After his wife falls under the influence of a drug dealer, an everyday guy (Rainn Wilson) transforms himself into Crimson Bolt, a superhero with the best intentions, though he lacks for heroic skills.

A smart, funny superhero satire.

SYDNEY UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: The casting of Rainn Wilson as Frank 'The Crimson Bolt’ D'Arbo is perhaps the only element that seems plausible in a film that otherwise defies – no, shatters – all expectations of its 'normal-guy-as-superhero’ premise. Wilson capitalises on the bug-eyed, psychotic persona he has cultivated on screen, first as Dwight in the TV series The Office, then as the has-been muso in Peter Cattaneo’s little-seen The Rocker (2008).

Much like every other component of Super, Wilson subverts expectations by playing the everyman archetype. Not a successful everyman, mind you; he watches the world go by, works a dead-end job and pines for the romantic connection he believes might yet come his way. When it finally does, it’s imperfect – his heart’s desire (Liv Tyler) is a recovering addict, and he loses her to a local crime heavy (Kevin Bacon). It’s a loss that he can’t deal with, in real-world terms. Drawing inspiration from Nathan Fillion’s Christian TV masked-crusader, 'The Holy Avenger’, and, convinced that he is a recipient of divine intervention, Frank becomes the wrench-wielding 'Crimson Bolt’. His super-hero transformation is made complete by comic-book store clerk Ellen Page, who uncovers Frank’s ruse and becomes his sidekick, 'Boltie’.

Super is a study in dissociative mental illness, its impact upon the individual and the people drawn to that persona. Our 'hero’ is a sociopath whose sense of fairness was skewed by a possessive love, and which drives him to commit horrible acts of violence (a smart-mouth jerk is bludgeoned for queue-jumping, and a paedophilic Santa has his head split open when caught masturbating near a school yard); his sidekick is an equally-disturbed girl who can only find sexual fulfilment with the fake manifestation of the sociopath’s psyche. (It’s Page’s best work since Juno.)

Writer/director James Gunn, who has a lock on genre de/re-construction (sci-fi splatter hoot Slither, 2006; Troma Studio’s jewel in the crown, Tromeo and Juliet, 1996), respects his audience enough to know that we 'get’ that Frank is seriously messed-up. Viewers clued into Gunn’s modus operandi will understand that this is his own take on Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump character; over the course of Super, we see that the way his protagonist views the world and its injustices is the way it should be seen. Page’s Boltie gets it – she knows Frank is the salvation from a life spent envying the two-dimensional heroes on her shop walls. The Crimson Bolt is living, breathing social justice; a promise of a perfect world, however unattainable that might be.

But it’s a bloody (and bloody hilarious) world. From its exhilarating animated opening-credit sequence (it’s so energetic, Gunn’s cartoon characters are left breathless) to its Taxi Driver-like ending, Super is a film infused with that impossibly compelling mix of deeply empathic insights, disturbingly-visualised violence and goodwill-rousing positive energy. You shouldn’t cheer for Wilson’s anti-hero but, like Gunn, you know he’s got it right regardless of the path he took to get there.

Super opens the Sydney Underground Film Festival on September 8

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1 hour 36 min

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