Title: SuperDirector: James Gunn
Starring: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon, Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker
Plot: Frank (Wilson) is a downtrodden short-order cook, whose wife Sarah (Tyler) has just left him for drug dealer Jacques (Bacon). Sinking into a deep depression he suffers a vision were he is touched by the hand of god, while being advised by the Holy Avenger (Fillion) a Christian public-access TV show superhero to become his own superhero. Now transformed into Crimson Bolt he sets out to clean up the city of crime.
Review: I think the announcement that Director James Gunn had been chosen as the director of “Guardians of the Galaxy” as part of Marvel Studios Phase two, I can safely say I was almost as surprised as when Peter Jackson was announced as the director of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The main reason for this surprise was that both came from a horror background, with Jackson especially notorious for the bad taste splatter of his early films, before moving onto more mainstream but none the less dark fare like the fantastic “Heavenly Creatures”. Gunn’s career path while perhaps not so dark as Jackson’s is still one containing its own amount of splatter, having started off working for Troma and making his directorial debut with the gooey “Sliver” for which this film would be its follow up, while the rest of his career to date has been very much horror influenced. So with this in mind I was curious to see how this would shape his vision of a superhero movie, especially after previously playing with the superhero genre with “The Specials”. Watching this film though only really begs the question again as to what the Marvel exec’s were thinking when they gave Gunn the “Guardians of the Galaxy” gig, especially considering the pitch black vein of humour which runs throughout this film, as Gunn gives us his truly unique take on costume vigilantes.
Bizarrely released at the same time of the more recognised and lighter “Kick-Ass” aswell as the little seen “Defendor” in what seemed to be a mini craze for the subject of costume vigilanties. Gunn here has chosen to take a much more risqué route, seeing how Frank is far from the most instantly likable character, having been so downtrodden for so long we first meet him at essentially his lowest point, especially when he can only think of two happy moments in his life. The first being the day he married Sarah and the other being when he directed a police officer to catch a purse snatcher, both of which he immortalises in childlike drawing and stuck on the otherwise bare walls of his apartment. Needless to say this sort of character is the perfect fit for Wilson who has spent the best part of his career playing such social outcasts, with Wilson’s performance as Frank seemingly building on his role as Arthur on “Six Feet Under”.
Much like his costume vigilante contempories, Frank has no super powers to speak off and after a failed attempt at busting a drug dealer, soon controversially arms himself with a pipe wrench, which soon has him marked on the police radar for all the wrong reasons, especially when his superhero antics usually end up putting the criminals in the intensive care unit. Still this doesn’t deter him, especially as he is so convinced of his mission, seeming sent from god himself in a scene were he is not so much touched by god but rather scalped and poked in the brain by god in a scene I can’t help but feel was inspired by the Channard Cenobite from “Hellraiser 2”, in a scene which only further marks out Gunn’s love of the horror genre.
While previous entries in the costume vigilant genre (if that’s what this can be classed as?) have focused on the wannabe superhero and their journey to being a true hero, “Super” instead seems to be about one man setting out on the path of trying to make a difference, while slowly becoming more unhinged as his journey progresses, here seen from the comical first attempts at busting crime by lurking around empty alleyways through to him finally stocking up on firepower and explosives for his suicidal final assault on Jacques stronghold. Also unlike the other films Frank gets (if unwillingly) a sidekick in the form of the hyperactive and foul mouthed comic book store clerk Libby, who starts off first as his comic book guru, helping Frank find the identity of the Crimson Bolt by studying comic book hero and soon joins Frank on patrol as his sidekick Boltie. It’s an unusual approach and one which really sinks or swims depending on if you get Gunn’s warped sense of humour. Still it is really a tribute to the cast (all who worked to scale) who commit to their roles so fully that the film works so well with Page especially unhinged and a far cry from her usual roles, while Bacon once again shows his usual fearlessness as he harnesses his inner sleazebag, to make Jacques a truly disgusting individual even to the point where he disgusts even his own henchmen with his actions.
What was most surprising here though was the gore quota, which is in many ways is unsurprising when you consider the amount of Pipe wrench clubbing being dished out to drug dealers right through to people cutting in line. So while cracked skulls are mainly the order of the day, while Gunn also finds a number of opportunities to surprise the audience with these sporadic moments of gore, which frequently come without warning and often creating a double punch thanks to the already frequently out there nature of the material. Needless to say like with the rest of the film Gunn is none the less creative with his splatter with Frank’s visions / Brain poke certainly proving memorable, much like the finale were deaths are shown in slow motion complete with crudely drawn Batman esq pow bubbles.
Managing shock at the same time it amuses, Gunn walks a tricky tightrope and one which won’t work for everyone. Still there is enough originality here to make for an interesting trip at the least, especially as it will no doubt leave you wondering what the hell you’ve just watched.