Look! Up on the screen! It's a trend. It's a clone.
Man, I so have a feeling I’ve seen this picture before. Let’s see. Awkward dweeb, weary of being stomped and pummeled by vicious hoodlums, dons a mask and dresses up in a bargain-basement superhero costume. He outfits himself with low-tech weaponry and goes forth to smack evildoers. Much bloody mayhem ensues.
He becomes an overnight media sensation. He joins forces with a pint-sized female sidekick. The mayhem quotient quadruples.
Ta-dah! It’s “Kick-Ass.”
No, wait. It’s “Super.”
The similarities are inescapable. Makes you wonder whether there’s something in the water out there in Hollywood that induces groupthink among moviemakers.
Like “Kick-Ass” before it, “Super” tries to navigate a tricky passage between comedy and hyperviolence. And as was the case with writerdirector Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass,” writer-director James Gunn has trouble getting the balance right between those two key elements. “Super,” therefore, feels very uneven, stylistically and thematically. (The 2006 horror comedy “Slither,” Gunn’s previous writer-director outing, suffers from a similar unevenness.)
As the picked-on protagonist , a short-order cook named Frank, Rainn Wilson is suitably insecure and pathetic in his responses to life’s slings and arrows. His addict wife (Liv Tyler) leaves him for a sleazoid drug dealer (a scarily emaciated-looking Kevin Bacon), which reduces Frank to blubbering despair.
The character is self-aware enough to know that “people look stupid when they cry,” but he cries in stupid helplessness anyway. Inspired by the exploits of a costumed Christian cable network crusader called the Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion), and believing he’s been literally touched by the finger of God (after his skull is peeled back in a vision to expose his brain to the Almighty’s divine digit), Frank sews up a costume, hefts a pipe wrench, dubs himself the Crimson Bolt, and gets down to the business of clobbering criminals.
Blood flows. And as Frank is really just an ordinary guy without superpowers, which is to say he’s not bulletproof, not all of the flowing red stuff comes from the crooks he crosses paths with.
“Super’s” violence is extreme. Gunn seems to have a thing for graphic head wounds. When things get bloody, comedy is the first casualty.
In the role of the hero’s pint-sized female sidekick, Ellen Page is as eager yet awkward at the crime-fighting game as Frank, which sets her apart from “Kick-Ass’” Hit-Girl, the most lethal character in that movie by far. Page’s character is appealing in her eagerness. Whether she’s giving Frank tips on superhero weaponry (a clerk in a comicbook store, she knows that stuff cold) or showing off her dubious athletic skills (she tumbles and kicks like a gymclass dropout), she’s earnestly gung-ho and endearingly blind to her limitations.
A significant amount of the comedy is supposed to arise from Frank’s disproportionate responses to such relatively minor infractions as keying cars and cutting in line at movie theaters. Bashing in the skull of an obnoxious line-cutter doesn’t do much to provoke laughs. Neither does his habit of bellowing, “Don’t steal!” or “Don’t deal drugs!” or “Don’t molest kids!” At least, not after the first bellow.
Even Frank’s trademark catchphrase, “Shut up, crime!” isn’t nearly as funny as Gunn obviously would like his audience to think it is. Stridency does not equal comedy no matter how hard “Super” tries to make that case.