Bloody, profane, wildly hysterical and thoroughly unique, Super is this year’s Bad Santa (2003). As the Crimson Bolt and his young sidekick Boltie, Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page are the two most lovably flawed Super Heroes to ever hit the Silver Screen.
As Frank Darbo, Mr. Wilson is a man who considers happiness overrated. He has had only two highlights in his life, one when he pointed out a fleeing felon to the police when he was a teenager and the other when he married Susan (Liv Tyler as you’ve never seen her), an alcoholic drug addict in a perpetual state of failed recovery.
When Susan leaves him for a handsome, psychotic, glib drug dealer named Jacques, played with wild abandon by Kevin Bacon, Frank’s already untethered world turns upside down. Combining a swarthy arrogance with a childlike glee for mischief, Bacon hasn’t been this funny since his wonderful turn as one of the anti-heroes in the very underrated horror film Tremors (1990).
Frozen in self-pity much like Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008), Frank begins to have visions where he believes God is telling him to dedicate his life to fighting evil. Not one to question the word of God, Frank stuffs his pudgy body into what can only be described as a moth eaten Spider-Man knock-off costume, arms himself with a pipe wrench and begins a bungling crusade against crime of historic proportions.
Shot by one of Jacques’ hit-men when he tragically over estimates his non-super powers in an attempt to retrieve his stoned wayward bride, he enlists the aid of Libby, a trash talking, feisty clerk in a comic book store played by the aforementioned Ms. Page. Disappointed that Frank will not let her use her selected name of “The Creeping Bam,” she simply settles on the name of “Boltie” as her alter ego.
Playing Libby as a maniacal version of her character in Juno, Ms. Page displays a completely uninhibited enthusiasm for the violence associated with her vigilante pursuit of justice. She is nothing short of outlandishly perverse as you watch her succumb to profane fits of joyous rapture after inflicting the most horrible injuries on a would be felon. And her enthusiasm is not dimmed in the slightest even when she inadvertently attacks an innocent teenager that she mistakenly believes keyed a friend’s car.
What is so surprising about Super is that there is a tender heart lurking beneath the surface of much of the above-described foolishness. The analogy that I made to Bad Santa is not misplaced, as Frank and Libby form a genuine moving bond of friendship in much the same way as Billy Bob Thornton did with the chubby little kid that idolized him.
In addition, the script by Director James Gunn is deliciously irreverent, and I think it is safe to assume that it either has or will be profoundly condemned by the Catholic League of Decency. In particular, Nathan Fillion plays “The Holy Avenger,” a character on a TV series dedicated to fighting Satan that serves to inspire Frank to pick-up his pipe wrench in the name of the Lord. The Holy Avenger’s encounter with Satan as they try to save school kids from his lustful influences are worth the price of admission alone.
I should also note that the soundtrack, which contains a Score by Tyler Bates, contains some marvelously creative, pulsating songs that completely capture Super’s mood at every turn. In that sense, it rivals the Chemical Brothers’ score in Hanna as being the best you will hear so far this year. I can’t wait to get both and see if the music stands on its own, as I fully expect.
Finally, there is a very moving, satisfying finale that is a unique combination of joy and sadness. While I clearly won’t give it away, let me just say that Frank Darbo learned that sometimes the true joy and satisfaction of life is found by letting go of the people you love the most so that they can find their true destiny.
Super is simply a preposterously enjoyable movie on multiple different levels. Now pick-up your pipe wrench and see if you don’t agree.