Blu-ray Review: SUPER - Hyper-ironic, Budget Kick-Ass That Lacks Atmosphere As Much As Laughs

Some people will love this movie so it's a shame that its superficial resemblance to the superior Kick-Ass might prevent it from finding the niche audience it craves

Super, written and directed by Scooby-Doo/Slither screenwriter James Gunn, is a film about a man without powers who decides to don a superhero costume and fight crime. It's ultra-violent, brightly coloured and darkly comic, but comparisons with last year's Kick-Ass should end there. For one thing Super is satirical, using its isolated, mentally disturbed protagonist (Rainn Wilson) to question the vigilante wish fulfilment fantasy offered by comic books. The film's many extreme acts of violence are supposed to disturb you even as they make you laugh, with Wilson's Frank D'Arbo (AKA The Crimson Bolt) clearly going way too far as he beats people in the head with a wrench (usually without challenge), his victims including an obnoxious man who cuts in line at the movies and a teenager who might have damaged someone's car. And with Frank committing these acts in the name of God, the film calls into question the impact religion can have on the unhinged, whilst his use of home-made bombs parallels his actions with those of a terrorist. The nihilism, blood-lust and racist overtones of Kick-Ass are almost wholly absent. The second reason it's not to be mistaken for Kick-Ass is simpler: it's not very good. For all its troubling social values (writer Mark Millar said of the film: "It's made by Daily Mail readers, for Daily Mail readers"), Kick-Ass was stylish. Slickly edited, with infectious music, brilliant choreography and some superb performances. It was also really funny, with Nicolas Cage impressing most of all as Adam West-Batman parody Big Daddy. A genuine guilty pleasure and something of a contemporary exploitation movie. By contrast, Super looks cheap and flat. The direction has no sense of urgency, pacing or comic timing. The film lacks atmosphere. The performances are one-note and derisory - even though it boasts a spandex-clad Ellen Page as sidekick "Boltie", a sleazy turn from Kevin Bacon and an especially fay Liv Tyler. It's desperate to be a "cult classic", with its animated opening titles and quirky, "off-beat" score, but in the end that just adds to how grating it all is. One of the main problems with Super is that Rainn Wilson is an unlikable screen presence. Frank should elicit some degree of sympathy, after a childhood spent being bullied, an adulthood spent flipping burgers in a fast food restaurant and with his wife (Tyler) leaving him unceremoniously for a drug dealer (Bacon). Yet it's hard to care about him because every emotional beat is played as ironic. He cries ironically, he is left by his wife ironically and he gets beaten up by her lover's goons ironically. There isn't a shred of human truth or warmth to Wilson's screen persona - and all the best "out there", crazy, psychopathic screen characters have something about them you can hold onto. With Wilson in the lead role, the whole thing just comes across as insincere. The movie comes to life slightly when Ellen Page is on-screen, and she goes about her action business with a delicious sense of homicidal relish - her character using "crime fighting" as an excuse for anti-social violence, but the film's broad, obvious sense of humour undermines all present. The sight of brutal attacks on minor transgressors of the law can be funny, but otherwise the lack of nuance means that the funniest ideas (such as Nathan Fillion as a religious superhero on a Christian kids TV show) don't find their targets. One gag, which sees Wilson imagine himself being raped in prison, leaves an especially bitter taste: why is the rape of men amusing? (Sorry if in disliking a rape joke I've committed the cardinal sin of "taking the film too seriously".) On the positive side, Gunn's heart seems to be in the right place even if his message on violence, religion and isolation is hard to decipher, with so many themes and ideas he never has the time to develop beyond the superficial. At least the film has the strength of its convictions when it comes to the final showdown and the fate of the characters, with the director careful not to undermine his own point too much. Fittingly our social outcast, costume-wearing "heroes" are never portrayed as awesome (though there are some inventive kills and cool moments in the last half hour for lovers of murder). Some people will love this movie (our own Michael Edwards afforded it four stars earlier this year) so it's a shame that its superficial resemblance to the superior Kick-Ass might prevent it from finding the niche audience it craves. And though I didn't like it, I applaud Gunn for the ambition and ideas even if the execution is ultimately as lacking as the comedy. What Culture was not sent a full retail copy of Super for review. As a result the following review is restricted to the feature itself.

rating: 2

Super is released on DVD and Blu-Ray today.

A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.