No powers and little fun in Super
by Molly Templeton
SUPER: Written and directed by James Gunn. Cinematography, Steve Gainer. Editor, Cara Silverman. Music, Tyler Bates. Starring Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler and Kevin Bacon. IFC Midnight, 2011. 96 minutes. Unrated.
While theres something to be said for ã and enjoyed about ã the casting of Kevin Bacon as a skeevy drug dealer/wife stealer/generic bad dude, theres little else about writer-director James Gunns Super that makes me want to say much of anything. Mostly, I want to give this movie the bird. The story of an ordinary schlub who turns himself into a costumed vigilante after a vision of/from God (and Nathan Fillion as a cheerily smug religious television superhero), Super is another film that enjoys trying to make the audience feel like worthless creeps for wanting to watch it. Like Sucker Punch, Super makes the audience complicit in its semi-lucid commentary on exactly what its dishing out. Like superheroes? Comic books? Cartoon violence? What the hell is the matter with you? Dont you realize that violence is actually messy and vile, not stylized and sleek?
Gunn (Slither) clearly knows and likes comics, which is part of what makes Super such a frustrating, disjointed viewing experience. The films characters are universally loathsome, from needy, whiny Frank (Rainn Wilson), who becomes the Crimson Bolt after his wife leaves him for Bacons Jaques, to Libby (Ellen Page), whose sole character trait is that shes thoughtless and inappropriate. Where Frank wants to rid the world of evil and get back the girl, Libby, who positions herself as Franks sidekick after she learns his secret identity, just wants to beat the shit out of people. If you root for her, you're siding with a sociopathic twentysomething who tears into a random bad guy with her Wolverine claws. If you root against her, you're hating on a misguided young woman who works in a comic book store and probably would never have taken a sculpture to the head of a classmate if not for Franks example. Page dives headlong into Libby, and her performance works ã shes even more disturbing than she was in the excellent Hard Candy ã but to what end? Is it mockery or sincerity? Satire, send-up or straightforward story of a man unhinged by loss (and a young woman just purely unhinged)? Gunn transforms his semi-funny superhero-ribbing into an uber-violent bloodbath and nearly pulls off a faux-inspiring closure that really, really has to be sarcastic but made me facepalm in the theater nonetheless. Super is successful at shifting gears, but the whole thing feels punishing ã to the audience, the characters, the genre.
Super opens Friday, April 22, at the Bijou.