Films based on comic books, notably superheroes, have seen an explosion in popularity in recent years. Along with adaptations of the most famous titles, the last few years have seen a new sub-genre appear, those of the pseudo-heroes. Films such as Kick-Ass and Defendor have taken the conventions of the comic book genre and toyed with various elements to create a more reality-based, cynical view on the idea of a superhero. Super falls neatly into this genre, highlighting one mans slip from reality into a fantasy world where he is known as the Crimson Bolt.
Frank D’Arbo (Rainn Wilson) is the chef at a local diner who is happy to be alive. One day his world is turned upside down as his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) leaves him. Convinced that she has been kidnapped by local criminal Jacques (Kevin Bacon), he decides to create a crime-fighting alter-ego, The Crimson Bolt. While researching superheroes at a local comic book store, he meets the slightly unhinged Libby (Ellen Page) who finds out his secret and joins him as sidekick Boltie. Together the crime-fighter duo learn the ropes of being a masked vigilante and go after Jacques in order to free Sarah.
The casting of Wilson and Page as the main duo highlights the comedic base of Super, above all else it’s supposed to make the audience laugh. But rather than going the route of a foul-mouthed Apatow film, or a lowest common denominator Adam Sandler film, Super is more independently spirited with a combination of belly-laughs, slapstick and edgy dialogue comedy. The increasingly ridiculous situations that Frank and Libby find themselves in form the driving force of the comedy and the characters all have a journey to complete.
There is a strong undercurrent of dramatic pathos in Super. The tragic history of Sarah is never played for laughs and she represents the truly dramatic core to the film. But there are excellent turns form Wilson and Page, who play the emotionally damaged superhero duo with a straight face, giving their characters the freedom and confidence to grow and develop without the fear of becoming too much like a parody of themselves.
Super is surprisingly violent, which helps to bring a level of truthful consequences to characters actions, which is not always necessary. Whether it’s gunshots or wrench-attacks, every one is seen out to its bitter conclusion and one in particular is emotionally effecting and incredibly powerful in the context of the narrative. This almost hyper-violence sits at odds to the low-key, indy-spirited film and other than the aforementioned scene there was no need for it to be as violent as it was, which is somewhat disappointing.
It plays as the older, more mature brother of Kick-Ass, but Super, by losing the youthful exuberance of Kick-Ass also loses a little bit of its fun.