"Super" actor Rainn Wilson, left, and director James Gunn answer questions Saturday night during the 2012 Hero Complex Film Festival. (Alan Heitz / Los Angeles Times handout)Link
"Super" failed to find a large audience because it defied traditional Western genres, Rainn Wilson and James Gunn explained during a Q&A at the Hero Complex Film Festival. (Alan Heitz / Los Angeles Times handout)Link
People seemed to be “very moved" by "Super," said Rainn Wilson. (Alan Heitz / Los Angeles Times handout)Link
Comic books "really are like my baby blankets,” said director James Gunn. (Alan Heitz / Los Angeles Times handout)Link
"It mixes so many different worlds, you’re really off-balance," says Rainn Wilson of his film "Super." (Alan Heitz / Los Angeles Times handout)Link
“Super” failed to find a large audience because it defied traditional Western genres, the film’s star Rainn Wilson and writer-director James Gunn told the audience at the Hero Complex Film Festival.
The Q&A — at LA Live in downtown Los Angeles — followed Saturday night’s screening of the film, about a man (Wilson) who loses his wife (Liv Tyler) to a drug-dealing creep (Kevin Bacon), and dons a superhero suit in his quest to save her. In the process, he picks up a sidekick (Ellen Page) and brutally attacks many people, some of whom might be innocent.
It’s the kind of character that demanded a versatile actor, Gunn said.
“I really needed somebody who could do the acting part, who could do the comedic part, who was a big enough goof that he could think he’s getting picked on by the cook at the diner, but who’s also a big enough guy who you could imagine kicking ass at the end of the movie,” he said.
Wilson came on board at the recommendation of Gunn’s ex-wife, “The Office” costar Jenna Fischer, and said he immediately understood and connected to Frank, the jilted husband, and his alter ego, the Crimson Bolt. The film blends comedy and tragedy, resulting in a unique tone exemplified in a scene that finds Frank on his knees beside his bed in self-loathing supplication, begging God to bring back his wife.
“I think that that scene is really the linchpin of the movie, because, up until that point, you’re like, this guy’s kind of a [jerk], and he’s kind of a loser, but I think that if you can make that prayer really real, you can identify with it,” Wilson said. “I do think that almost everyone at some point in time has had that kind of wailing, beseeching, self-hating prayer by the side of their bed. … And if you can relate to that and you can see that true anguish in Frank, then you’ll be with him for the rest of the story. Because he does some really [messed] up things.”
Gunn called that moment “the weirdest scene in the whole movie,” noting that it sets a “confusing” tone for the audience.
“The scene is simultaneously funny — we laugh at it — and it’s also incredibly heartbreaking, and it’s both of those things at the same time,” Gunn said. “I kind of thought we were creating our own tone. I think the closest things that come to ‘Super’ are things in Asian cinema. I’m extremely influenced by Asian cinema, because they do not have the same sense of genre that we do in the West.”
Wilson and Gunn said the risky tonal decision worked against the film in its limited theatrical release.
“I think that’s why the film had trouble finding an audience,” Wilson said. “It is a comedy. It’s also an action movie, and it’s also a drama, and it’s also a really [messed] up genre, cult type of film. It’s all of those things at one time, and people are not used to it. They’re used to like, oh, ‘The Avengers’ has some comedy in it, but it’s action, and it’s a comic-book type thing. People really know exactly what world they’re in. But in this one, it mixes so many different worlds, you’re really off-balance. ‘Cause you don’t know if the next scene is going to be someone crying, or it’s going to be ludicrous or it’s going to be an animated sequence or an action sequence. You just don’t know.”
Another setback for the film was its timing; it came out a few months after “Kick-Ass,” the big-screen adaptation of Mark Millar’s comic series, also about a super-powerless man who puts on a suit and fights crime. Gunn said he and Millar are friends who happened upon similar ideas around the same time, but many critics of “Super” said it was ripping off “Kick-Ass.” Gunn said he was grateful that Millar came to his defense on Twitter and at festivals.
Gunn also spoke about his other influences for the film, including comic books — “they really are like my baby blankets,” he said — especially Alan Moore’s “Watchmen,” which aimed to deconstruct the superhero, he said.
“The fact that Frank is a superhero is really very secondary in the movie,” Gunn said. “I think the story could be told without him putting on the suit. But the suit’s kind of like gravy that gives it a little bit of extra something. But it’s really not about him being a superhero. It’s about this guy who lost his wife, and the way he tries to deal with it.”
Wilson said he was glad to see the film gaining some traction through cable showings, and that people seemed to be “very moved by it.”
“When I set out to make it, I knew it was not a movie for everybody,” Gunn added. “It really was a movie for a few people, and I feel really good about that. … The people who love ‘Super’ [really] love it. It touches them, and it moves them. And we meant it sincerely. That’s who the movie’s for.”
– Noelene Clark
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