The superhero movie has become so entrenched in American movie that the genre has opened itself to alternative and twisted variations. One such skewed take is Super, which stars Rainn Wilson as a hapless fry cook who decides to become a masked vigilante in the hopes of rescuing his wife (Liv Tyler) from a nefarious drug dealer (Kevin Bacon). For writer-director James Gunn – whose eclectic résumé runs the genre gamut from Scooby-Doo to Slither – the film offers an opportunity to explore character within the framework of a style of moviemaking that’s usually more about special effects.
The morning after Super played to a packed Paramount Theater, the filmmaker and his lead actor sat down to share their thoughts on the project.
Movies.com: James, you’ve actually explored this territory before with The Specials.
James Gunn: A little bit.
Movies.com: Has your point of view changed about superheroes since then, or is this the flip side of that story?
Gunn: In some ways, this is the flip side, because The Specials was a movie about real superheroes with no action or adventure, whatsoever, just a comedy that was pretending to be a drama, and Super is about a guy with no real superpowers, and it actually is part action movie. Frankly, I always had a difficult time with the way The Specials came out. I like the movie, a lot of people really seem to like the movie, but it just wasn’t what I originally intended the movie to be.
Movies.com: Was that one of those incidents that made you decide you needed to direct your own scripts?
Gunn: Yes, yes, for sure. And I had an opportunity to direct The Specials, and I always thought it was the biggest mistake of my career that I didn’t do it.
Movies.com: Rainn, have comics been a big part of your lexicon of geekery?
Rainn Wilson: You know, to be honest, not huge. I liked comics when I was younger, and when I was about nine or ten I discovered the world of fantasy, science-fiction, and horror, and just started going more in that direction. Instead of going to comic-book conventions, I would go to science-fiction conventions. There’s one called Norwescon in Seattle, and I’d hear panels with science-fiction authors, and read geeky Isaac Asimov novels, and play Dungeons & Dragons, and watch Roman Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers. I actually have a huge collection of about five or six hundred really trashy, crazy 1970s science fiction books.
Movies.com: Those covers are the best.
Wilson: They’re the best! In fact, my dad even wrote one.
Wilson: My dad wrote several science-fiction books; he got one published, it’s called Tentacles of Dawn, and I posted the cover on my Twitter feed at some point – it’s a man punching a giant bat and he’s got a really buxom woman by his side, and it said, “They programmed him to save the world and propelled him into a nightmare future!”
Movies.com: And did you need the feel to bone up on comics for this, or was that not really relevant to your character?
Wilson: I didn’t feel the need to so much, I mean, I read the occasional graphic novel and keep up on what’s going on out there. It’s kind of in the groundwater now.
Movies.com: Does a movie like this affirm that the superhero genre has peaked, or that it’s not going away?
Gunn: I think there’s still a thirst for superhero movies, obviously; there’s two coming out that people are very interested in. The thing with superhero movies is that it’s technologically driven. Superhero comic books have obviously been around for a long, long time, and people still love to read about superheroes, and at a certain point, about five or six years ago, technology was able to achieve in cinema what they were able to do in comic books; it was able to look real. So I think superheroes are going to be around for a long, long time. I think people want to see different permutations on superheroes, different points of view. Everything from Hancock to Super to Kick-Ass to Iron Man, they’re all different ways of looking at superheroes. And I think that that’s a good thing.
Wilson: I think the superhero story is our Greek mythology, and they’re our gods. But the important thing about telling stories about the gods is that they get humanized, in a way. That’s what was interesting about those classic tales – these are people with incredible powers, but they have human weaknesses and human frailties. There’s subtext there, there’s an underbelly there. I am not a big fan of 90% of the superhero movies that come out – I liked Dark Knight, I liked Iron Man, that’s about it. Really, I could just dispose of all of the rest of them. I’m interested in character and psychology. I love action sequences and cool gadgets and explosions as much as the next guy, but if it’s not grounded in a real story…I mean, you look at the classic graphic novels, and they’re very dark. And Hollywood gets very afraid of exploring that territory.
Movies.com: One last question, Rainn, and I asked Ed Helms this at Sundance: What can we look forward to in the post–Steve Carrell Office universe?
Wilson: A superhero would really jazz things up [laughter].You know, no one knows, and that’s an honest answer. They’re just trying to end this season with a bang, and as far as next year, nobody knows. We have an amazing opportunity to reinvent The Office after 148 episodes, after being led by one of the most brilliant comic actors that ever lived. We’ve got to reinvent ourselves, or we’ll die. It’s a brave experiment. I think that, chances are, we’ll fail [laughter], but we have a chance to make something really cool and special if they make some gutsy moves.
MDC at SXSW 2011:
2011 SXSW Film Festival - Photo Gallery
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with Rainn Wilson and James Gunn
Dialogue: SXSW - Morgan Spurlock Delivers The Greatest Movie
Dialogue: SXSW - Paul Giamatti Grapples with Win Win
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with Apart Star Joey Lauren Adams
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with A Year in Mooring's Josh Lucas
Day Five - Film Ends, >Conan Heads to the Big Screen and Anchor Bay Makes the Biggest Buy in Conference History
Day Four - Tuneful Documentaries and Concert Films
Day Three - Simon Pegg in Paul, Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, and Interactive in Everything
Day Two - Josh Lucas' A Year in Mooring, Apart and the Not-So-Super
Day One - Source Code, Insidious, Shiner Bock and Smartphones