James Gunn's SUPER is the movie I need right now
It's a scary world out there right now and anxiety is at an all-time high for all of us. It's understandable that people are looking for reassurance in their favorite films. Maybe it's THE GOONIES or THE PRINCESS BRIDE or STAR WARS, but everybody has that one movie that, when you watch it, you feel better about your chances of making it through the world. You finish the film with a smile on your face and a glow in your chest. The movie centers you.
What does it say that I frequently find myself going back to James Gunn's SUPER to center myself?
I love SUPER, I think it's one of the best movies of the last decade. That said, SUPER is super dark. Unrelentingly dark. So dark that I find myself pausing before recommending it to other people, worried about what conclusions they might form about me from the film. In the end, though, I almost always recommend SUPER to people who haven't seen it because I'm not recommending the movie for its darkness, I'm recommending it for the light and heart that exist between its panels.
SUPER stars Rainn Wilson as a man who, in a state of near-religious hysteria brought on by mental illness, believes God has ordained him to become the Crimson Bolt, a masked vigilante like Batman. Unfortunately, the Crimson Bolt does not share Batman's trained use of "just barely lethal" violence and most of the bad guys he takes on are left in traction, if not dead. The Bolt also does not see the nuance in breaking the law - a child molester is delivered the same level of justice as a person who cuts in line. Things grow to a crescendo when the Crimson Bolt and his sidekick Boltie, played by a psychopathic Ellen Page, take on a strip club owner that the Bolt's ex-girlfriend left him for. The movie builds and builds in its shocking cynicism until it culminates in the only catharsis audiences need by its conclusion: a dirty bomb of hope and optimism and the idea that things can get better because of the sacrifices made today.
SUPER is dark, yes, but it's dark with a purpose. Rainn Wilson's performance as the Crimson Bolt is filled with so much humanity that I am frequently brought to tears during the film's final moments. This movie understands the frustration and anger you can feel when things aren't going your way, the tight grip of hopelessness. But it also suggests that the darkness is sometimes a necessary journey. You will sometimes be asked to carry the weight of others for the sake of trying to make the world a truly better place. I've written about how Superman is sometimes mistaken as a Christ allegory. Make no mistake about it, though, SUPER is as strong an encapsulation as THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST when it comes to highlighting the best promises of Christianity.
SUPER was released early in the first term of President Obama, when it felt like we were experiencing a pendulum swing into a better time as a country. We're now at the other end of the pendulum swing and sacrifices have been and will continue to need to be made over the next few months and years by all of us. I believe that if we can get through this, though, we will enjoy that pendulum swing back in the other direction.
Things can and will get better. We'll all have a proverbial bunny to pet.