SPOILERS and such. PLEASE watch the film before reading this.
What if some guy dressed up a super hero and tried to fight crime in the real world? If you ask Matthew Vaughn, you get weird pedophilia subtext. However James Gunn delivers in Super (2010) an answer that’s actually related to the question and a complex and even-handed view of religion.
There’s a lot of obvious comments on religion throughout the film. Like the Blues Brothers, Frank (Rainn Wilson) is put on a mission from God after his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) relapses into drug abuse and starts living with her dealer ( the mission is given to him by God who touches his brain after tentacles molested him). Frank’s personal hero is a Bibleman-ripoff played by nerd favorite Nathan Fillion whose messages Frank receives as the word of divine. Yet there’s more going on than the obvious. Frank plays the role of religion in society, the only competent agent keeping people in line by violently beating those who violate the social code.
As a character, Frank is rather simple. He’s honest, direct, quiet and incredibly unhappy to the point he questions the purpose of happiness. Frank’s virtue seems impeccable. For example, when he tries to lie, the listener quickly sees through his subterfuge. Frank simply lacks the ability to be manipulative. The rage, however, hidden behind his exterior leads to roaring rampage of revenge that reestablishes a sense of morality in a community.
Frank’s unremitting morality causes him to go after anyone who doesn’t show decency to his fellow man. Even butting in line deserves a beating. Oddly, this wins the support even by those who suffered collateral damage like the woman in the wheelchair and the underage male prostitute that Franks saves from a john. Taking action is highly popular since people are sick of those who create hostility in the community. Frank could keep the upper-moral hand if it wasn’t for his self-selected confidant and sidekick, Bolty (Ellen Paige).
Bolty’s relationship with Frank is the same as the one between zealots and religion. She gives Frank’s morality shape and energy. He comes to her to learn about how to be a super-hero and she later saves his life from a couple of goons. However she also uses Franks for her highly immoral purposes. Her drives are violent and nasty, vigilantism is being able to hurt someone without consequences. She targets Frank’s wrath against a dude who might be innocent and then has to be stopped by Frank before she bashes his brains in. When Bolty literally rapes Franks, it underlines what she had done to Frank figuratively up to that point. It’s amazing there could be a more evil figure in the film, but the person who holds Frank’s wife is the nastiest piece of work.
Jacques (Kevin Bacon) is a modern secular voice. He’s willing to patronize Frank and his old ways when it comes to cooking eggs. But doesn’t think twice when taking his wife. Frank’s earnestness is just a form of naivety. At the end of the film when Jacques tries to show Frank has no way of knowing he’s right, that the universe isn’t as simple as it is in Frank’s philosophy. Frank mercilessly stabs Jacques for his moral relativity, a great way to end disagreement though rather egregious- you wouldn’t do it to a friend or at least I hope you don’t.
Religion, Marx’s opiate of the masses, is not wrong in principle of wanting a moral society. People simply do not like thieves, cheats, and murderers. Yet in practice what is gained a power that could be used for good or evil. Frank’s instincts for what’s right can be muddled in the heat of the moment or when directed by someone he trusts. Super contains both a simple tale of an alienated man who breaks after losing his wife and a multilevel look at what religion does and does not to. Also it’s funny and kinda weird. Probably should have mentioned that one earlier but whatever. Sometimes you just gotta read between the lines.