(Concurrent with Boston-area screenings of Super, writer/director James Gunn sat down for an interview with MovieBob. The quotations in this article are taken from that interview.)
"There was no 'lightning bolt.' Back in 2002, I wanted to make a short film because I hadn't directed anything that I thought was worth showing ... so I thought about making a low-budget short about a superhero without powers who went out and started fighting crime. I started writing - and just kept writing - and wrote the whole first draft in one day. It was 57 pages long - too long for a short, so I decided let's turn it into a feature."
- Super writer/director James Gunn, on his inspiration
At this point, the omnipresence of superheroes in American popular culture is a cliché in and of itself - a character-type that was once the most dismissed and ghettoized in all of fiction is now the standard-bearer of modern mythology. Costumed vigilantes dominate not only the world of TV cartoons and toy shelves, but also magazines and Hollywood blockbusters. Where once upon a time, every leading man movie star needed to get at least one cowboy, cop or soldier under his belt, today, every star's agent worth their salt is combing through Marvel and DC's backlog for a cape that might look good on their client.
Most incredibly (or troublingly, depending on your perspective) of all, the trend has bled all the way out into reality itself, driven, no doubt, by the rise of social media. The last few years have seen a nationwide explosion of "real life superheroes" - actual people adopting costumed identities and engaging in comic book-style vigilantism. Some, like the Rolling Stone-profiled " Master Legend," mostly seem like general do-gooders with, let's say, "active inner lives." But others, like the now-infamous Phoenix Jones - who patrols the city of Seattle with defensive weaponry and a suit of body armor - are close enough to the (formerly) unreal to make one wonder how long we have before Doctor Manhattan shows up.
"I hung out with Phoenix Jones a couple times... He busted into our panel at Comic-Con, I tased him onstage ... he came to our premiere! He's an interesting guy ..."
- James Gunn, on real-life superheroes
Writer/director James Gunn's Super isn't the first film built around this sort of "real-life" superhero (indeed, it was written several years before the phenomenon really took off), but it differentiates itself by looking for a bigger picture. While films like Kick-Ass are about costumed crimefighting as either wish-fulfillment or brutal reality checks for so-called "fanboys," Super broadens its scope to encompass the effects of a superhero-saturated culture on those with otherwise no connection to the genre. Its hero, Frank D'Arbo, has never cracked a comic book until after he decides to become "The Crimson Bolt."
"I know what it's like to be doing something where the goal is to FINISH IT. This movie had to be made BEFORE we set foot on the sets ... had to have EVERYTHING ready."
- James Gunn, on low-budget filmmaking