In 2010 we had Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass. In 2011 James Gunn’s Super clobbered us with a wrench. While there are some obvious similarities between the two films – both explore vigilante behavior via the conceit of “a real person dressed as superhero” and both are in turns funny and dark and incredibly gory – they have more differences than many people think. Vaughn’s film almost seems to endorse vigilante behavior. It pays lip service to the psychological damage Big Daddy imparts on Hit Girl, but that’s not really where its heart lies. After all, Dave is a pretty normal guy who ends up getting the girl and flying around on a jetpack at the end.
That’s not at all how it goes down in Gunn’s Super. Rainn Wilson’s Frank Darbo is incredibly damaged. He’s already got some issues (he constantly perseverates over his two “perfect” moments) but when his wife falls off the wagon and back into the arms of a local drug kingpin, he literally can’t process it. For me, this is where Super trumps Kick-Ass. It explores the allure of the vigilante, but also the sickness and anger behind it. It’s also an incredibly personal film that offers catharsis rather than vicarious thrills. When you hear Frank rail about “the rules” during the film’s climax it’s so powerful you don’t know whether to cheer or cry. His heart is in the right place… he’s just psychotic.
That’s not to say I don’t like Kick-Ass, I do. It’s a vastly entertaining film. But while Super is more challenging and it’s not likely to please as many people – it resonates pretty deeply for the people who were meant to love it. That gives it the edge for me.
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