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Movie Review: James Gunn's "Super"

-Review by Nic Brown-

Super heroes are everywhere. Well not in real life, but in the movies. For a long time the genre was not shown much love, relegated to B-Movie kids fare or made-for-TV movies. That began to change with the new millennium.

Films like X-Men (2000) and Batman Begins (2005) ushered in a more serious take on the films, and more attractive box office returns for the studios. In the midst of the rise of the theatrical Marvel Universe and the stuttering starts and stops of the DC film franchise a little super hero movie slipped in almost unnoticed. It’s the story of an ordinary guy in a red suit bringing justice to an unjust world--writer/director James Gunn’s Super.

Ellen Page and Rainn Wilson - Superheros? Sure why not?

Rainn Wilson (The Office) is Frank Darbo. Frank is a simple man who starts the film by telling us about the two happiest moments in his life: the day he married Sarah (Liv Tyler) and, to him, the equally important day he told a police officer which way a purse snatcher ran. In fact he reminds himself of these two events by drawing them out in crayon. While seeming somewhat childish, it grounds his character in an innocence that belies the harsh world he lives in. Frank’s happy world is shattered when his wife falls in with the wrong crowd. More to the point she seems to fall back into it, as it becomes apparent that Sarah was a recovering drug addict.

One day Frank discovers his wife is gone, with all of her clothes taken with her. He goes to the gentlemen’s club where she works and discovers she’s taken up with Jacques (Kevin Bacon), the club’s owner and mob boss. He has his henchmen Abe (Michael Rooker), Toby (James Gunn’s brother Sean) and Quill (Stephen Blackehart) discourage Frank from pursuing Sarah, with their fists.

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Frank can’t believe his beloved would willingly be with the criminals so he goes to the police to report Sarah as kidnapped. Detective Felkner (Gregg Henry) is sympathetic, but points out that there is no law against her leaving him. This leaves Frank in a low, depressed place.

That’s when he sees “The Holy Avenger” (Nathan Fillion) a bible-based super hero on a Christian network. The Holy Avenger stops the devil and saves the day. The idea creeps into Frank’s mind and he has a dream/vision that the finger of God touches him and gives him a special destiny: to clean up crime and become a super hero himself.

Frank goes to the local comic book story to research heroes with no super powers. Comic store clerk Libby (Ellen Page) takes an interest in his research, not knowing his true intentions, and helps him. Soon Frank designs a costume and the Crimson Bolt is born! Donning his new persona, Frank goes out into the night to fight crime.

He gets his ass kicked.

Apparently crime is pretty tough and while the red suit is nice, it doesn’t inspire terror in hearts of criminals. More importantly, his untrained fighting skills don’t do much against street thugs.

Frank is undeterred. He decides he needs a weapon--a red pipe wrench. He returns to the streets and shouts “SHUT UP CRIME!” as he beats criminals mercilessly with the wrench. This tactic works much better for him and soon the news is filled with reports of the red-suited vigilante attacking criminals.

Though Frank is successful in cutting down on street crime, he hasn’t achieved his goal of saving Sarah from Jacques. He follows Jacques’ men back to their boss’s mansion and watches them test out their newest drug formula on Sarah. This is too much for him. Frank smashes a window and starts to intervene… that’s when Jacques’ men pull out their guns and start shooting. Frank hadn’t counted on a drug lord having guns. He gets away, but not without being shot in the leg. Worse, Jacques recognizes him.

Unable to go home, Frank goes to the only person that he thinks he can trust: Libby. The comic store clerk is excited to find out Frank is the Crimson Bolt and while hiding him at her place and tending his wounds, she decides to become his sidekick and makes her own costume dubbing herself “Boltie”.

Frank is reluctant at first but gives in to Libby and the pair begin patrolling the streets. Boltie is even less stable than the Crimson Bolt though and she nearly kills a man who had keyed a friend’s car. Frank works to keep her stable and the two bond. They continue fighting crime and growing close, perhaps too close for Frank, a man still hoping to save his wife Sarah.

When they encounter another criminal with a gun, the Crimson Bolt and Boltie decide they need to up their game. Cue a musical montage of gun buying and arming up with body armor and gadgets. Now the pair head to save Sarah and stop Jacques once and for all.

Super was a surprising good, if violent, film that combined action, comedy and dark drama into a unique mix. James Gunn makes a movie that asks the question of what would happen if ordinary people donned masks and fought crime. It isn’t the neat, clean, good vs. evil world of comics and movies, that’s for sure. Gunn shows his roots in Troma Entertainment with Super’s dark humor and sometimes ultra-violent nature, but that is not a detriment to the film. It enhances and even makes the absurdity of the concept more believable. Wilson and Page both deliver excellent performances as the two ordinary, if somewhat mentally unstable, people who become heroes.

The supporting cast is filled with alumni of other Gunn productions (Rooker, Blackehart, Henry, Fillion, Gunn & even a cameo by Troma’s own Lloyd Kaufman). Super is a rare treat in a world filled with sequels and remakes, an original movie. Though its violence and dark humor mean that it isn’t for everyone, Super is a must see for fans of the genre. It’s also a special treat for fans of James Gunn’s other, little films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Though you may have never been to Tromaville to see heroes like The Toxic Avenger and Sgt. Kabukiman, check out James Gunn’s Troma Entertainment inspired Super and say “Shut Up Crime” to Hollywood’s much less original offerings.

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