That One Time Crime (and James Gunn) Shut up and Took a Long, Hard Look at Itself - A Review of Super, Directed by James Gunn

Written by O'Brian Gunn

Crimson Bolt in all his glory.

When it comes to the superhero genre, there’s a paradox of there being similar origin stories told over and over again with minor tweaks standing alongside a limitless glut of ways to explore untread ground. James Gunn’s Super (released in 2010) embraces both sides of that paradox but, like its main character, it lacks the abilities necessary to be truly effective.

The film’s plot involves a human doormat named Frank Darbo who dons the vigilante persona Crimson Bolt when his wife and the love of his life, Sarah, becomes strung out on drugs and moves in with a drug dealer named Jock. The film occasionally flashes back to Frank and Sarah’s relationship, one that’s based on two damaged people (Sarah a recovering addict and Frank with obvious undiagnosed mental health issues) trying to hold and build each other up when it’s clear they need to be focused on their own recovery, something Sarah’s sister points out when the couple first announces their engagement.

While leveling up to saving Sarah, who seems just as disrespectful and dismissive of Frank as everyone else in his life, Fra--ah, the Crimson Bolt takes on drug dealers, robbers and pedophiles. It’s here that I couldn’t help but think of the recent controversial dustup regarding James Gunn and the recently dug out skeletons in his social media closet. The film deals with a lot of the very same content James tweeted about a decade ago (as of this review) that got him fired from Disney. Thankfully, James has gone on record apologizing for his actions.

Crimson and Boltie.

Getting back to Super, Crimson Bolt reminded me a lot of the psychologically shattered Rorschach/Walter Kovacs from Watchmen, but Rainn Wilson’s Frank lacked Kovacs’ depth, rich backstory and fully fleshed out characterization (all of which I made sure to include in my own debut novel, FURIES: THUS SPOKE, a graphic novel in prose about six people who are casualties of circumstance becoming accidental heroes after being involved in the murder of a renowned superhuman family). I never found myself caring about Frank or the Crimson Bolt, nor did I develop any sort of attachment to his sidekick Boltie, a girl named Libby who is an employee of the comic book shop where Frank goes to research how to be a superhero.

I hate to write a review brimming with nothing but gripes, but that’s all I have for this movie. Stereotype after stereotype fills the movie’s runtime. From black drug dealers, jokes about being raped in prison and glorifying (damn-near-fetishising) gratuitous violence without consequence, to an actual rape of Frank, and the use of the n-word - this movie’s got it all in unflattering spades. Rather than keep pointing out the many missteps, I’d like to focus on what could have been done better, in my opinion, and how James has grown since releasing Super.

Take that, Crime!

It would have been interesting to see Frank acknowledge the fact that he needed mental help while acting as Crimson Bolt. I feel that would have added a great bit of nuance to his character, and it would have been interesting to see how therapy helped shaped both his identities. This small inclusion may have been enough to keep Frank from being essentially the same character at the end of the movie that he was at the beginning. Libby could have acted as his support system both psychologically and while the two were out in the field, and maybe that desire to be a supportive force could have been her catalyst for becoming a sidekick rather than a solo hero.

While I didn’t at all care for Super, I do like how much James Gunn has improved as a storyteller. This may have been something he needed to purge from his creative system to give us gems like Guardians of the Galaxy. After all, some of our greatest triumphs blossom from the seeds of our greatest personal failings. Rather than watching his parents or uncle die before being compelled to become a hero, it seems as if Gunn was instead compelled to kill off his immature persona before donning a new one. And that’s an origin story I don’t mind watching again and again.

Runtime: 96 minutes

Recommend Buy, Rent, or Skip: Absolutely skip, unless you’re a die-hard James Gunn fan. Even then, you may find this one isn’t worth your time.

Cover of Modern Dread.

Next Up: Modern Dread, a horror anthology focused on modern fears and anxieties. What eldritch horrors have yet to be unleashed from our high-death-inition screens? Not to worry, there’s an app and a graphic novel for that!