Super

Author: James Gunn
Genre: Dark Comedy/Action
Storyline: 8
Dialogue: 10
Characterization: 9
Writer’s Potential: 9

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Logline:

When his wife leaves him for a drug dealer, a mildly psychotic loser decides to become a costumed vigilante.

Synopsis:

FRANK D’ARBO narrates the two perfect moments in his life: first, his inexpensive wedding to SARAH, the love of his life; second, telling the police the direction a mugger ran. In Frank’s mind, these two small moments make up for many, many moments of misery, including his religious father beating him for hiding photos of Heather Locklear, a group of classmates urinating on him, and his homely prom date ditching him to have sex with the scuzzy photographer. Frank draws pictures depicting his two perfect moments and places them beside his bed, so he’ll see them every moment. Sarah ridicules the quality of the drawing; Frank uses Wite-Out to fix it. Soon enough, Frank realizes he’s losing Sarah. She loses interest in sex with him but gleefully talks about male clients at the strip club where she dances. One morning, Frank’s making breakfast when hip, handsome JACQUES shows up, looking for Sarah. When Frank explains Sarah isn’t there, Jacques sits down and eats Frank’s eggs. Jacques then asks Frank to tell Sarah he stopped by.

Five days later, Sarah disappears. Frank looks for her at the strip club, but her coworkers say she quit the job. Frank doesn’t believe them, but he’s distracted by the sight of Jacques and his cronies, ABE, MIKE, and QUILL. Frank asks Jacques if he’s seen Sarah. Feigning sympathy, Jacques explains Sarah is shacking up with him. Later, Frank waits for Jacques and his cronies to emerge from the strip club. He follows them to Jacque’s sprawling ranch. Jacques watches Frank open the door, enter the house, and kiss a gleeful Sarah. He’s crushed. Frank works as a short-order cook at a diner. His coworker, HAMILTON, is sympathetic, but he warns Frank to stay away from Jacques — rumor has it that he’s bad news. Frank tries to file a report with a police detective, FELKNER, stating that Jacques kidnapped Sarah. Felkner is also sympathetic, but Frank lacks any real proof. Depressed and lonely, Frank watches a kids’ superhero show, The Holy Avenger. The HOLY AVENGER is a Christian superhero whose nemesis, DEMONSWILL, is constantly trying to tempt school children with sinful behavior. In this episode, the Holy Avenger foils Demonswill’s plot to make children lazy by beaming sloth rays into their cafeteria food. Frank is inspired by this superhero, doing positive work for God. He confronts Jacques, who’s surprisingly polite despite Frank pounding his fists on Jacque’s car. Frank knows Sarah’s using again and demands that she come home. She doesn’t want to, and Jacques doesn’t want her to, so he has Abe, Mike, and Quill beat Frank up.

Frank arrives at work, battered and bloodied. Hamilton freaks out about Frank bleeding on people’s food. He sends Frank home. Frank prays to God to guide him to do the right thing so that Sarah can come back to him. That night, tossing and turning in bed, Frank hears something outside his bedroom window. He looks and sees the Holy Avenger outside, staring at him. The ceiling cracks open, letting in the light of God. Frank explains in voiceover that he’s been seeing Godly visions since the age of eight, including seeing a tiny Jesus climbing on his trophy case, seeing a childhood friend’s face morph into a grinning devil, and hearing the voice of God tell Frank to marry Sarah the moment he first saw her. Back in the scene, Frank witnesses the “Finger of God” touching his brain. The Holy Avenger explains that God has a plan for him that will reveal itself. On the bedroom wall, Frank sees a drawing of a crimson hooded-mask surrounded by a yellow bomb blast. The next morning, Frank frantically draws the image from the vision, but he doesn’t understand its meaning. Frank visits a comic-book store and asks the clerk, LIBBY (20s and a little odd), if they have back issues of The Holy Avenger. She shows them to him, mocking the ridiculous religious overtones. She laughs at one line where the Avenger says it takes nothing more than the choice to fight evil to be a superhero. Then, she realizes that that’s pretty much true. Her words reverberate in Frank’s mind.

