Super: Dark Humor and Inappropriate Boners
Super is like the Troma version of Kick-Ass, and I mean that as both a compliment and an insult. It takes all the dark impulses beneath the childish dorkdom of superhero fascination that Kick-Ass hinted at and amplifies them to the point where they’re no longer just hints, sometimes blunt to the point of boneheadedness. It’s also much lower-budget and amateurish, which either gives it a DIY charm or makes it harder to sit through, depending on your perspective (I say a little of both). But I use the Troma-does-Kick-Ass shorthand for myself, as a way to help me understand it, not as a way to describe the original pitch (HURRR, PETER PAN BY WAY OF THE DARK KNIGHT). That alone is enough to put it above most movies. It’s refreshing when a film actually needs simplification.
Also, Ellen Page gave me an inappropriate erection.
Rainn Wilson stars as Frank D’Arbo, a schlubby (of course), uninteresting short order cook whose only joys in life are his too-hot-for-him wife played by Liv Tyler and the memory of the time he helped cops catch a purse snatcher, both events chronicled in child-like crayon drawings taped to the wall of his crappy apartment. Beyond that, his schlubby life has been one of schlubbiness, disappointment, and shame, as illustrated by a childhood flashback in which bullies humiliate him and pee on his face, and by that I mean they literally urinate on his face (Troma vets like James Gunn tend to take the direct approach). I read a review of Kick-Ass a while back that questioned why we were supposed to buy handsome teenager Aaron Johnson as the outcast* (“uh, because he has curly hair, and… too many layers of shirts?”). To its credit, Super‘s protagonist is a true outcast, a doughy, over-the-hill, piss-faced loser who looks like he could use a little escapism.
One day, Frank’s life is flipped turned upside down when (*RECORD SCRATCH*) his wife leaves him for wiry strip-club owner Kevin Bacon. We find out Frank’s wife had been a recovering drug addict, which explains both why she would go for such a schlubby schlub (she was tired of going after interesting guys who just treated her badly), and also why, after she leaves him and starts using again, Frank would feel like he has to save her (because she has a disease!), rather than just writing her off as a c-nt and cracking a beer like I would. Throughout, Bacon plays the coke-y sleazeball perfectly, correctly realizing that true evil usually smiles in your face rather than strangling kittens.
And of course, that’s when Frank, who’s become obsessed with a superhero from the Christian channel played by Nathan Fillion, receives a vision from God, who fingers Frank’s brain and inspires him to become the superhero The Crimson Bolt. It’s a more overt nod to the vengeful, Judeo-Christian underpinnings of the superhero genre. Then Frank tries to fight crime but gets beat up at first, then has some success, eventually becomes a media darling, gets disillusioned and quits for a while only to return for a big mission in the final act, and yadda yadda yadda, you know the story. It’s like that, but with more blood and gore, and crappier stunts.
The Crimson Bolt’s tagline, “SHUT UP, CRIME!” is a good illustration of the movie as a whole. It’s kitschy and cute and sort of charming, but also not really that funny, and doesn’t quite seem like something Frank would say (it seems more like something Dwight Schrute would say).
For better and for worse, Ellen Page steals the entire movie. Page plays a superhero-obsessed comic-book store clerk named Libby, who deduces Frank’s alter-ego and becomes his groupie, and eventually his sidekick, Boltie. Her youthful enthusiasm for crime-fighting constantly bleeds into psychosis (a great touch), like when she tries to cave in a guy’s head for keying her friend’s car (again, a nod to the inherent vengefulness of superhero fantasies). There’s nothing wrong with it as written, it’s just… how shall I put this… excited Ellen Page is really obnoxious. Just pure, manic, motor-mouthed shrillness. And that’s not totally a knock on Page, it’s up to the director to dial down her shrieking. There’s a time to tell Nic Cage to release the pigs and a time to tell him to shut the f-ck up and wear his wig. Actors can’t be trusted to know, they’re just reason-free balls of neediness and mimicry. They must be molded.
Oh right, you came for the inappropriate boners. (*sigh*) That’s why everyone comes here. So, in keeping with the theme of making the subtleties of Kick-Ass less subtle, Ellen Page’s Libby eventually becomes an overtly sexual Lolita whose superhero obsession manifests itself in a desire that Boltie and The Red Bolt’s relationship be more Batman-and-Robin fan fic than Batman and Robin (that is to say, she wants to screw with the costumes on). With all the skin-tight leotards, codpieces, and underwear on the outside of the pants, even in their most wholesome incarnations, superheros have always had a healthy undercurrent of deviant sexuality (pretend you’ve never heard of Superman and look at that outfit, and tell me he doesn’t look like someone you’d catch jacking off outside a swim meet). Kick-Ass hinted at that nicely with Hit Girl and her wigs, but they couldn’t take it too far because… well… Chloe Moretz was 11. In Super, James Gunn finds a way around that with Page, who only looks 11 (something porn has been doing for years). And you know what they say, it wouldn’t be a dark take on superheros without being aroused against your will. That’s how it came to be that, late in the second act, when Ellen Page, who looks like a young haemophiliac boy, cooed and rubbed her crotch hungrily while describing its dampness properties, tried to seduce Rainn Wilson, one of the uglier men in Hollywood, and I got an erection in a room full of film critics (who also look like haemophiliac boys).
I don’t want to say Super won me over, but it’s fair to say that it beat me.
*I would argue that was part of the point, but that’s a discussion for another time