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Super is a 2010 American black comedy superhero film written and directed by James Gunn, starring Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon and Nathan Fillion. 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. The film opens with short-order cook Frank Darbo (Rainn Wilson) telling the audience of the only two good memories he's had in a life of disappointment: marrying his beautiful wife Sarah (Liv Tyler), 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 he hangs on his wall for inspiration. Later on, Sarah, a recovering addict, leaves Frank for Jacques (Kevin Bacon), a charismatic strip club owner who gets her hooked on drugs.
Frank (Rainn Wilson) isn't an impressionable kid like the young hero of Kick-Ass. He's a middle-aged guy who turns to superherodom the way that others find religion, a parallel made perhaps too explicit by the film's own fictional superhero character, the Holy Avenger (played in his television incarnation by Nathan Fillion). When Frank's ex-addict wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) takes off into the arms of sleazy hood Jacques (Kevin Bacon), Frank has a vision of the Holy Avenger, urging him to take up a hero's mantle and assure that justice is done.
Thus he emerges as the Crimson Bolt, outfitted in a patchwork red costume and armed with a big wrench. The Crimson Bolt isn't much for detective work; mainly, he skulks around looking for misdeeds, slams evildoers (or sometimes just jerks) in the head, and extols simple lessons: "Don't deal drugs!" or "don't molest kids!" Some of this is funny, delivering more of the contrast between comics conventions and run-down reality than Kick-Ass hinted at -- though even the drabness of Super feels a little cartoonized and exaggerated.
The Troma-ready ultraviolence is largely unappetizing, too, and seems to be satirizing a strain of superhero that, at this point, exists more vividly in satire than in actual comics. But the real problem with the movie is its broad approach to its human backstory: the marriage between Frank and Sarah never feels remotely believable, perhaps because Frank himself is pitched as a fastidious loser who starts off several seasons beyond the broadest Dwight Schrute antics of later Office seasons. Wilson brings some earnest soul to the part and the character gains depth as the movie goes along,
The Crimson Bolt, along with Super itself, is almost saved by a kid sidekick: Libby (Ellen Page), an oddball comic-book store employee who counsels Frank on the ways of the superhero who lacks supernatural powers, insinuates herself into his life and, eventually, his mission, donning her own spandex as self-styled sidekick Boltie. Libby expresses her loneliness through hyperactive profanity, and a fearless Page takes advantage of Gunn's decent ear for semi-absurd mundanity. If Chloe Moretz's Hit Girl from Kick-Ass was a child misled into badass territory by her misguided father, Libby is the latchkey kid who grew up watching Kick-Ass over and over, and thirsts for justice mainly so she can use it as means of marauding around town and taunting at the top of her lungs.
The twisted relationship that Frank and Libby develop with each other and the rest of the world -- depicted, fleetingly and perhaps perfunctorily through news broadcasts, as the typical public fear of a masked menace followed by the even more typical (at least in a superhero movie) public embrace of vigilante justice -- has an unconventional, pleasingly uneasy kick. Super has hilarious moments, but Gunn is less equipped to handle its serious implications, and proceeds with an ending that feels like a mathematical average of every possible interpretation of Taxi Driver, to which this movie bears a passing thematic resemblance. It makes a decent pass at bringing superheroes into the real world, but on some level, Super still plays like the comic-book version of this material.