Slower than a speeding Defendor, less powerful than a loco Kick Ass, and unable to resist the urge to leap from tone to tone in a single shot, Super is as scatterbrained as a chicken and just as likely to fly. If this film can be compared to a superhero, it’s Rogue from the X-Men: a compulsive parasite that sucks up the essence of so many other superheroes it loses any semblance of its own identity.
Troma B-movie alum James Gunn (Slither, PG Porn) dresses Rainn Wilson in an ill-fitting red costume and puts a playlist of superhero clichés on shuffle: Wilson’s Frank is a cuckolded cook who transforms into the Crimson Bolt when his junkie wife (Liv Tyler) holes up with a cretinous dealer (Kevin Bacon). From the start, Frank is psychotic and deluded, so his transformation into a sociopathic vigilante is, as homicidal origin stories go, ho-hum. He teams up with Libby, a nutso teenage comics-store clerk who is less a foil than his skinnier reflection. Ellen Page plays bloodthirsty Boltie with the same crazy-eyed malice she brought to Hard Candy, though without a shred of realism.
The pacing is often painfully slow, the bad guys are a dime a dozen, and Tyler spends the film in a stupor that possibly has nothing to do with her character’s addiction. But incoherence is Super’s real kryptonite. There are suggestions that Gunn was interested in critiquing the American passion for vigilantism (Dark Knight) and exploring the blurred line between sociopath and hero (Observe & Report, The Gardener of Eden). These remain suggestions. Here’s what I can praise: Some Troma-style gore gags and goof-off skits are fun — Nathan Fillion is marvelously debased, mugging it up as a bewigged, neo-Christian Holy Man; and Wilson clangs his giant wrench against heads with amusing thwacks.
Geek-courting studios, it seems, will green-light anything even remotely superhero-related, from superhero owls with special powers to abused, scantily clad teenage girls who dream of slaying monsters — and that’s just Zack Snyder. For all its indie posturing, Super feels as callow as any other big studio flick to court Comic Con: A B-movie splatter flick dressed up as a critique, dressed up as a black comedy, dressed up as a spoof, and capped with an ironic epilogue. It’s everything at once, but its failure to commit to one angle, to take anything seriously but the giddy violence, adds up to nothing at all.