Super may sound like a copy of Kick-Ass. It’s not, but so what if it were? Why wouldn’t you want to see Rainn Wilson put on a costume and fight crime? It beats having two asteroid movies or two volcano movies. In fact, there are lots of people I’d love to see put on a costume and fight crime. Keep doing it as long as it’s awesome.
Kick-Ass was more about how hard it is to be a superhero. The question is actually the same in both movies: Why don’t people stand up and be a hero? Kick-Ass’s reason is: because you could get killed. Then the heroes persevere anyway. Super’s answer is: because it’s crazy and irresponsible to be a vigilante.
And Frank Darbo (Wilson) is crazy from the beginning. He gets the idea from a Christian network superhero show, and has a hentai hallucination anointing him. He admits he’s had visions before, so this is not exactly coming from a socially responsible place. His wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) isn’t just a bitch who leaves him. She’s critical, disinterested and a drug addict. In a flashback you see her say she thinks Frank can save her. (To be clear, that’s an example of how it’s NOT a healthy relationship.)
Also, a crazy dude in a costume hitting people with a wrench would freak out street hoodlums. It doesn’t matter if Frank calls himself The Red Bolt. He’s just dangerous. At a point, he even wails on people for cutting in line, so you see he can’t tell the degrees of crimes and treats them all just as extremely. It’s hilarious and visceral, but you get the point it’s not condoned.
Comic store clerk Libby (Ellen Page) is sincere in helping Frank find his comic book motivation, and excited when she realizes he’s done it for real. She gets so excitable that she’s willing to kill people for even lesser crimes than line cutting. Page makes this character totally real between her genuine admiration and profane excitement. Libby also makes a pass at Frank, so you understand that she needs to be seen sexually.
That’s how you make an edgy movie. You take the story in directions just a little bit outside the conventional narrative. It’s got the underdo fighting big crime, but it goes to the extremely violent, sexual and tragic places (a crying love scene, Frank’s sobbing prayer, ouch!)
The tone remains even. It’s never random that these shocking outbursts happen. It’s more like this is the inevitable outcome for these characters. Late in the movie, words start appearing on screen, ‘60s “Batman” style. That seemed a bit out of character for the film but not too distracting. It’s never irresponsible with the violence. I mean, this is Punisher: War Zone violent, but that’s what happens when unstable people get big ideas.
Super is going to be hard for people to take. It’s darkly comical and it has something to say, but every time it goes someplace weird, it’s going to lose one of the four quadrants. The audience that’s already primed for James Gunn’s work may be better prepared, but it’s still a combination that leaves you unsettled, in an effective way.