The superhero nerd flick is slowly turning into a proper sub genre of its own. First there were films like Defendor, Zebraman, Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, now director James Gunn takes a swing at the newly established genre. Beware though, Gunn's lo-fi approach packs a bit more punch than I had anticipated, leaving me stunned on quite a few occasions. Which, in this case, is definitely a good thing.
If I had known Gunn was the man behind Slither I probably would've been a bit more prepared to face Super. Slither was a rather sublime mix of comedy and gore which aptly demonstrated Gunn's rather unique sense of humor combined with his utter lack of subtlety. If you think Super is just another superhero nerd rip-off, better reconsider before watching this because the film holds more than just a few dumb one-liners and nerdy people running around in spandex.
There is a scene quite early on in the film, where Frank sits himself down in front of the TV and zaps to an anime tentacle rape scene. His face shows a mix of disgust and wonder, the time it takes to zap to the next show is just slightly too long. It's small details like these that indicate Gunn is not all that attached to America's traditional Hollywood values system, allowing him to break a few cliches that would be impossible to tackle in similar big budget Hollywood films.
The setup of Super is pretty much familiar territory by now though. Frank is a rather sad human specimen who hits rocks bottom when a flashy pimp steals his wife from under his nose, the only bright spot in his bleak, stale life. Frank decides it's time for a change of lifestyle when he is literally touched by the hand of God and he starts research on what it would take to become a real-world superhero. This of course proves a little harder than expected, even when God himself is on your side.
Visually Gunn keeps everything pretty low-key. No flashy camera work, no overly bright colors and no polished animation scenes. Everything looks rather bleak, there's a pleasant crude edge to the film's look and even though some visual effects could've looked a bit better, they don't really take away from the overall visual experience.
The soundtrack is the only real downer of Super. To complement his lo-fi audiovisual approach Gunn tucked some indie rock track underneath his film. Sadly these songs don't really work well within the setting and draw a little too much attention to the film's background. While the rest of the film feels quite novel and fresh, the soundtrack lacks inspiration and just feels flat and lifeless.
Luckily the acting is spot on. The male roles are strong but a little unadventurous. Wilson and Bacon are allowed to do what we all know they are good at. The females roles on the other hand feature some nice anti-typecastings. Both Page as squeaky sidekick and Tyler as wasted drug-addicted whore are great fun to behold. And if nothing else, it shows they are capable of more than what is usually presented and/or demanded of them.
The first part of Super is still pretty typical genre fare. The humor is great at times, the one-liners are snappy (and stupid) and there a few memorable moments that break free from the norm. The second part of the film becomes a little meaner though, introducing some actual gore and a healthy selection of slap-in-your-face plot twists. Without wanting to spoil too much, Page's fate as a hero sidekick is less than predictable and comes as quite a surprise.
The actual ending is still a bit too soft for my liking, but overall that's just a minor quirk. James Gunn goes a long way in serving something that knows to surprise, blending genre conventions with an utter lack of respect for reigning moral conventions, turning in a film that stands well on its own and differentiates itself from its fellow genre competitors. While comparisons with films like Defendor are still quite easy to make, Super is able to stand its own ground.
Super is an excellent addition to the nerdy superhero genre. Beware that the film could be a bit more blunt and relentless than you might expect based on the advertising and trailers you've seen, but if you can handle that Gunn's film is a real pleasure to behold. Genuinely funny, well acted and packing quite a punch, even though it is "just" a nerdy superhero flick. Good stuff, looking forward to Gunn's future projects.