Super (2010 American film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||James Gunn|
|Produced by||Ted Hope
|Written by||James Gunn|
|Music by||Tyler Bates|
|Cinematography||Steve Gainer ASC ASK|
|Edited by||Cara Silverman|
|Distributed by||IFC Films|
Super is a 2010 American superhero black comedy-drama film written and directed by James Gunn, starring Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon and Nathan Fillion. The film is based on a story by Gunn, telling the story of Frank Darbo, a young short-order cook who becomes a superhero without even having any superhuman ability, calling himself the "Crimson Bolt". He sets out to rescue his wife Sarah from the hands of a drug dealer.
The film premiered at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival and was released in theaters in the United States on April 1, 2011 and on video on demand on April 13, 2011. The film was released unrated in U.S. theaters, and later received an R rating for its DVD/Blu-ray release. Upon release, Super received generally mixed reviews from critics and audiences, although the humor, acting, direction and action scenes were praised. Alongside mixed critical reception, the film was a massive box office bomb, grossing a little over $422,000 against a budget of $2.5 million, making it Gunn's lowest grossing film.
Short-order cook Frank Darbo recalls his only two good memories from a disappointing life: marrying his wife, Sarah, and an incident in which he directed a police officer to catch a purse snatcher. Frank immortalizes these two events in a pair of crayon drawings that he hangs on his wall for inspiration. Sarah, a recovering addict, leaves Frank for Jacques, a charismatic strip club owner who gets her hooked on drugs. Frank sinks into depression, where he has a vision in which he is touched by the finger of God and meets the Holy Avenger, a superhero from a public-access television show (based on the actual Christian superhero series, Bibleman), who tells Frank that God has chosen him for a very special purpose. Frank believes that God has chosen him to become a superhero and goes to a local comic book store for inspiration. His claim that he is designing a new superhero is met with enthusiastic appreciation from the store clerk, Libby. Frank creates a superhero costume and assumes the identity of "The Crimson Bolt."
Armed with a pipe wrench, he begins to fight crime by delivering savage beatings to various rulebreakers, ranging from drug dealers and child molesters to a man who cuts in line at the movies. The Crimson Bolt soon becomes a media sensation. Initially, the media view him as a violent psychopath, but he begins to gain public appreciation after the criminal backgrounds of many of his victims come to light. Frank later attempts to rescue Sarah, but Jacques' thugs recognize him under the costume and shoot him in the leg as he flees.
A wounded Frank goes to Libby for help. Libby cajoles Frank into letting her become the Crimson Bolt's "kid sidekick," christening herself "Boltie" and designing a costume. She proves to be even more unhinged than Frank, using her superhero guise to nearly kill a man who possibly vandalized her friend's car. Frank decides to let her go, but changes his mind when Libby rescues him from some of Jacques' thugs at a gas station. Libby soon becomes enamored with Frank, but her advances are turned down as Frank insists that he is still married. Arguing that it is different when they are in their superhero identities, Libby rapes Frank while the two are in costume. Frank runs to the bathroom and vomits, where he encounters a vision of Sarah in the toilet. He decides that it is time to rescue her from Jacques.
Armed with guns, pipe bombs, and bulletproof vests, Frank and Libby sneak into Jacques' ranch, killing the first few guards they encounter. However, they are both shot. Frank is struck in the chest, his bulletproof vest sparing him, but Libby is shot in the head and killed. Devastated by her death, Frank goes into a rage, slaughtering all of Jacques' thugs. Inside, Jacques shoots Frank, but Frank gains the upper hand and stabs Jacques to death as Sarah watches, horrified.
Frank takes her home, and she stays for a few months before leaving him again. This time, however, she manages to overcome her addiction and uses her experiences to help others with similar problems. She remarries and has four children. Frank is convinced that her children will change the world for the better. Frank, now with a pet bunny, looks on his wall of happy memories. The wall is covered with pictures of his experiences from his time spent with Libby and pictures of Sarah's kids, who call him "Uncle Frank." Frank looks at Libby's picture, and a tear runs down his cheek.
- Rainn Wilson as Frank Darbo / The Crimson Bolt
- Ellen Page as Libby / Boltie
- Liv Tyler as Sarah Helgeland
- Kevin Bacon as Jacques
- Nathan Fillion as The Holy Avenger
- Michael Rooker as Abe
- Gregg Henry as Detective John Felkner
- Andre Royo as Hamilton
- Sean Gunn as Toby
- Stephen Blackehart as Quill
- Greg Ingram as Long-Haired Hood
- William Katt as Sgt. Fitzgibbon
- Linda Cardellini as Maria, the Pet Store Employee
- Rob Zombie as God (voice)
- Don Mac as Mr. Range
- Zach Gilford as Jerry
- Steve Agee as Comic Book Store Employee
- Mollie Milligan as Jennifer / Sarah's Sister
- Grant Goodman as Young Frank
- James Gunn as Demonswill
- Daniel Mignault as Feature / Brother
Super was filmed between December 9, 2009, and January 24, 2010, in Shreveport, Louisiana, with additional shooting at director James Gunn's home in Los Angeles, California (the comic book store shown in the film is a real store, ComicSmash, in Studio City). Being a low-budget, independent project, everyone involved in the film was paid scale (the minimum allowed by the Screen Actors Guild). Tyler Bates worked on the soundtrack.
