Wednesday, September 28, 2011

SUPER (2010)

SUPER  (2010.  James Gunn)  

I was confident in myself that although I probably wouldn't find the movie terrible, I was going to walk away dissatisfied.  Perhaps it was the marketing which exploited the crayola textures of squiggly lines and block lettering layered on top of construction paper backgrounds with disproportional cut-outs of the stars head(s) peppered all over the poster - an apparent stock marketing device for every independent and fake-independent movie released over the past decade (coincidentally, most of these movies are terrible).  Or maybe it was the inclusion of Ellen Page in the cast who - I have to admit - is easy on the eyes, but generally grating to all other senses (or maybe just grating to listen to since I stopped licking television screens and went back to smelling bicycle seats and eating whatever kind of looks like popcorn off the floors of public buses).  My biggest fear of all was that this was going to be another movie far too caught up in its own language and quirkiness.  I probably would have gone on to ignore it completely, settling instead for an evening of 27 Dresses to set the mood for my first ever iowaska experience, had it not been for the praise awarded to the film from people whose opinions I respect enough to influence me to sit on a couch and stare at something for 96 minutes.

Super starts off with Rainn Wilson's character's (Frank D'Arbo) life coming apart after his wife (Liv Tyler), a stripper and recovering heroin addict, walks out on him for her boss, Jacques (Kevin Bacon), a relatively big drug kingpin.  Crippled by depression and unable to seek solace in the police who refuse to help Frank find his wife on the grounds that she is neither a missing person nor a victim of kidnapping, which Frank insists she is despite leaving on her own free will.  With his depressions and delusions worsening he returns home to rot in front of cable television. When things begin to look their bleakest Frank, after a steady bender of tentacle-rape anime porn movies and several episodes of a Christian-themed superhero television series, experiences a divine vision, not unlike the shared visions between the children of Fatima and a certain Brooklyn postal inspector's osmosis with the thoughts of his neighbor's dog.  Decidedly Frank is no longer a meager pawn in this game, but a central player, a chosen figure placed on this Earth to defend the weak from the harbingers of evil - no matter how defenseless and petty that evil may be. 

With no super powers, and no real starting place of how a Superhero need act or be, he befriends a young comic book store employee (Ellen Page) and, while operating under the guise that he is researching for a new superhero for print, gouges at her for information.  Dawning a makeshift red suit and a monkey wrench Frank -- now The Crimson Bolt -- goes to the streets looking for crime, cracking open the skulls of everyone he declares as a cancer on society and values:  child molesters, drug dealers, and people who cut in line at the movies are all treated with the same nondiscriminatory blow to the cranium and trips to the ICU, irregardless if they are men or women.

Frank, unfortunately is uncharismatic in his role as The Crimson Bolt and, even masked, his identity is easily discovered by both his wife's "captors" during a failed initial rescue mission and his young female friend who as it turns out is not only supportive of Frank's newfound vigilantism, but eager to join the ranks as his female sidekick who he reluctantly teams up with against his better judgment, only to discover that - while more mentally stable than he - she is clearly psychopathic, enjoying the fruits of homicide (and in one instance possible rape) slightly more than he feels comfortable with.  But, after she saves his life, her nobility to Frank combined with her complete lack of remorse or emotion becomes a powerful resource in crime-fighting. The two quickly set up to go after the biggest score of all:  invading Jacques' compound, killing the thugs, and getting Frank's wife back, whether she likes it or not.

What makes Super work much more than a similar recent film like Kick Ass (a movie that I enjoyed for what it was worth) is its surprising amount of depth and poignancy.  On the very fine surface it's probably not much different than Boondock Saints, another film about men with deeply religious backgrounds who resort to vigilantism after a jarring moment that completely alters their lives - playing the role of jury and executioner by their own liberal rules of what constitutes as crimes immediately deserving of death.  But where Boondock Saints fails so miserably as a film is its completely self-righteous, neo-fascist, and altogether insane attitude towards its own inherently flawed premise and subjects, trading off any scrap of intelligent catharsis for senseless black-and-white jingoism and forced, smug "coolness."  Super is the opposite.

The violence in the film is a paradox.  It's definitely played out with an absurd, over-the-top flare that one would come to expect from Gunn, the guy responsible for Slither and Tromeo & Juliet.  Conversely, it's also unsettling, to the point where it becomes physically uncomfortable to watch in places (think Commando having its DNA spliced with Alan Clarke's Elephant).  Frank sets out to turn the world into a better place and eradicate the criminals from the streets, by doing so he becomes more ruthless of a villain than any of Jacques' henchmen, mowing them down with a shotgun and homemade explosives as they beg for their lives.  Frank is a mass-murderer with well-intentions and a heart of gold.

The comparisons to Taxi Driver are omnipresent, and you'd have to be deaf, dumb, and blind to overlook that film's influence, but for me Frank reminded me of a real-life figure: Herbert Mullin, who in the early 1970's believed he was chosen by God to offer a blood-sacrifice.  This resulted in Mullin going on a five-month murder spree across Salinas, California, killing 13 people, in order to stop the state of California from experiencing cataclysmic Earthquakes, a threat he viewed as real and imminent if it were not for his devotion to God and the need to sacrifice a few lives in order to save thousands. 

Both Mullin and Frank acted out of what they believed to be the necessity of "the greater good," and that the ends will justify the means.  In Frank's case the line is slightly more blurred and just slightly less disturbing considering that this is a work of fiction.  The film ends in probably the only way that is appropriate for such a warped tragicomedy:  complete moral ambiguity, both edifying and frustrating - frustrating in the sense that one may reluctantly come to understand Frank's purpose, while finding it a repulsive delusion all the same.

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome, I hope to read more of these! I may give this one a go.