Directed by: James Gunn
Premise: A middle aged man dresses like a comic book superhero and fights crime on the street.
What Works: If the premise of Super sounds like Kick-Ass or Watchmen, that’s because Super is very much like those films, especially the former, but in many respects it is much better. Like Kick-Ass, an un-heroic and mostly pathetic person reaches for greatness by adopting the style of a comic hero and finds that the fantasy of vigilantism largely falls flat when it is applied to real life. Unlike Kick-Ass, the focus of Super stays on the would-be superhero and does not turn into the very kind of comic book stunt spectacle that it is commenting upon. Like Watchmen (or for that matter The Dark Knight), Super examines what superhero stories mean for individuals, how our identity is shaped by the masks (literal and figurative) that we wear, and how blind attempts to fight for what is right can lead to something that is wrong. Where this film most closely resembles and ultimately exceeds Watchman is in its dealings with middle age. The main character of Super is a man lost in contemporary life; he has followed the rules and done everything society was expecting of him and finds himself wanting. The superhero identity becomes the compensation for that emptiness. Super digs into the soullessness and dissatisfaction that Watchman only hinted at and by the end Super manages to be a satisfying story of the recovery of purpose and meaning. Among the actors, the most impressive performance of Super is provided by Ellen Page, who plays a comic book shopkeeper. Page brings a lot of humor to the film and she plays a cartoonish character with a lot of reality, which is an odd combination. Her relationship with Rainn Wilson’s character adds a critical and complicated element to the film that fleshes out the themes of identity and purpose.
What Doesn’t: The main weakness of Super is in the casting of Rainn Wilson as the lead character. His performance isn’t bad and Wilson’s appearance and demeanor are sufficiently ordinary but the film would have been better off with an actor with a wider and more subtle acting range. Super is also underwhelming in the action scenes and it is likely to frustrate those who come to it expecting a straightforward action comedy. The film’s laughs are offset by the underlying desperation of its main character and as an action film Super does not have the large scale shoot outs, stunts, or chases characteristic of the superhero genre. Of course, that is the point of Super’s approach to the superhero story, but those expecting a more traditional action picture may be disappointed.
Bottom Line: Super is a good film. Although its themes have been done before in Kick-Ass or Watchmen, this film does it far better and by the end, Super manages a noteworthy entry in the oversaturated superhero genre.
Episode: #337 (May 1, 2011)