Wednesday, August 13, 2014


A look back at director James Gunn's rather heretical view of the super-hero genre from 2010.

"The Weed of Crime Bears Bitter Fruit"
"Boltie!  NO!"

There will be four major super-hero movies coming out this Summer (starting with Thor next week, Green Lantern, X-Men: First Class, and Captain America: The First Avenger), plus a smattering of graphic novel adaptations and such. Next year, The Avengers, Spider-man, Batman and Superman movies will be released. Comic Books are hot in the movies because they're easily digestible, easy to adapt, and they skew young in the audience demographics.

It's just too bad that so many of them are terrible, and they've created a lazy back-lash of "Oh, I'm so sick of super-hero movies" to any blogger who can put two words together. Sure, you're sick of them. Too much of anything gets dull after awhile. 

So, stop going to them. That's not so hard. With great power comes great responsibility. Super-hero movies have a lot of power right now and you're responsible.

Meanwhile, there is an antidote to all this nefarious meta-human poisoning, a tonic to the wish-fulfillment fantasy that the genre unquestioningly presents: Super, written and directed by James Gunn, former Troma writer-director. Notice that it doesn't say "Super-hero," as that label doesn't really apply—it stops just short of the "hero" as the "vigilante" aspect of the crime-fighter takes center-stage along with its brother-in-arms, revenge.
Frank D'Arbo (Rainn Wilson) is a short-order cook/man-child and the best thing that ever happened to him was marrying Sarah Helgeland (Liv Tyler), a waitress at the diner who's just come out of re-hab and is trying to get her life back in order. Things are fine (at least from Frank's perspective) until Sarah runs off with Jacques (Kevin Bacon), a sleazy drug-dealer and then Frank melts down.  Despairing, angry and confused he's inspired by a religious station's superhero program "The Holy Avenger" (played by a smirking Nathan Fillion) and by having his brain "touched by the finger of God," to set his spinning-out-of-control life back on track by taking on a vigilante role as The Crimson Bolt—his only weapons being his innate sense of "right" (no drug-dealing, no pedophilia, no butting-in in line) and a large pipe-wrench. There are no fancy moves, no elegant acrobatic abilities pulled off with ease, just a schlumpfy guy in a leotard blundering into situations and clocking people with a big spanner. Realistic, right down to the cranium-cracking that such action produces. It's funny, but also slightly cringe-inducing as you see the damage that such blunt trauma can produce. At that point, the "heroism" aspect becomes secondary to the thuggish behavior such actions create—the line between "do-gooder" and freakish assault becomes blurred and squishy.
Squishy being the operative word here
. Gunn is from Troma, the cheerily exploitative grind-house that's created such films as The Toxic Avenger, so no holds are barred in the presentation of violence with its resulting blood-splatter and meat-manufacturing. When "The Bolt" increases his armory with guns, pipe-bombs and accelerant, things turn explosively ugly. And that's where Super has it all over such juvenile exercises in juvie crime-fighting glorification as Kick-Ass.  However much that film tried do disguise its brutishness with smooth moves and well-choreographed stunt-work, it played fast-and-loose with the consequences of such actions, making it all 'look cool" and distracting from the carnage. There's nothing smooth about this film; it's down and dirty and doesn't even look heroic so much as desperate and geekish, the results of adrenaline mixed with no skill whatsoever. There's more danger in Super than anything simulated in Kick-Ass.

Things get complicated. "The Bolt" starts to attract attention from the press and the local police, particularly one detective (
Gregg Henry) who puts one and one together and connects the addled D'Arbo with the increased attacks around town.  Then, "The Bolt" gains a side-kick, the cute chick Libby (Ellen Page) at the comics store where he does his research. A comics junkie, she also has a hyper-intense fantasy jones that makes her latch onto D'Arbo's crusade with an unhealthy zeal, becoming his junior partner, Boltie. It's an unhealthy relationship, as Frank tries to mentor Libby ("That's inappropriate, Boltie!") in her adrenal-rush to take things too far. And they go too far, to the point where Super jumps the genre line to become more like Taxi Driver than a super-hero film.

Super is not rated, simply because it wants to skirt the issue of taming the gore and present its message uninhibited by catering to the unfathomable whims of the MPAA. So, the violence is squishy and upsetting, the language is pervasive ("Oh, maaan! The Bolt-mobile is kinda fucked up!") and the places it goes only occurring to those who are seriously aware of the psychological twistedness of the genre (like Alan Moore). It may look funny and goofy, but caution is advised if you're easily traumatized, or holding out for a hero. Super isn't playing games or taking hostages.
"This is how you fight crime...sit here and wait for it to happen?  It's so BORING!!"

Tomorrow: a look at Gunn's latest.

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