Frank rushes home and Scotch-tapes the drawing of the mask to a picture of himself. It all makes sense. He teaches himself how to sew, then makes himself a shabby costume. He becomes the Crimson Bolt, the world’s first crimefighter. His catchphrase: “Shut up, crime!” Frank lurks in the shadows, waiting for crime to happen so he can stop it. When no crime happens, he puts on a fake beard disguise and goes to the public library to research high-crime areas. Frank drives to a Detroit ghetto, where he watches drug dealer NATHANIEL sell Thai stick to teenagers. Frank leaps out of the shadows and tries to beat up Nathaniel. He does a pretty good job until Nathaniel starts pounding him with a trashcan lid. Eventually, some of Nathaniels gangbanger friends show up to help. Frank returns to the comic-book store and asks Libby about superheroes who don’t have powers — the ones who only have human cunning and various weapons to help them fight crime. Libby rattles off a number of them, then asks why Frank needs to know. Frank says he’s making up his own superhero and needs to do research. At home, Frank decides a lead pipe will be his weapon of choice. He paints it red to go with the costume, then goes after Nathaniel, beating him savagely.

A montage follows, showing Frank running around the city, fighting crime by bashing perpetrators’ faces with his lead pipe. As he foils drug dealers, purse-snatchers, child molestors, Frank starts working out intensively. It soon reaches a point where he’s legitimately feared. After the montage, Frank shows up at Jacques’s ranch in costume. He looks inside and sees Sarah, drugged-out. Frank soberly remembers his relationship with Sarah: their awkward first date (an AA meeting), their first kiss (a result of Sarah feeling sorry for Frank because, all his life, he’s been known as a weirdo), watching Sarah fight with her sister because she thinks Frank is a loser, Sarah taking the job at the strip club, Sarah relapsing. Depressed, he decides not to confront them and goes home. At the diner, Frank and Hamilton watch a TV news report in which both the newscaster and the police spokesperson consider the Crimson Bolt a dangerous menace to society. Trying to maintain his secret identity, Frank does a poor job of pretending he’s never heard of the Crimson Bolt. Hamilton invites Frank to the movies later that day. Frank shows up early and is incensed when a man and his girlfriend cut in front of everyone in line. He goes to his car, changes into the Crimson Bolt, and bashes the man’s face with the lead pipe. When the girlfriend tries to fight back, he hits her, too. He runs away as police sirens swell.

Libby shows up at the diner with a newspaper article about the Crimson Bolt, shocked and thrilled that the idea they discussed — a regular guy becoming a superhero — really happened. She wants to know if Frank’s the Crimson Bolt. Frank denies it. Despite that, Libby is extremely excited about the superhero’s existence. She invites Frank to a party at her apartment. Later, at home, Frank’s getting a little edgy and paranoid about his secret identity. He hides his costume in a closet. The doorbell rings — it’s Detective Felkner, coming by to have Frank sign some paperwork. Frank has a paranoid fantasy about Felkner finding the costume, arresting Frank, and throwing him in jail. Frank opens the door for Felkner, suspiciously eyeballing the closet. When Felkner asks what’s in the closet, Frank tells him it’s a vicious dog. Frank notices that his motivational photo — a picture of himself with the Crimson Bolt mask taped over it — is taped to the wall, in plain sight. He makes intense, creepy eye contact with Felkner so the detective won’t look around. Felkner’s amused by his intensity. He has Frank sign the form and leaves. The instant he does, Frank throws away all the evidence of his existence as the Crimson Bolt. He then prays to God to give him a sign about whether or not he’s doing the right thing.

Frank watches another episode of The Holy Avenger. In this one, Demonswill tries to get kids to give in to teenage lust. The Holy Avenger defeats him and gives a big speech about kids not “throwing away” what Jesus’ precious gift. Taking this as a sign, Frank digs his costume out of the trash, puts it on, and drives to Jacques’s ranch. He tries to scale the gate with a homemade grappling hook, but it breaks, so he just climbs it the old-fashioned way. Frank witnesses and overhears Jacques and his cronies preparing to receive a massive heroin shipment. Sarah’s nodding out, barely conscious. Frank dives through the window. The guys immediately recognize him, and they’re angrier about him knowing the details of their drug deal than his attempts at vigilante justice. Frank tries to go after them with the lead pipe, but they start shooting at him, so he runs away. He narrowly escapes, and they actually clip his leg.

