Because of writer-director James Gunn's track record with genre movies, I expected to like this one a lot and was surprised at the beginning when I found it irritating because the central character was such an unsympathetic near-retarded loser schlub Frank (Rainn Wilson) and couldn't understand how he could snare a wife like Liv Tyler, though it was easier to understand why she would go off with local drug dealer (Kevin Bacon). Embittered by his treatment he decides to become a super-hero. His transformation is realistically and believably done -a crudely home-made suit with a painted wrench. By the time this happened I'd begun to understand and feel more sympathetic towards the character. We also find out how he ended up with Liv Tyler's character.
Then Ellen Page who works at the local comic book shop appears and the film shifts up a gear. Becoming the sidekick frees her to indulgent her violent fantasies and she nearly kills someone who's upset her. Inevitably things escalate. The violence is portrayed realistically from the outset. This is no cathartic super-hero action movie, this is real-world violence which is ugly and painful and climaxes in something appallingly hideous.
I'm not going to even hint at the end. It didn't turn out the way I expected at all and is all the better for it. Despite an apparent shaky beginning, Gunn and Wilson make you care about the central character. The script is darker and deeper than you'd expect. The performances are excellent and confirm Page as one of the most likeable and finest young actresses around.
And now I'll explain why this isn't a super-hero movie. The costume is basically the macguffin, it's significant only in that Wilson's character feels empowered by it. The film is about a man who tries to regain control over his life and to save the wife who callously left him but whom he still loves. It also makes the point that only someone dysfunctional would try to be a super-hero in the real world.