With the glut of superhero movies, spoofs, sequels, etc. over the past decade, nearly every aspect of masked vigilanteism has been explored. The majority offer pure fantasy escapism. Fewer delve into the psyche of the vigilante, often blurring—though rarely obscuring—the line between criminal and outlaw hero. Even fewer still attempt to place the caped crusader in the comedic light of a “real world” scenario, a category that generally reverts back to the fantastic, because, let’s face it, a single costumed human fighting crime could quickly transition from funny to boring to tragic. And unless I’m wrong, I can’t think of a single film to ever breach the taboo topic of fetishism in a costumed crime-fighter context. That Super manages to cover ALL of these areas of the masked avenger genre without being weighted down by them is an heroic feat of filmmaking.
Shot in no-frills hand-held, Super is the story of Frank D’Arbo (Wilson), a weirdo outcast who manages to marry the beautiful but damaged Sarah (Tyler) almost solely by virtue of being “not like the other guys.” When Sarah leaves Frank for Bacon, who sizzles as leathery strip club owner and drug dealer Jacques, Frank falls off the deep end. He soon becomes inspired by the Bible Man-esque Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion) to become his own superhero—The Crimson Bolt, who wields a pipe wrench and warns, “Shut up, Crime!”
Seeing The Office’s Dwight hide behind dumpsters dressed in a homemade Crimson Bolt costume in broad daylight makes for some hilarious scenes, but James Gunn, director of 2006’s underrated drive-in schlocker Slither, fearlessly explores every ugly aspect of a man who dresses up like it’s Halloween and hits people with a pipe wrench. The comedy is tempered with some truly shocking violence and Frank morphs from lovable loser to psychopath and back faster than you can say Travis Bickle. Ellen Page as Libby/Boltie, the Crimson Bolt’s loyal sidekick, piles on the laughs and insanity, channelling an intensity not seen since her breakthrough role in Hard Candy. Gunn’s unblinking drive to follow Frank’s hilarious, harrowing and even thought-provoking journey to its strange yet logical conclusion makes Super a one-of-a-kind superhero film.