Frantic, Frank drives to Libby’s apartment, where the party is in full swing. He covers himself up with items in his car — mostly garbage bags — to protect his identity. Libby leads him past her confused party guests into her room. Frank reveals his costume — and his wound. Libby breaks the party up, sending everyone home, including her jealous and confused boyfriend. She cleans and bandages the wound. Frank admits that Jacques and his pals know about Frank’s secret identity, and where he lives. Libby allows him to spend the night. Meanwhile, Felkner notices a sketch of the Crimson Bolt and realizes it looks familiar. Without giving details, he tells his captain he’s going to check something out. Felkner goes to Frank’s house, where Abe, Mike, and Quill are waiting for Frank. They shoot him, then turn on the lights and realize not only is it the wrong guy — it’s a cop. They decide to hide the body.

The next day, Libby drops the bombshell that she wants to be his “kid sidekick.” She’s 22, but relative to Frank she’s still a kid. Frank isn’t so sure it’s a good idea, but Libby’s both excited and insistent. She makes her own costume out of spandex and names herself “Boltie.” Together, they go back into the ghetto and wait for crime to happen. Libby thinks Frank’s plan is boring and stupid. She decides they should find somebody they know is a criminal and “teach him a lesson,” starting with a guy who keyed her friend’s new car. They go to his house, and Libby wails on him, getting really into it. She almost kills him, but Frank pulls her away. Later, Frank’s pissed. He “fires” Libby from the sidekick job. They stop at a gas station, where Frank pumps gas while Libby changes out of her costume. Quill and another crony, TOBY, happen to be at the same gas station. They notice Frank, who immediately runs. Quill chases him on foot while Toby gets into the car. Libby follows in Frank’s car.

Hobbled by his injured leg, Frank can’t outrun them. He gets into an alley, where Quill and Toby surround him on opposite ends. They start beating him up as Libby heads for the alley. Frank whacks Toby in the head with the pipe. Moments later, Libby plows into Toby’s legs, crushing them against the brick wall. This distracts Quill long enough for Frank to get his gun and shoot him in the head. Frank is still in his costume, and Libby’s half in hers, so they’re reasonably pleased to see that they’ve gathered an audience of pleased citizens. Afterward, Libby’s thrilled by the excitement. She wants to make out with Frank to celebrate, but he refuses — he’s married. He’s decided to “rehire” her, though, so they can go after Jacques once and for all, but he feels they need more weapons. They go to a Gun & Knife show, collecting a huge arsenal, plus a collection of books on how to manufacture weapons like pipe bombs. Back at Libby’s apartment, they play with the new weapons. Libby notices a newscast, which describes how public favor has swayed toward the Crimson Bolt and Boltie, now that it’s revealed that most of the “victims” had long rap sheets.

That night, Frank sleeps in Libby’s living room. She gets up, in costume, and tries to convince him to fight crime. He refuses. She tries to convince him to have sex with her. Frank refuses this, too, but she manages to convince him by explaining that they’re not Frank and Libby — they’re the Crimson Bolt and Boltie, and the Crimson Bolt isn’t married to Sarah. Afterward, Frank rushes to the bathroom and vomits. The vomit forms the shape of Sarah’s face, increasing his guilt and strengthening his resolve. He prepares to go after Sarah immediately. Libby goes with. At the ranch, Frank and Libby watch from outside as Jacques and his cronies bring in MR. RANGE, who has huge bundles of heroin and a massive security force surrounding him. Mr. Range takes a high-as-a-kite Sarah into the bedroom for some fun. She resists, so Mr. Range forces himself on her.