Gunn has said in interviews that he had been working on the script for Super since 2002, but he had a hard time getting it made, as producers felt that the content was too violent and esoteric. In addition, Gunn had a hard time deciding on the right actor to play Frank; John C. Reilly was Gunn's top choice, but he wasn't considered to be a big enough star for the film to get made. After Slither was made, Gunn had effectively put the project on hold until his ex-wife Jenna Fischer encouraged him to go through with it and recommended Rainn Wilson, her co-star from The Office. Wilson read the script while on set and decided he wanted to join the film, and in turn sent the script to Ellen Page, with whom he had worked in Juno, who immediately accepted the role of Libby.
Super was Gunn's second film dealing with superheroes, the first being The Specials in 2000 that he wrote, but did not direct. Gunn has said that examining superheroes from a different angle interests him, and that he may do more films concerning the subject in the future. He was later chosen to direct the 2014 Marvel Studios superhero movie Guardians of the Galaxy.
Super received mixed reviews from critics, who debated the moral ambiguity, violence and messages, but still received praise for the acting, tone, writing and humor. The film has a rating of 48% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 116 reviews with an average score of 5.5 out of 10. while Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 50 out of 100, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Film4 wrote, "It's not that this type of movie shouldn't be made – this type of movie could be brilliant – but it plays like every first draft idea anyone had found its way to the screen because it made someone laugh over a few drinks ... Some really interesting ideas and the odd flash of awesomeness, but overall a big old misfire with some ill-judged nastiness." Al Kratina reporting at the Fantasia Film Festival wrote, "There’s a great movie somewhere inside James Gunn's dark comedy Super ... Super is an undeniably entertaining film. But there's something off about it ... Super is a funny film, a twisted story, and occasionally a very good movie, just rarely at the same time."
Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman wrote, "This trifle about a doofus who becomes a costumed superhero, even though he has no special powers, might have seemed funkier before Kick-Ass. Yet the movie is written and directed by James Gunn with a certain whimsical black-comic flair ... It's really a one-joke movie, but the joke is a good one: Frank's 'crusade' is just a geek's screw-loose revenge, which Wilson, digging into the character's misery, makes oddly sympathetic." Conversely, Scott Weinberg of Cinematical wrote, "Chock full of insanely graphic violence, awash in thoroughly un-PC perspectives, and more than willing to keep on punching long after the audience is virtually incredulous, Super is fun and funny, dark and twisted, semi-schizophrenic and certifiably insane. What I liked most was its simple audacity. And Ellen Page."
Super made $46,549 on opening weekend with eleven theaters, averaging $4,232 per theater, which was considered by analysts to be "a disappointing start" for the film. Conversely, the film has fared better on VOD and has been anticipated to be the most successful film VOD for IFC so far.
During an interview actor Rainn Wilson explained his thoughts about the struggling box office performance, saying the risky tonal decision worked against the film in its limited theatrical release: "It is a comedy. It’s also an action movie, and it’s also a drama, and it’s also a really [messed] up genre, cult type of film. It’s all of those things at one time, and people are not used to it. They’re used to like, oh, ‘The Avengers’ has some comedy in it, but it’s action, and it’s a comic-book type thing. People really know exactly what world they’re in. But in this one, it mixes so many different worlds, you’re really off-balance. ‘Cause you don’t know if the next scene is going to be someone crying, or it’s going to be ludicrous or it’s going to be an animated sequence or an action sequence. You just don’t know.”
At the 2011 Fantasia Film Festival, Super was tied with the documentary Superheroes for the AQCC Prize; "For two films that perfectly capture the Zeitgeist of our age and that present elaborate reflections on one of the biggest Americans trends, the AQCC Jury has awarded its best international film prize, in a tie, to the fiction film Super by James Gunn and to the documentary Superheroes by Michael Barnett, two strong and complementary works."
Similarity to Kick-Ass
Close to the time that Super was released, another film on the topic of amateur superheroes, Kick-Ass, was released.
During the production process, Gunn, a friend of Kick-Ass creator Mark Millar, learned of the other film. In an interview after Super was released, he commented that "I was definitely wary of it, I was like 'This sucks! Kick-Ass is being made into a movie; is that gonna mean we're irrelevant?' But in the end the stories are so different. Our movie is about a guy who's on his own sort of spiritual quest and he just happens to wear a superhero costume during it. But it's really about the guy and not the costume."
Millar later defended Super in light of accusations that it was copying his work with, "People have said to me, 'Oh my God, he's ripping off Kick-Ass,' because it's coming out one year later, but James was doing this when I was doing Kick-Ass as well. Both projects were coming together at exactly the same time." Millar went on to screen Super at his Kapow! comic convention in London.
Gunn also responded to the accusations, pointing out that "It sucks on the one hand and then on the other hand, who gives a shit? There are 4,000 bank heist movies. We can have five superheroes-without-powers movies. What does bum me out [is] people who pretend like Kick-Ass was the first superheroes without powers movie, when that's obviously the classic John Ritter film Hero at Large."
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