SuperBob begins with a cacophony of news reports and overheard gossip about a meteorite heading towards the United Kingdom and striking into a man sat in a park in Peckham. The news montage then recounts the swift recovery of the man and his emergence as an invulnerable, flying, and largely inept, superhero called SuperBob (Brett Goldstein).
Cut to six years later and Bob is stuck as a glorified secret weapon working in the bureaucracy of the Ministry of Defense filling in endless forms and appearing at public relations events. He still lives in Peckham with his exasperated cleaner Doris (Natalia Tena), and spends his United Nations mandated day off (Tuesdays) singing in a local choir, doing oddjobs for the locals and staring at June (Laura Haddock), the girl of his dreams that works in the local library.
When tensions begin to grow between Bob’s boss in the MoD Theresa (Catherine Tate) and an American neoconservative Senator, she tries to organise a symbolic public handshake to smooth relations, but Bob has a far more important objective in his sights: a date with June…
Whereas most American super hero films will take the best part of 40 minutes to explain the slow unraveling genesis of the heroes abilities, SuperBob gets it out of the way in the first 3 minutes – a very British decision that leaves room for plenty of comedy. When Bob is first introduced at his front door after the prologue, my heart initially sunk as he looked at the camera forgetting that ‘today was the day of the documentary filming’ revealing itself as yet another mockumentary, but as the film progresses it mixes documentary scenes with more traditional fiction to create a very funny and British realistic comedy.
There is a recurring joke in the film where Bob constantly apologies after he appears to get momentarily angry or hostile, which is an obvious but lovely twist on the classic superhero – and by the final scene this joke is really worth all of the build up. Goldstein is very funny as the meek, yet well-meaning hero and the script is really polished with lots of very ‘London’ jokes about ethnicity and class, but without being self-indulgent or crass.
The film essentialy acts as a love-letter to Peckham and the South of London, with scenes of Bob roaming around the high street and pointing out local restaurants and churches that he likes. The cinematography captures the character and the soul of the city in a way that other films that simply flash the Gherkin or Shard in a cutaway and set the action on Waterloo Bridge miss entirely.
Apart from his bodyguard Barry (it’s a union thing), Bob’s life is entirely surrounded by strong women who are trying to control or look after him – a nice twist on the patriarchal Marvel / DC superhero universes that pays lip-service to a few women but are still completely controlled by men.
There is also a funny disconnect between how Bob see’s himself (a helper of the people) and how he is seen by the U.S. and UK governments (a weapon to be harnessed). In typical American Hawkish fashion, the Senator declares that Bob is the greatest innovation of the 21st century and should not just be the property of the UK, whom he feels cannot keep him under control anyway… But in reality Bob can’t even negotiate with his gas supplier and has trouble deciding what to wear in front of women.
SuperBob is an obvious reaction to the overwhelming dominance of smug self-important zero-fun superhero films dominating Hollywood in recent years, but also contains a humble yet important geopolitical message within its narrative. Real power should be used to help people in need, not as a public display of dominance to service the elites. And also that happiness is often right in front of you if you are brave enough to embrace it...