(I’ve finally gotten around to doing this blog. Fair warning, this is an examination of the film Super and as such is spoiler-heavy. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and Netflix it or something and then come back.)
Super is the most postmodern film I’ve ever seen. That might sound a little pretentious, but let me assure you that pretention is about the last thing I am qualified to dispense. This is a film that mixes dark comedy and really heavy drama in a way that no other superhero tale ever has. The reason I say that is I didn’t realize I liked the film until about 10 minutes after I finished watching it. Going into the film, I expected some form of twisted superhero popcorn flick a la 2010’s Kick-Ass; a film that I really enjoyed for it’s over the top violence and sheer gravitas. That was a movie that wasn’t afraid to put its characters in situations that they could not even remotely handle. Let’s just say I got all I wanted and more out of Super.
Super is a film that not only isn’t afraid to put the Crimson Bolt into situations he can’t handle, but also really analyze what kind of sick freak you would have to be to think donning a costume and beating people with a pipe wrench for cutting in line contributes to society in a positive way. The delusion of Frank is really at the center of the film. From the horrid grief he feels from being abandoned by Sarah, he starts to come undone at the seams culminating in his ludicrous “vision” of a TV superhero and God himself anointing him a bona fide superhero.
The concept of delusion is what makes the film really interesting. Whereas the aforementioned Kick-Ass used the premise for comedy and balls-to-the-wall action, Super used the same premise as a character study of a broken man. It makes an excellent point: when you get right down to it, aren’t people who have no inhuman powers who dispense vigilante justice insane? This is something that’s been explored pretty heavily with Batman. Sure the people that Batman and the Crimson Bolt fight are criminals, but isn’t there some kind of rational level of restraint? Surely someone who steals a purse doesn’t deserve to have a cinder block dropped on his head?
While the viewer gets the sense that, however crazy Frank actually may be, he is only doing it because he has a sense of the greater good and ultimately has a clear purpose, the introduction of Ellen Page’s character immediately brings the other side of the coin into full view. Ellen Page’s character, later known as Frank’s sidekick Boltie, is basically the exact opposite of Frank. She finds the prospect of being a superhero exciting and is in it for the thrill. This becomes pretty apparent when, during her first patrol with Frank, she gets bored rather quickly and suggests that they go to the house of someone who allegedly keyed her friend’s car to beat the holy hell out of him, almost getting carried away and smashing his head like a ripe melon. The film also indulges in some overwhelming sexual undertones between Frank and Boltie, to the point where you get the sense that all the violence involved in fighting crime is a weird sexual thing for her. Frank ultimately decides that, reckless and batshit crazy as she may be, her sheer enthusiasm for helping him can’t be all that bad.
And that’s when the film takes its darkest turn, when during the raid on Jacques’ compound Boltie has half of her head unceremoniously blasted off. This to me is the most poignant part of the film. All things considered, Boltie was basically a confused young girl who died for very little at all. In this regard, Super echoes tones of postmodern war films by examining death for a greater cause. What exactly did Boltie die for? Sarah’s freedom? The viewer never gets the sense that she even cared about that in the first place. Ultimately it was the tragic loss of an impulsive girl who thought it would be cool to kick ass.
When it comes right down to it, the reason I enjoyed Super so much is that it wasn’t afraid to address the fact that there has to be something pretty mentally wrong with someone who wants to go out fight crime like a superhero, even if they have good intentions. Super’s ultimate conclusion is a hollow victory for Frank, he saved Sarah and she had a better life because of it, but he didn’t really get what he wanted, and even lost a friend because of it. He may have the admiration of the people of the city, but it gives him bittersweet personal fulfillment at best.