What is it with superheroes these days? I’m not talking about the Batmans and the Iron Mans or any of the iconic caped crusaders we all grew up with. I’m talking about newfangled superheroes who come up with a semi-cool name, stitch together a costume, and then proceed to get their asses kicked because they’re not so super after all. I’m talking about Kick-Ass’ foulmouthed kids. And Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’s übergeeky protagonist. And the makeshift hero created by The Office’s Rainn Wilson in Super.
Frank (Wilson) cherishes two moments in his life: marrying Sarah (Liv Tyler) and pointing a cop in the direction of a purse-snatcher who once ran past him. He’s sad, pathetic, and a lifelong loser. When his drug-addicted wife leaves him for sleazeball dealer Jacque (a hilarious Kevin Bacon), Frank decides to take matters in his own hands … which results in a major beatdown from Jacque’s cronies.
After a late-night tear-filled confession, Frank’s head is sliced open (don’t ask) and his brain is touched by the “finger of God,” who manifests himself as the Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion in a cheesy wig and yellow spandex). Comic shop clerk Libby (Ellen Page) inspires Frank even more, uttering the words that kick off his adventure: all it takes to be a superhero is the choice to fight evil.
So he makes an ill-fitting costume, calls himself the Crimson Bolt, and goes out to fight crime. But the first night on the town is a bust. So is the second. On the third, he gets his ass kicked by a drug dealer. Eventually, with help from a heavy-duty wrench, the Crimson Bolt starts to rid the streets of pushers, robbers, and perverts. Then he gets down to the business of getting Sarah back.
Writer-director James Gunn — whose only previous feature as a director is the 2006 B-movie homage Slither — infuses Super with an indie-style aesthetic while jolting scenes with brutal violence (like in Kick-Ass, these characters bleed … a lot). There’s plenty of dark comedy here, as well as some satire. But there are also a few touching scenes involving Frank’s very real and pained love for his wayward wife.
Wilson deftly straddles the line between heartbreakingly desperate and batshit crazy, showing way more dimensions in 90 minutes than he has as the manipulative Dwight Schrute in seven seasons of The Office. Page, as the geeky, spazzed-out girl who cheers on both Frank and the Crimson Bolt (and has superhero aspirations of her own), lights up every scene she’s in. It helps that she has such a vibrant movie to bounce off of.
The terrific Super goes deeper and plays with more emotions than most of the other no-hero superhero movies. It’s also funnier and more disturbing. In the end, it’s not as much fun because it’s trying to juggle a more serious movie too, one that looks at the mortal man and twisted mind behind the cape.