Friday, July 24, 2015
Up to a point this film is brilliant satire. The idea of a normal—albeit unstable—person deciding to become a superhero “for real” has been done. Even around the time that “Super” came out, another effort, “Kick Ass” was being released. However, “Super” seems to have the most realistic take on the concept. And James Gunn uses the premise to make some really smart commentary on everything from violence to crime to religion to mental health.
Rainn Wilson plays Frank, a socially awkward man whose wife leaves him for a drug dealer. This trauma causes Frank to believe that he is called by God to fight evil. The movie shows us that Frank is religious, but his faith is a nebulous mixture of moralism, self-hate, and a mysticism that is a big problem as it also looks as though Frank has mental health issues. He is not what anyone could really call a follower of Jesus. His faith is more what some would naively and uninformedly call “Old Testament.” But, to be fair, that is what a lot of people who claim to be Christians are like.
He quickly becomes a menace to criminals, and anyone who does not meet his social standards. Since he is not particularly smart, he goes around hitting people in the head with a pipe wrench. It does not seem to matter if they are pedophiles or merely cutting in line at the movie theater. That said, he does struggle with what he is doing. He is full of doubt and tries to quit, but his “calling” is something that he feels is real.
Part of Frank’s problem is that he looks to a TV show for guidance. The TV show he watches “The Holy Avenger” is a send-up of kids’ Christian programing from the 1990s. Once again, this is a religious and not necessarily really a Christian thing. Those programs back then (and presumably today) are more about preaching morality and religion than the Biblical Gospel. In one sense, one can understand how Frank turned out the way he is if he was raised on the kind of belief espoused in the TV show he watches.
The side-kick character is where things really fall apart. A girl at the comic book store discovers Frank’s secret and insists upon becoming his superhero partner. Unlike Frank, she is in it for the rush and the excitement. In fact, she is a bit of a sociopath. Once she becomes a factor the story becomes too silly, disturbing and frankly, too realistic. Maybe that is the point.
The resolution of this story—both the rescue of Frank’s wife as well as Frank’s moment of clarity that follows—don’t measure up to the first half of the film. This is the sort of story and message that can’t really support a traditional, Hollywood, happy ending.