May 04, 2011
By Conor Gilliland *

By Conor Gilliland *

What would really happen if someone tried to be a super-hero? James Gunn asks the question with his recent IFC release “Super” in a naïve, if not sickening, attempt at humor and novelty. 

In the movie Frank D'Arbo's wife (Liv Tyler) leaves Frank (Rainn Wilson) for another man, a drug dealer named Jacques (Kevin Bacon). After a failed attempt to get her back, Frank goes to the police only to find out that Jacques cannot be arrested for stealing her affections.

While flipping channels, Frank sees a TV show featuring the Holy Avenger, a super-hero who fights with the power of Jesus. Frank believes he has a vision where God calls him to save his wife, and fight crime along the way. Frank sews up his costume and becomes Crimson Bolt. His trademark weapon – a pipe wrench. 

The comic book store girl (Ellen Page) takes an interest in Frank as he frequents her store to do research for his alter-ego. She suspects him of being Crimson Bolt at first but does not know for sure until he shows up at her house with a gun shot wound. That's when she introduces herself into the crime-fighting life as Crimson Bolt's side-kick – Boltie.

Ellen Page breaks new ground in her acting career as she explores new depth in a more eccentric, emotive, and dynamic character than she has played before. Page's quality of acting is a bright spot in the film, one of the few, but it gets overshadowed when she seduces Crimson Bolt in one of the several explicit sexual scenes in the movie – including a rape scene.

The movie takes a turn for the disgusting when Crimson Bolt, who had previously only fought felons, viciously attacks a couple who “butted” in the movie line. This scene set the tone for the rest of the movie which can be aptly characterized as gluttonous violence.

Despite the obviously offensive traits of the movie, one wonders if there is anything to be gleaned from watching it. Crimson Bolt's catchphrase “Shut up crime!” would be a positive notion to take away, but he did not only try to end crime, he and Boltie also set out to even personal scores. The movie  cynically offers the sentimental notion that “All it takes to be a super-hero is the choice to fight evil.”  While this statement would be true in itself, the movie only presents it as a mockery of anyone who would accept it.

A little learning, they say, can be dangerous – and I think the same goes for truth.  There is just enough truth scattered throughout this movie, like shards of glass on the ground, to cut your feet as you pass by. 

Frank D'Arbo begins the movie with only two perfect moments in his life.  He ends with many.  However, Gunn makes it impossible to cheer for Frank's perfect moments because he consistently mocks his two motivations – faith and morals.  I expect it was Gunn's intention with this movie to present a caricature of both.

If Gunn's aim was to depict how a real life super-hero scenario would play out, then he only succeeded in a naïve, and at times sickening, portrayal of psychopathic behavior.

Some movies are windows into reality, others use the glass to make you bleed.

This one is a bleeder.

Conor Gilliland is an affiliate professor of philosophy at Metropolitan State College of Denver. 
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