally I drew it to show her what I wanted it to look like and that’s basically what the costume is.
Q: What was she getting wrong?
JG: I really wanted that Frankensteinian component of it. When you see his costume, it’s all those little patches and things being sewn together. We need to have the concept that this is some obsessive guy who’s sitting in a basement trying to sew this costume together with absolutely no abilities to sew whatsoever. So he makes it too tight in one spot, needs to open it up and put in another patch. Then it’s too big so he needs to slit it open and sew it back together again and he’s just done that obsessively all over the whole costume until it comes out like this weird scary Raggedy Ann fucked up thing.
Q: Did you work out your own fantasies about who you’d want to hit with a wrench?
JG: I think it’s more about working my own fantasy out but in a way that’s questioning myself. I think that’s really what that scene is about because on the one hand, I love seeing that guy get hit in the face. But on the other hand, I’m going oh my god, why do I like this? What’s wrong with me? That’s extremely violent. I think that’s what the whole thing is about. We’re kind of rooting on Frank as he’s perpetuating these acts of violence and at the same time questioning that we’re rooting him on. It’s something that we sort of naturally do.
Q: Was Libby also working out some sexual issues?
JG: I think Libby has some sexual issues. I talked a little bit with Ellen but I think it’s questionable about what her past has been like in terms of sexuality and how she’s viewed. She’s also an adrenaline junkie that needs to be doing something every two seconds. We never see her not doing something. I think sort of her relationship to sex deals with that as well. At the same time honestly, I also think Libby and Frank are kind of good together. In terms of a romantic team, I think they have real feelings for each other. Frank isn’t willing to look at that because he’s married and he doesn’t want to, so I think there’s a number of different things going on.
Q: I gave Frank credit that playing into Libby like that wouldn’t be the right thing to do, even with her consent.
JG: Part of me is like you know what? He should’ve just gone with it and forgotten about the rest of it and just lived this great life with this little crazy chick and had fun, because look what happened.
Q: Will the violence shock even your fans?
JG: I don’t think what’s shocking is the violence. I think there are many movies that are more violent than super. What’s shocking is where the violence is. I think what’s shocking is what happens in the movie more than the actual violence itself. We’ve become used to thinking we know what’s going to happen in a movie and people find it somewhat comforting that they know what’s going to happen next in a movie. In Super you really don’t know what’s going to happen next and we try to subvert your expectations at every point. I think we do do that. At the same time, I think Super which is one of the weird things, is Super is much more violent than Slither because the violence in Slither was so over the top that Super’s just a little bit more graphic and grounded so it’s actually a little bit harder to watch at times.
Super bolts into theaters today.