Anti Hero

By Carl Kozlowski

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Posted March 31, 2011 in Film

At what point does the stress of modern living become so great that it causes a perfectly good person to snap?

That question has been the focus of two of the most memorable films in recent decades—Taxi Driver and Falling Down. Now the new film Super is adding its own potent and surprising answers to that ticklish question.

Starring Rainn Wilson, who plays Dwight Schrute on the popular NBC sitcom The Office, Super follows last year’s Kick Ass in exploring what would happen if an average person without special powers donned a superhero costume and tried to fight crime anyway. Both films pack a subversive punch, with Kick Ass focusing on children and teenagers swearing and battling their way through a crime wave, while Super walks a daring tightrope by mixing comedic moments with suddenly shocking violence and an unflinching but sympathetic depiction of a man wrestling with his faith and calling in life.

Wilson plays Frank, an utter weakling who has been comically stepped on his entire life. The one good thing in his life is his gorgeous wife Sarah (Liv Tyler), but even she is caught up in a ravaging drug addiction and has started disappearing for hours on end.

When a mysterious and sleazy guy named Jacques (Kevin Bacon) shows up at Frank’s house looking for Sarah a day before she clears all her stuff out and leaves for good, Frank reaches his breaking point. He has earlier revealed that he’s prone to humorously bizarre visions of Christ advising him on his life, but now he falls to his knees in a scene that’s almost difficult to watch in its sincerity and naked emotions.

Asking God why He allows some people like him to suffer and never catch a break in life, Frank vows that if he can just win his wife back, he will do anything for God and will never ask another favor again. He immediately feels the call to become a superhero, fashioning a suit and persona he names Crimson Bolt, and proceeds to fight crime on his city’s streets.

At first, he overreacts to a couple cutting in line at a movie theater and sends the crowd running after beating the man with a wrench. Soon he steps up to fight bigger crimes, eventually drawing the attention of local news outlets and an obsessed fan named Libby (Ellen Page), a girl in her late teens who creates her own sidekick persona as Boltie. Frank then pushes their crime fighting to such outrageous extremes that he even frightens himself. And they haven’t even begun to mete out their justice on Jacques and his henchmen for stealing his wife and polluting their city with drugs.

Super is from writer-director James Gunn, whose 2006 movie Slither also wedded horror, comedy, action and sci-fi genres to create unique entertainment. But here, Gunn’s moments of lightness and dark are unforgettably stronger, drawing sympathy for Frank even as it forces viewers to consider whether he’s completely lost his mind. Be warned that this film is not for the easily rattled or offended, but the payoff for those who can handle such fare is tremendous.

Just when you think this film is going in one direction, it veers into another. Wilson is stunning throughout, breaking out of his brilliant yet often one-dimensional Dwight character to craft a man people alternately love to hate and hate to love. Add a daring performance by Page, sublimely slimy supporting work from Bacon and the nearly unmatched courage of its convictions and Super is a heroic film indeed.


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