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When sad-sack loser Frank (Rainn Wilson, The Office), a short-order cook, sees his ex-addict wife (Liv Tyler, The Lord of the Rings) willingly snatched away by a seductive drug dealer (Kevin Bacon), he finds himself bereft and unable to cope. But he decides to fight back under the guise of a do-it-yourself superhero called Crimson Bolt. With a red hand-made suit, a wrench, a crazed sidekick named Boltie (Ellen Page, Juno) and absolutely nothing in the way of superpowers Crimson Bolt beats his way through the mean streets of crime in hopes of saving his wife.
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My summary would be; make informed choices about your entertainment! Thanks!
The story opens with an intro to the sorry state that is the life of Frank Darrbo (Rainn Wilson). He’s a fryer at a local burger joint, he’s married to Sarah (Liv Tyler), a recovering addict, and his life is mostly a series of humiliations. His two crowning achievements are his marriage and that one time when he pointed out which way a criminal ran to a cop. Sarah soon relapses into her habits, coinciding with her meeting Jacques (Kevin Bacon), a drug dealer. She leaves Frank, sending him into a further downward spiral resulting in what’s probably best described as a horrific episode, eventually culminating in his donning a homemade superhero costume and calling himself the Crimson Bolt, a patchwork looking vigilante who mercilessly clubs his enemies with a pipe wrench.
Like other films in this “real life” superhero subgenre, such as Kick-Ass or Defendor, there’s a dark sense of humor to accompany the expectations of the action scenes. The Crimson Bolt spends the first few nights hiding behind a dumpster and encountering little crime other than the evidence of littering. When he expands his territory into an actual dangerous neighborhood, we get a surprisingly upbeat montage of him brutally assaulting criminals of various kinds in ways that could leave them dead or crippled. I mean he lays down some savage beatings on people with that wrench. The violence and bloodshed only escalates when he teams up with his comic geek admirer Libby (Ellen Page), who joins him in his crusade as his “kid” sidekick, Boltie. Between his delusions and her sadism, they do quite a bit of damage with absolutely no negative consequences from the police.
Even though the general tone is that of a comedy, it tends to warp and twist almost as dramatically as the mental state of Frank himself. It’s made clear early on that Frank is not only delusional, but clearly disturbed. He has a history of seeing things, cannot communicate well with others, and suppresses a lot of rage at the world and the life he feels he was unfairly dealt. His depression is at times not humorous at all and taken surprisingly serious, while the next scene could include him smashing someone’s head in complete with cartoony sound effects animated onscreen à la the Adam West Batman series. There’s a consistent morbid humor, which is evident by the gleeful presentation of horrific violence, but it clashes with the emotional drama of the character.
Around the time Boltie makes her debut, the movie hits its stride, and even though she’s completely psychotic and deranged (possibly more so than Frank), Ellen Page laughing manically as she brutally attacks someone is admittedly (albeit oddly) hilarious. She really has some fun with this role and it’s difficult not to like her. The rest of the acting is really strong as well, especially from Rainn Wilson, who shows a surprising amount of range both comedically and dramatically.
Unfortunately after its climax, which almost becomes a clichéd action sequence (though Frank’s insanity prevents it from being one entirely), it has a strangely hopeful ending, with a tacked on “lesson learned” as if there was always some greater meaning to Frank’s journey. It comes across as disingenuous and doesn’t match the depravity of the characters up until that point, which is the entire movie. That any sort of catharsis could be found at the end of this madness seems almost like a cheat or a copout.
Writer/director James Gunn’s directing is highly stylized and erratic, given what we get on the screen. At times there’s some surrealist imagery, at others more conventional comedy/parody (any scene with the Christian superhero Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion) is pretty great), and at others, ludicrously gory action. The way he films the violence, from the upbeat montages to the more conventional finale, makes the assaults and blood spilling seem like some sort of release for the characters. It’s often shocking, but we are encouraged to enjoy the scenes where Crimson Bolt crushes a man’s skull or Boltie stabs someone repeatedly while laughing maniacally. There’s an odd sense of sadistic glee in the action scenes, and when coupled with the delusional mind of the protagonist it left a strange taste in my mouth.
Super is an odd, and often disturbing story that goes so far in any direction it’s leaning towards. There are genuinely funny moments, and there’s also some dramatic subtext for the characters and their skewed motivations, but this only makes the ridiculous and over-the-top graphic violence seem all the more shocking. While I can’t very well say this is a great movie (it’s a mixed bag at best, depending on your tastes), I can’t deny that I found it strangely enjoyable, too.
In the end the movie actually shows how any of us can be a real life superhero in mind and spirit...but not by taking the law into our own hands or pursuing vigilante justice.
I could and would say more but I do not like spoilers ;-)