Captain America, Green Lantern, Thor and X-Men: First Class may well be terrific movies. But a strong contender for "most memorable superhero movie of the year" is already out, and it stars the most unlikely superhero of all: Rainn Wilson.
No, seriously. Super is an outrageous comedy, but it's also got something that few other superhero movies have — it's a character study. This movie is a weird blend of quirky character-based indie comedy, and half demented superhero spoof — and neither half gets shortchanged. With Frank D'Arbo, Super has created a hero we can both laugh at and identify with, which is all too rare.
There's a moment, which you've probably glimpsed in the trailer, where Rainn Wilson's character Frank is on his knees praying and crying and kind of freaking out. It's one of those weird things where you start out laughing at how preposterous this character is, and then you start feeling how sad and hopeless he is. The moment whipsaws between extreme comedy and genuine pathos, and you either stop laughing or feel guilty for laughing. You'll be left wondering at times, "Am I a bad person for laughing at this?" (The answer is yes. But we are too.)
That's how Super is — it's messed up and funny and deeply emotional and actually kind of spiritual. And did we mention messed up?
This film is definitely not going to work for everybody — some people may find the extreme graphic violence and weird sexuality horrifying. And some viewers may not want to identify with a superhero who, at one point, bashes two people's heads in for cutting in line at a movie theater. Like we said in our early "first impressions" post, if you have any buttons, this film will find them and push them like crazy. But if you like a movie that goes way too far, in a kind of Tarantino/Troma way, but actually manages to tell a real story about a person's journey, then Super is a rare marvel.
In a nutshell, people are either going to love Super or hate it.
But since seeing the film a few weeks ago, it's stuck in my head. Not just because of the ridiculous comedy and deeply offensive weirdness — but also because the character of Frank/Crimson Bolt kind of got inside my head. There are lots of little character-based moments in the film that I've found myself revisiting and thinking about. Frank is a monster, but he's also a hero, and he has really complicated relationships with the women in his life.
In Super, Frank D'Arbo's wife leaves him, and at first you think that this is just because he's kind of a loser who works as a short-order cook, and she was bored with him. But eventually, you realize that she's a recovering addict and she's gotten sucked into the orbit of a total sleazeball (Kevin Bacon) who's force-feeding her tons of drugs and keeping her a virtual prisoner. She's so drugged up she barely knows what day it is, and the cops won't do anything about it. So Frank needs to become someone who can save his wife.
That's when Frank has the ultra-bizarre religious experience where the tentacles peel his head open and the finger of God touches his brain. And he transforms himself into possibly the wackest vigilante ever — the brutal Crimson Bolt, who goes around hitting people in the head with a pipe wrench. With a ludicrous costume and the slogan, "Shut up, crime!".