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Look out, Crime, he has access to a colour printer

dir: James Gunn

It’s almost time enough to get sick of all these goddamn superhero flicks. One’s coming out every week or so. I’m also starting to tire of the slightly sarcastic flicks that comment on those flicks by having some doofus with no powers, skills or abilities, decide to mimic the best and worst of Marvel and DC et al, by donning a costume and fighting crime on their own terms.

I didn’t like Kick-Ass that much. I also don’t think much of Super is that brilliant, which similarly has some mentally ill subhuman dress up and ‘fight’ crime. It’s probably a better flick than Kick-Ass, mostly because it wasn’t such a shallow wish-fulfilment pandering piece of shit. Of course Super’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t have an unhinged Nic Cage performance in it.

In his place is Ellen Page, bringing the crazy in an entirely different way. She’s not the main character, though. She’s just the demented sidekick.

Our main character is Frank (Rainn Wilson), who has both the air of the sadsack and the schizophrenic about him. Through circumstances too fantastical to contemplate, he got married to a woman that looks like and is played by Liv Tyler. To partially explain how such a circumstance could arise, her character, called Sarah, is an addict in recovery, who latches on to Frank because her judgement is severely impaired, and because Frank is the first guy in a while who treats her kindly.

Such a fairy tale can’t last forever, and there comes a time when Sarah leaves him for the local crime boss, inexplicably played by Kevin Bacon, who looks inexplicably sleazy as well. Sarah ends up back on the needle and presumably on the pole as well, and this fills Frank with an inchoate rage.

It’s a rage he decides to funnel into something productive. He has some psychotic delusions and conversations with a Christian superhero (Nathan Fillion, slumming just like everyone else), patches together a suit from bits of fabric, adopts a persona, being The Crimson Bolt, decides on his ‘special’ talent (wielding a wrench), and starts assaulting people.

He looks terrible, his crime fighting amounts to random violence on some ‘deserving’ and some annoying people, and there’s no real quest for truth, justice or the American way. All he wants is revenge on the world to make up for everything that’s gone wrong in his fucking life.

I’m sure everyone can relate, but I’m not so sure about the attacks on members of the public. Sure, there’s barely a person that would quibble with the fact that paedophiles and violent criminals deserve to be brutally beaten in theory, but having some psychopath belt people in the head with a wrench is a fairly horrible crime in and of itself. Making the targets scumbags is just pandering to the worst qualities of the prospective viewing audience.

That being said, the flick mostly avoids the lame wish-fulfillment bullshit by keeping Crimson Bolt a crazy, deranged shambling loon, and his sidekick an even crazier sociopath. It’s not like these people are being held up as models of decent civic behaviour.

The sidekick character of Boltie comes into it because Frank doesn’t know about comic books or crime fighting, and she, being a diminutive comic book shop employee, can rattle off comics and characteristics of non-powered heroes to help him learn and adapt. Of course, when your ‘power’ is causing severe head injuries to people with a blunt object, there’s a limit to what she can to teach him.

She becomes far more extreme than him, forcing herself onto him and his crusade, motivated by a completely outsized psychotic desire to commit harm to people. If Ellen Page struck anyone as being capable of playing a creepy, long-game-playing sadist in Hard Candy, here she’s far less restrained and far more demented. No-one takes their acting jobs too seriously in this flick, least of all Page, but no-one can really blame her.

Especially considering what happens to her later in the flick.

The need for a flick like this is debateable. Sure, there are too many superhero flicks. That’s like saying there are three more Pirates of the Caribbean flicks than there ever needed to be, or two more Sex and the City than any just god would allow for in a benevolent universe. But flicks like this don’t really provide much of an antidote to the ongoing onslaught of Marvel and DC flicks that keep stinking up the multiplexes. They end up becoming, most notably in Kick-Ass’s case, exactly the same as the thing they’re pretending they’re superior to.

Whether the flick works or not is debatable as well. It’s pretty uncomfortable viewing in many spots, probably to the flick’s benefit. Perhaps it needed to stay on the wrong side of enjoyable for it to pretend it had some kind of substance.

In this world where angry fuckwits write manifestos and then proceed to pick up a mess ‘o guns and bullets, and kill a whole bunch of innocent people, and believe themselves to be inherently justified in doing so, it’s harder to get behind a people’s hero who’s doing something similar, just to a sleazier bunch of people. In truth, Frank isn’t acting out just because his life is shit. He genuinely loves Sarah, even if she could never love him, and does feel like he has to save her from her fate, a fate that she has opted for over continuing to live with Frank and stay sober. You could almost argue she has to be saved not from the villain, but from herself, which amounts to the same thing. In that sense, as tone-deaf, hacky and daft as aspects of the ending are, seeing as they convey a certain righteousness to Frank’s actions that they definitely don’t deserve, it’s perhaps the best ending a flick like this could have aspired to.

Rainn Wilson has made a career out of his odd appearance and strange energy, and he does okay with an under-written script and under-resourced production. It looks cheap and nasty, but, then again, it needed to be. This isn’t going to result in a franchise or a string of sequels and merchandising, but, hell, if some kid knocks on my door wearing a Crimson Bolt costume this Halloween, I’ll give him some candy.

Though if some girl knocks dressed as Boltie, I’m definitely calling the cops

6 times I am desperately waiting for the opportunity to bellow at someone “Shut Up, Crime!’ when the moment is right out of 10

“Actually, the guy's kinda got a point. I mean, I wonder all the time why no-one's never just stood up and become a real superhero.” – oh, but they do, the psych facilities and jails are full of them - Super