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Super

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Released on Friday, Jul 8 2011

Director: James Gunn
Screenwriter: James Gunn
Starring: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon, Liv Tyler
Running time: 96 mins
Certificate: 18

'Super' still
Deep Impact and Armageddon, Dante's Peak and Volcano, Truman Capote and Infamous; the way that movies sometimes seem to come in pairs can genuinely only be put down to coincidence. Development times mean that by the time one movie hits the screens, the other is pretty much done and dusted. So, it's only fair to keep all things Kick-Ass out of your head when watching Super. "Both projects were coming together at exactly the same time," acknowledged Mark Millar, and he even went on to screen Super at this year's Kapow! event in London.

In James Gunn's own superheroes-without-superpowers flick, café burger-flipper Frank (Rainn Wilson) is left by his beautiful, drug addict wife Sarah (Liv Tyler). After she runs off to be with the smarmy Jacques (Kevin Bacon), Frank is hit by the crushing realisation that his life has been nothing but endless pain and humiliation. Inspired by bizarre live-action superhero The Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion) on a Christian TV channel, Frank decides to become the Crimson Bolt. A quarter Batman, a quarter Michael Douglas in Falling Down, a quarter Dante from Clerks and the rest David Koresh, he roams the streets with a pipe wrench, telling crime to "shut up". After an altercation with Jacques and his goons, he also picks up a sidekick in Libby/Boltie (Ellen Page).

Super is shocking, absurd, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny and sometimes hide-behind-your-eyes horrific for an hour and a half. Frank is a horribly unsympathetic anti-hero. A clutch of flashbacks tune you into his pain, but his whining, pitiable response to his situation stops you from rooting for him. You dream that another character, perhaps his work buddy Hamilton (Andre 'Bubbles from The Wire' Royo), will give him the sort of tough-love shake-up that Randall did Dante in Kevin Smith's own tale of the downtrodden. Instead, we're left watching him smack a woman in the face with a pipe wrench because her obnoxious boyfriend queue-jumped. As one of the best up-and-coming actresses around right now, Page dominates the screen. But as with Frank, there's something essentially unsympathetic about her character that distances you from her. Despite an obvious visual reference in one scene, she's much less A Clockwork Orange's Alex and much more Mallory from Natural Born Killers in her gleeful jump-up-and-down celebration of violence.

The struggle with Super is not the complete lack of a moral compass for most of the film. The cinema certainly isn't an ethics textbook and nor should it be. There's nothing wrong with the big screen sticking up a portrait of a mentally unwell psychopath with a god complex and a pipe wrench and asking us to watch and think. Where it completely fails is when the in-your-face amorality is contextualised with an icky epilogue which tries to justify what came before as some kind of "spiritual journey". It doesn't convince.


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