A massive action sequence follows, in which the Frank and Libby first take out the security patrols outside the house, then bust into the house and kill everyone in sight. Jacques runs upstairs to warn Mr. Range and get him out of the house. One of the men shoots Frank in the chest. He’s wearing a kevlar vest, so he falls, but he’s all right. However, this distracts concerned Libby, who is shot in the head. Mr. Range has heard about the Crimson Bolt, and he’s terrified. He runs away. Pissed, Jacques shoots Range and takes his money, then pragmatically attempts to flee. Frank blows up Mr. Range’s SUVs as his remaining men attempt to leave. Finally, it comes down to Frank versus Abe and Mike. They fight hand-to-hand, with Frank viciously killing each of them in a fury. He runs upstairs after Sarah and encounters Jacques. Instantly ready to be Frank’s buddy, Jacques returns to his earlier faux-politeness, more than willing to turn over Sarah. She’s bruised and swollen thanks to Mr. Range’s violence, which Jacques immediately apologizes for. With Frank distracted by Sarah, Jacques shoots Frank several times in the chest. He’s about to shoot Frank in the head when Frank fires a projectile knife from his wrist at point-blank range. It pins Jacque’s legs. He topples over. Frank stabs Jacques repeatedly while a terrified Sarah cowers in the corner.

In voiceover, Frank admits that maybe the audience will think he’s insane and deranged, but he knows in his heart he did the right thing, and he saved Sarah. She leaves after two months, and only stays that long out of obligation. When she leaves, Frank realizes he was not chosen by God — she was, which is why he needed to save her. She needed to see the carnage at Jacques’s to keep her up at night, get her to sober up and return to recovery. She cleans up, finds a new husband, and has four wonderful children. As for Frank — well, instead of two, he has an entire wall full of “perfect moments”: saving Sarah, laughing with Libby at the Gun & Knife show, buying a bunny, watching a movie with Hamilton. Frank stares at the wall, smiling, eyes filling with tears.

Comments:

Super does a marvelous job of deconstructing the superhero genre. Building a story around a lunatic who may or may not be on a mission from God, the writer satirizes the dark reality lurking behind many vigilante superheroes’ self-righteous façades while creating a superhero story more entertaining and exciting than most. As written, the script merits a recommend.

Overall, the story is strong. The first act does an excellent job of setting up the main characters, particularly Frank, and explaining the bizarre, extremely funny circumstances that lead to Frank becoming a superhero. The second act begins to both embrace and satirize the usual superhero “origin story” tropes with crimefighting and training montages, then defies expectations by having Frank pursued as an insane outlaw rather than a hero.

Partnering Frank and Libby leads to the script’s only real narrative hiccups. The writer has already set up the notion that Frank’s being pursued by both the police and Jacques’s henchmen, so it seems oddly out of place that Frank and Libby simply go back to fighting in the ghetto, almost completely forgetting about their pursuers. While amusing, these scenes between Frank and Libby don’t really fit well into the storyline.

However, once the script gets back to the meat of the story, the Frank-Libby dynamic works fantastically well, building to a third act dominated by the ultraviolent climactic sequence at Jacques’s ranch. However, the writer defies expectations once again by refusing to settle for mindless violence, followed by a happy ending of Frank heroically rescuing Sarah. The resolution is still upbeat, but it’s a bit more intelligent about the nature of violence and its effects on the human psyche, allowing Frank to “rescue” Sarah more meaningfully than simply busting down doors and stabbing villains.

Throughout, the script satirizes the ridiculousness of superhero characters by portraying Frank somewhat realistically. He’s a damaged, depressed man prone to violence, twisted by a religious upbringing into believing in the righteousness of his actions. The writer uses Frank to dig deep into the “reality” of superhero psychology and the type of “real” person who would hide behind in a costume while achieving vigilante justice, better than most superhero comedies. Libby is similarly damaged — a bit worse off than Frank, actually — and while the writer’s clearly aware of this, he always maintains a sense of empathy. They’re both a little nuts, but at their cores, they aren’t bad people, and they’re not made the source of ridicule or belittlement.

The supporting characters are more of a mixed bag. Sarah gets an impressive, heartbreaking level of depth as the writer delves into her struggles with addiction, again without belittling the gravity of her problems. Aside from Jacques, none of the cops or criminals have much personality. Jacques, himself, is relegated to a sort of “hipster sociopath” characterization that’s funny but a bit shallow.

The comedy is a bit dark, but this script is laugh-out-loud funny. The current popularity of comic-book adaptations can only help with the movie’s success. It’s a genre that’s rife with satirical possibilities, and this script mines them all exceptionally well.

Posted by D. B. Bates on October 26, 2009 9:39 PM