TIFF Movie Review: Super (2010)

Rainn Wilson in Super
Photo: IFC Films

Riding a wave of acclaim following its midnight premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, I stepped into a screening of James Gunn’s Super four days later with cautious anticipation. Super is the story of yet another everyman taking to the streets as a superhero along the same lines as the recent Kick-Ass and Defendor. The selling point here is over-the-top violence peppered with a few solid one-liners, but most important, a commitment to its subject matter that brings the packaged together. Little else could be expected from the writer/director of the highly entertaining, yet ignored 2006 sci-fi horror Slither.

Following the overlong title sequence, that admittedly has a very funny conclusion, we’re introduced to Frank (Rainn Wilson), a burger flipper whose one-time junkie of a wife (Liv Tyler) has just left him for Jacques (Kevin Bacon), a local drug dealer whose name Frank comically believes to be spelled “Jock”. Not having the wherewithal to stand up to Jacques as Frank, he quite literally believes he’s been touched by the finger of God (voiced by Rob Zombie) and has been chosen to stand up to not only Jacques, but all crime as The Crimson Bolt. As a result, Frank fashions a uniform out of whatever he can find and decides “Shut up crime!” will serve as his motto and a giant pipe wrench will serve as his weapon. And you better believe he isn’t carrying that pipe for show.

Beating drug dealers into bloody heaps and bludgeoning a couple that tries to cut in line at the movies — “No butting in line!” — The Crimson Bolt becomes a news sensation, drawing the attention of a local comic book store psychopath played with perfect comedic timing by Ellen Page (Juno). Adopting the role of The Crimson Bolt’s sidekick, Page adds the boost Super needs about midway through and helps bring the film home.

While the story sounds dramatically familiar, Super‘s commitment to its content is where it stands above other films like it. Super keeps to its slightly heightened-reality with only a flair for the violent. Gunn doesn’t turn to overly fancy gadgetry such as jet packs and ridiculous kung-fu as much as his characters take to the Internet and the local gun outlet for their elaborate weaponry ideas and still find they aren’t indestructible.

Considering all the positives, walking into a film like this with the adoration of the midnight masses in my head, Super didn’t appeal to me in the same way. I respect the comedy, such as Page’s delivery of one line that is just as inappropriate as it is hysterical, and the over-the-top violence does well to service the characters’ frustrations. However, too many dull moments in-between caused me to fade in and out of the story.

We’re not talking about a narrative filled with complex turns in plot, but instead a straight-forward vigilante story that follows its established path. I imagine had I been in a theater filled with the film’s target audience I would have enjoyed my time a bit more, but you can’t always get a large group of comic book fans together at just the right moment and we can’t control our theatrical viewing environment as much as we’d like.

As such, I can’t second the sentiments of the panting horde that carried Super on their shoulders coming out of the Toronto midnight screening, but I can definitely say I enjoyed it.