In 2009 and 2010 viewers were given not one, not two, but three movies concerning people trying to make themselves into superheroes. The biggest release of the three was the enjoyable Kick-Ass. The one that kind of got lost between the cracks was Defendor (which I highly recommend). And then we have this movie, Super.
Rainn Wilson plays a man who is driven into action when his wife (Liv Tyler) is taken away from him by a local criminal kingpin (Kevin Bacon). At a low point in his life, he receives a vision that blends the message of a character on TV named The Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion) and the touch of god. He'll become a superhero, fighting crime on a path that will lead him to taking down the kingpin and rescuing the one he loves. It's not long until The Crimson Bolt starts to cause problems for criminals, including anyone who cuts in line at the cinema, and a girl (Ellen Page) who works in a small comic book store doesn't take long to figure out just who the new superhero REALLY is.
James Gunn is a talented guy, capable of writing scripts that blend very dark moments with great entertainment, and he shows that again with this movie, which he both wrote and directed. Super really gets its strength from clashing child-like naivete up against the harsh realities of the world around us. A world in which criminals will draw a gun and shoot a man, superhero or not. A world that replaces the "kapow" and "whammy" of comic book panels with broken bones and blood. It's no place for the main character to try out his deluded plan, but he does so anyway.
Wilson is very good in the main role, a lovable schmuck who overreaches, but does so with good intentions. He's unbalanced, but his moral compass always tends to point the right way, even if the punishment he metes out can sometimes outweigh the transgression. Page is also great, countering the dark and disturbed mental state of Wilson's character with her brighter, though equally disturbed, outlook. Liv Tyler doesn't have as much to do, mainly being the damsel in distress, but she's very good, while Bacon has a blast as the main villain, helped out by a right hand man played by the great Michael Rooker. Gregg Henry fills out the cast, playing a detective who ends up in the middle of quite a crazy situation.
Super is a good film. It's interesting and funny and dark and warped. There's just something that stops me from liking it as much as some others do. I think that may be to do with the fact that I just prefer the two other movies mentioned in the first paragraph. Kick-Ass embraced the idea to provide brilliant, bloody entertainment. Defendor used the notion to really explore perception and mental health. Super sits in between the two, which leaves it slightly less satisfying, cinematically, than either.