Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ten Statements About....SUPER (2010)

Let's be honest...this is the only thing about this film most
of you are interested in...
"Look what happened to you when you don't have a kid sidekick! You get shot by people!"

1) Maybe it's because my previous exposure to Rainn Wilson has only been when he was playing that grotesque on The Office, but I was struck here by how much more nuanced an actor he was. Throughout the first act, there's such a well-meaning patheticness to Wilson's Frank that speaks volumes about the desperation of his life. There's echoes of Dwight in his performance (an argument could be made that Frank is Dwight in the real world), but it's shorn of the broad artifice.

2) That being said, I have to wonder if this film isn't damaged by its super-hero-in-the-real-world angle. Once Frank puts on the costume of the Crimson Bolt and starts wacking people with a pipe wrench, the film loses focus for large portions of the second and third acts. Especially jarring are the moment where the darkness that infuses most of the comedy sloughs off in favor of goofiness with Wilson struggling to change in a car and playing secret identity games with him boss. The costume is the biggest thing that blurs the trajectory of Frank's character arc.

After being let go in the 80's, the Domino Noid struggled with
his identity....
3) Luckily, we have Ellen Page's thoroughly insane performance as Libby, who forces herself into the role of Frank's sidekick 'Boltie.' Spastic, energetic, and demented on every level (her laugh, which is calculatedly too manic to be natural, practically becomes an element of the score), Page gives that portion of the film a jolt, while also providing a much needed contrast to Wilson's underplaying.

(And yeah...Page's costume is hideous in concept....but the way she fills it out is anything but...)

4) While James Gunn has done some good films as a writer and director, he seems to have problems here maintaining a consistent tone. The first act is strictly indie comedy....then it veers into farce, then black comedy, then gory action thriller before finally discovering his its path back to the indie comedy it's finally revealed as being. Gunn really needs to have more control over his projects, as the sliding around from tone to tone, from genre to genre, makes the film narratively murky.

5) ...and adding to that murkiness is the quirky touches Gunn uses sometimes, like the imposition of comic art elements to key moments. That wouldn't be so bad, if it wasn't done so arbitrarily. I can certainly understand the usage of comic sound effect elements during the fight scenes, but filling the screen with 'bombs' in different comic letters when Wilson says the word makes no sense.

6) Look, I know I once said I wanted to see Nathan Fillion playing Green Lantern, but after seeing him filling that yellow Holy Avenger costume like an overstuffed sausage, the opening in his mask emphasizing his double chin....I rescind that statement.

"And this is for badmouthing Steve Carrell!"
7) As Frank's, ummmm, nemesis, Kevin Bacon's Jacques is pretty damn cool. Bacon chooses to play the drug dealer not as a villain, but as a regular workaday guy. Almost all of his mayhem is executed by the people around him (headed by Michael Rooker), and he actually tries to reason with Frank at several points in the film. What that does is make his descent in the climax to a full-on murderous thug all the more impactful.

8) I almost wish we got to see more of John Elway lookalike Gregg Henry's Detective Felkner. His performance seems to hint at something more going on inside the guy's head, and his early exit from the film at the hands of Michael Rooker's Abe and his henchmen robs the film of its opportunity to do its take on the comic book trope of the policeman rival....

9) You know--and I think I blame Gunn's script for this, although it could also be my perceiving a chemistry between the actors--Linda Cardillini has a very small role as a Pet Store Employee who tries to sell Frank a pet rabbit that seemed to indicate she would have a slightly larger role. And yet she doesn't appear again, and I'm sorry that's so especially in light of how the rabbit plays a part in the film's coda.

10) I continue to be struck about how Liv Tyler--who plays Frank's wife Sarah, the character who unintentionally is the center of the story--has grown into her face finally. She's shaken off the creepy Steve Tyler-esque cast to her features, and is now just an attractive woman who is a competent actress.

Overall...while there is loads to like in this film, Gunn's script comes off as narratively ADD and could have been more successful if he didn't impose his comic book obsession on it. There are some great performances, especially from Wilson and Page, and if you're interested in some of these actors, you might want to give it a look.


  1. First of all, I don't like Rainn Wilson as I get the squicky impression that in Real Life he's a lot like the characters he plays on Tv and especially in this movie.

    That having been said, this movie didn't suck as much as I thought it would. I could have done without much of the first act. Okay, the guy's a schlub, I get it. You don't have to beat me over the head with it.

    SUPER would make an excellent double-feature with "Kick-Ass" and I have to admit, I found SUPER's take on Real Life superheroes to be more honest than "Kick-Ass"

    1. I suspect my opinion on Wilson-as-actor will be made when I get around to watching PEEP WORLD, where he plays someone who isn't some version of Dwight.

      And I can certainly see how SUPER is more honest as a film about Real Life Superheroes. After all, KICK-ASS was a major motion picture designed to be product that appeals to the widest group of people, whereas SUPER is a personal project done independantly by a writer/director who really, REALLY loves comic books (this is, if I recall correctly, Gunn's second Super-hero themes film).