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Super - UICA FIlms review

SUPER fails to leap tall buildings in a single bound, rather, it requires training wheels and more Ellen Page.
Underwriting support from:

Super at the UICA

5/5 Thursday – 5:00, 9:00 PM
5/6 Friday – 1:00, 5:00, 9:00 PM
5/7 Saturday – 1:00, 5:00, 9:00 PM
5/8 Sunday – 1:00, 5:00 PM
5/9 Monday – Closed
5/10 Tuesday – 9:00 PM
5/11 Wednesday – 9:00 PM
5/12 Thursday – 9:00 PM Final Showing!


Matinee (before 5:30 PM)

  • $4 for UICA Members
  • $6 for Non-Members
  • $4 for Children under 12

Evening (5:30 PM and later)

  • $5 for UICA Members
  • $7 for Non-Members
  • $5 for Children under 12

With the upcoming summer releases of ThorGreen Lantern and X-Men: First Class, there is certainly no denying the era of geek films is in its golden age. Perhaps with this in mind, director/writer James Gunn conceived of Super, a (supposedly) dark comedy cum satirical cum dude romantic comedy cum everyman makes it big cum superhero film. Sound disjointed and lost? Then you've got the gist of Super and why Gunn, who cut his teeth writing for Troma Entertainment, may have bitten far more then he can chew.

Super is the story of Frank D'Arbo (Rainn Wilson), who tells us at the beginning of the film that there were two really good days in his life: The day he married his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) and the day he told cops which way robbers went after they passed him on the street. When Sarah, a recovering addict, leaves Frank for a local drug king pin, Jacques (Kevin Bacon), Frank throws himself into a depressive state of my-life-sucks and no-one-will-ever-love-me-again mentality. He needs something to keep him going. One night, when skipping across the tube, Frank eventually lands on the All-Jesus Network, becoming enraptured by the Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion), a religious super hero. Later that evening, after praying to God that the only thing he wants in the world is to win back Sarah, Frank becomes convinced that the finger of God has touched him and, in addition, the Holy Avenger is his special messenger. Frank’s fate then becomes clear: All he needs to do is become a super hero (Crimson Bolt), get rid of crime AND save Sarah from the clutches of Jacques.

In the case with most geek films and stories, there is something that ties the anti-hero to geekdom, no matter how minute. Libby (Ellen Page), Frank's sidekick, is Gunn’s nod to geekdom culture. Libby, geek girl who works in a comic book store, not only schools Frank in the art of becoming a superhero but also becomes Bolty, Crimson Bolt’s kid sidekick.

On the surface, Super has everything to make it an indie darling, with the cutesy, crudely drawn cartoon intro and casting of Wilson, Tyler, Page, Bacon and Fillion in the main roles. The soundtrack, while in some spots a little too overly didactic, fits in the with the themes and mood. Even the premise, dark comedic, lo-fi look at a sad sack of an everyman who becomes superhero wunderkind should have Sundance darling written all over it. 

But poking a big stick at superhero films should have combination of fun, campiness, not terribly serious about the poking and some slight nods to the genre it’s kicking in the shins. Super does none of these things and the movie comes off as being naïve about its place in the world and hugely disjointed with story threads picked up and randomly dropped. For example, when Frank starts research on superheroes who do not have powers, he looks for things he can use and test as weapons. The only thing we see him test is a pipe wrench, which he gleefully smashes into a melon. When he first starts wielding his pipe wrench of truth against criminals, the force of the pipe wrench is much greater than the injuries we see, yet later, Crimson Bolt uses it in what is beyond B-film violence and in some spots, unsettling and unnecessary.

The next flaw is the random injection of action bubbles throughout the film. One might argue that as Frank becomes in tune with his superheroness, the action bubbles (think 1960s Batman episodes) make sense, and is perhaps a little quirky. Because of the lack of continuity in their use, the action bubbles feel out of place as an afterthought. 

An additional flaw is the lack of relatability, believability or even interest in Frank as the anti-hero. There is nothing about this guy that gives the audience something to cheer for in the film. Not only does the audience not relate to Frank, but Frank cannot relate with anyone in the film. There is something about Frank as a character, a personality or even as a idea, that is missing and makes his crusades against the bad guys not gleeful bad fun, but just ridiculous, silly and even a little pathetic.

With nods to so many different films (Kick-AssAmerican PsychoNapoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre to name a few), too many themes running through to make it a coherent film, no one to really root for or hate, you’re left wondering when did satire parody become synonymous with crap? One could argue that perhaps that is Gunn’s point: Superhero films have become parodies upon themselves because they have gone from being for the chosen few to being for the masses who do not understand their special powers. But in the end, just as Robin is always overdoing it trying to impress Batman, Gunn is trying far to hard to go beyond what he is capable of doing. There is a fine line between dark comedy and B-movie attitude and Gunn directs as if they are one and the same. Super could have been so much more, with such a great cast, chunks of brilliant dialogue, several of the twists in the story. Ultimately, it fails to go where everyone else has gone before.


Rating: 2.5/5




Disclosure: The UICA has provided a free preview screening to the author of this review prior to release.

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This is not a movie I'd watch again but for totally different reasons. The film was Brechtian in its violence. Bertolt Brecht was known for reminding the audience of the make-believe they watched on stage - a cardboard moon beaming over the set - so they wouldn't be too emotionally absorbed to think critically.

With so many superhero films and cartoons showing so little of the real physical trauma or shading it in favor of the superhero, we forget just how heartless, delusional or self absorbed someone must be to have little remorse in the wake of such horror.

To me, dark comedies depict parallel universes, are barely humorous but always thoughtful. After watching Gunn's film, I left thinking that maybe J. Jonah Jameson had a point: Maybe people like Spiderman and Frank are a menace to society.