Review by Gordon Justesen
Wilson. Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon, Nathan Fillion
Director: James Gunn
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 96 Minutes
Release Date: August 9, 2011
“SHUT UP, CRIME!!!!”
Last year's vastly underrated Kick-Ass delivered a unique and totally fresh approach to the traditional superhero story. It was a one of kind mixture of comedy and unexpectedly brutal and bloody violence. It pulled no punches whatsoever, and in my mind was just the kind of fresh take was needed in a genre that seemed to be churning out one familiar heroic story after another.
But if Kick-Ass was the first film to apply this approach, then writer/director James Gunn's Super is the first one to take the approach down a much darker path, though the overall premise has been seen in indie fare such as Defendor with Woody Harrelson (highly recommended) and the super low-budgeted Special with Michael Rapaport). Super is absolutely on par with Kick-Ass in the way it takes a bold approach to familiar material, although to be honest Gunn's film is way more violent and demented...and trust me, folks, THAT'S saying a lot. But Gunn happens to come from the Troma school of filmmaking, which means everything but the kitchen sink will be featured in this movie as far as blood and mayhem goes.
The hero of the story is Frank (Rainn Wilson) who is such a wimp that he makes Peter Parker and Clark Kent look more menacing without their alter egos. He's not too bright and he lacks the handsome looks, but he does have two accomplishments in life that have helped to keep him going. The first one was when he helped the police stop a thief's robbery, and the second was when he married the woman of his dreams, Sarah (Liv Tyler).
But Frank's world starts to crumble apart when Sarah, a recovering addict, is whisked away by a super-suave drug dealer named Jacques (Kevin Bacon). When it becomes clear that she is not coming back any time soon, Frank decides to step up to the plate and become a vigilante superhero. This decision is inspired by three precise things: a passion for comic books (ones that involved heroes that used weapons and had no real super powers), pride stemming from the day he helped thwart crime, and his favorite TV character...a Christian superhero named The Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion).
Before long, Frank has whipped up a homemade red-colored costume, and dubs himself The Crimson Bolt. On his first night out of crime fighting, where he attempts to combat a drug dealer, Frank forgets to arm himself with a weapon. He fixes this by equipping himself with a super-sized wrench, and after test-using it to smash a giant food object he simply says, “That'll do.”
What then follows is a montage of scenes that literally shocked me into a demented joy, in which Frank literally takes his wrench and starts smashing the skulls of every criminal he comes across, and without any bit of hesitation. He destroys the same drug dealer he confronted earlier, followed by a street mugger, a pedophile and another dealer. It's a series of scenes that had my lower jaw plummeting closer to the ground as it went on, and I loved every minute of it.
Once The Crimson Bolt has made his presence known, it doesn't take long for him to receive a request for a sidekick, who in this case is Libby (Ellen Page). She knows Frank through the comic book store he frequents and is the first one to figure him as The Crimson Bolt. In no time at all, she also creates her own costume, and becomes the faithful sidekick known as Boltie.
Super is one of those rare movies that simply isn't afraid going to extremes, whether in displaying levels of violence that would make Neveldine/Taylor proud or delving into the twisted psyche of Frank, who experiences a few bizarre delusions before convincing himself to become a superhero. And another unexpected curveball is when Libby, once dressed up as Boltie, is turned on sexually and begins to offer herself to Frank, who of course is trying to remain faithful to the very woman he's trying to save. And yet another curveball is the revelation that Libby is even more psychotic in her crime fighting than Frank is.
Rainn Wilson made his mark on TV as the uptight and slightly twisted Dwight Schrute on The Office, one of the best comedy series of all time. He's had several film roles since then, but this is by far his most successful big screen performance yet. It's a very layered character, offering Wilson the opportunity to show off the comedic ability we know him for, while at the same time display some truly convincing moments of insanity and heartbreaking emotion.
The supporting cast also shines immensely, with Ellen Page giving a tremendously fearless performance as the eagerly violent sidekick. And Kevin Bacon, who also provided a most memorable villain in this year's X-Men: First Class, is remarkably funny and brilliantly vile as the main heavy here. And cult favorite Nathan Fillion (of Firefly fame) is nothing short of astounding as The Holy Avenger.
Super is unquestionably a true cult-classic in the making. Many will adore it, as I already have, while others are sure to loathe it without hesitation. But in the end, I simply can't help but applaud this film for being the singularly one-of-a-kind experience it is. James Gunn has definitely created a film that I can define best with the rarest of three word descriptions: a psychotic masterpiece!
If I'm not mistaken, this is the first Blu-ray from IFC that I've had the chance to review. As far as the video performance goes, this is a surprisingly top-notch presentation given the film's light budget and gritty filmmaking approach. The 1080p really shines in the displaying of our heroes red and green costumes. There's also a fantastic animated opening title sequence that looks amazingly stunning. And the rest of the film looks tremendous in all of its settings throughout the city landscape, be it daytime or nighttime. As far as video presentations go, this release from IFC is very much one of the biggest surprises of the year!
When I initially popped the disc in, I couldn't believe my ears. The packaging claims to have simply a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. But a bout midway through, after hearing some thunderously dynamic portions of music and violence, I checked my audio settings and, sure enough, the sound mix was identified as DTS HD. There are many doses of action to go around in the form of frequent gun shots, skull bashings and such. And the selections on the soundtrack really deliver in the lossless audio, especially the song played during the aforementioned montage (“God Knows My Name” by Moneybrother). Dialogue delivery is terrifically top notch from beginning to end, as well!
This Blu-ray release from IFC delivers just the right amount of extras, including a fun commentary with writer/director James Gunn and star Rainn Wilson as well as a 20 minute behind the scenes featurette that really is a cut about the traditional approach (which I definitely appreciate). Also included is a brief documentary on the making of the film's animated title sequence, a short and most amusing promotional piece for the film from the South by Southwest film festival titled “How to Fight Crime at SXSW”, a Deleted Scene, a TV ad and Theatrical Trailer.
Super is about as extreme as any movie you will see this year, if not the most one you'll ever see. It wears its insanity on its sleeve, and that's what I respect most about it. If you loved Kick-Ass and are thirsty for another superhero movie that is balls-to-the-wall and doesn't hold a thing back in the brutal violence department, then this is without question a definite MUST SEE EVENT!