Super ★★★

A hyper-violent, smartly satirical, and completely over-the-top action-comedy, James Gunn's "Super" may cause whiplash with its ever-shifting tone; but it is a compelling, mostly entertaining take on the superhero myth, nonetheless. Much like "Darkman" allowing Sam Raimi to bridge the gap between his "The Evil Dead" films and "Spider-man," "Super" finds Gunn moving from the gooey horror of "Slither" to the crowd-pleasing brilliance of "Guardians of the Galaxy." The film provides Gunn an opportunity to be true to his B-movie-flavored vision while stretching his range toward something bigger.

"Super" revolves around Rainn Wilson's self-styled superhero, the Crimson Bolt, a homemade crime fighter created when its alter ego's life enters crisis mode. Losing his wife to a slimy strip club owner and reaching a personal breaking point, Wilson's Frank Darbo dons a makeshift superhero costume and attempts to eradicate crime from his city's streets. Of course, Frank is in over is head, and learning to be truly super is fraught with peril.

The premise, what if someone just decided wear a costume and fight crime, is interesting, and the narrative is dressed up in satirical suggestions regarding the superhero subgenre, relationships, and outsized motivations. Tonally, the story has trouble balancing its comedy, actions beats, and melancholy; but it has no trouble playing it all at high volumes.

The production reflects the disparate tones with a blend of color, small-scale rawness, and blood-spurting violence. Achieving a better balance here than with the story itself, the film has a likable energy and spry sense of self. Rainn Wilson holds down the film's dour center, but costars like Ellen Page and Kevin Bacon bolster a certain liveliness that crackles when they are onscreen.

"Super" works, but it is a bit of a tough sell. The movement from comedy to drama, and the motion from bubbly charm to unexpectedly violent outbursts, is jarring but never enough to make the whole affair less-than-watchable. Gunn's vision is clear, however, and his stew of satire, action, and humanistic superheroism is commendable.