Super was the second directorial outing from James Gunn. Gunn started working at Troma Films, co-writing Tromeo & Juliet (1996) and Troma founder Lloyd Kaufmans biography All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger (1998), which later became the basis of Terror Firmer (1999). Gunn graduated to an A-list screenwriter of films such as Scooby-Doo (2002), Dawn of the Dead (2004) and Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004), while he had previously ventured into the superhero spoof before with the little-seen The Specials (2000). Gunn made his directorial debut with the alien monster movie Slither (2006), which was construed as an affectionate homage to many of his genre favourites.
Super is one of these no-powered superhero parodies that comes with an indie sensibility. It could be a Kick-Ass pitched down to the audience for early Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith films. Gunn fills it with wackily surreal visions like where Rainn Wilson has visions of Jesus sitting waving from a coatpeg on the wall and Wilson then being bound by tentacles that cut open the top of his skull, squirt barbecue sauce on his exposed brain and roll a hot dog across it before a glowing Finger of God comes down to touch him. There is also something of Charlie Kaufmans constant loser heroes to Rainn Wilson, especially at the ending where he saves wife Liv Tyler, only for her to go and he be left only with the heartbreaking consolation of knowing that she has at least found the person who is right for her and taking joy in being substitute godfather to her children.
Like Defendor and to a lesser extent Kick-Ass, Super is about an ordinary schmuck trying to impose the outmoded black-and-white moralities of a comic-book on todays more complex world. In all three, in order to make the idea of someone believing they are a superhero work, the films have to create the central character as someone who is a socially ill-adept schmuck in the case of Defendor, even verging on mentally ill. In all three films, there are also very similar plots where the villain of the show is a drug kingpin. Of course, seeing Super after both Defendor and Kick-Ass, some of its comedic deflations of the superhero start to seem familiar, albeit still undeniably amusing images of Rainn Wilson cracking peoples heads in with a wrench; throwing what he believe is a smoke bomb at hoods to make a getaway before it makes only a piddly cloud of yellow fumes that reduces them to puzzled laughter; making an escape by driving away not in a Batmobile but an ordinary vehicle; having to change into costume in the back of his car where a passing mother and child think the sight of his ass poking up in plain white underwear is a pervert.
Super takes a turn from the amusing to the hugely inspired after the introduction of Ellen Page, playing the wannabe sidekick to Rainn Wilson where Page gives the impression that she has stepped in from a casting call for Ghost World (2001). Her leap into the crimefighting, getting him to beat up a guy that she merely thinks keyed a friends car, ramming the car into a thug that is attacking Rainn Wilson to crush him against a wall is hilarious as well as pushes the superheroic crusade into a decidedly dubious moral territory. Not to mention the sidesplitting seduction scene that she plays out which quite possibly may well have created a new form of superhero fetish that is going to pop up in the real world. Ellen Page gives such a live wire performance that it becomes [PLOT SPOILERS] a genuine shock when she is killed off near the end you want her to succeed more than you necessarily do likeable loser Rainn Wilson.
James Gunn has managed to bring together an amazing cast line-up that would surely be the envy of any much better-budgeted film, including bit parts from Michael Rooker, Gregg Henry, Nathan Fillion, William Katt and Scooby Doo heroine Linda Cardellini. Kevin Bacon, who would essentially play the same role for serious the following year in X: First Class (2011), has a great deal of fun sleazing it up as the villain of the show.
James Gunn subsequently made the Beezel segment of Movie 43 (2013) and the mainstream success of the Marvel Comics adaptation Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and its sequel Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (2017), as well as to write The Belko Experiment (2016).
(Nominee for Best Actress (Ellen Page) at this sites Best of 2010 awards)