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Superheroes play an important role in American society. Where other cultures tell stories about gods and demi-gods (Gilgamesh, Hercules, Thor, etc.), Americans weave tales about Superman, Batman and the Hulk. These characters are (not withstanding the fact that they exist in a black and white, quasi biblical universe) part of a secular pantheon, one which is worshipped by many in the US and Canada whether they believe in God or not.
Surprisingly, the American film industry has not, until very recently, successfully tapped into the superhero mythos in a sustained way. Granted there was Superman in 1978, which spawned three sequels and made Christopher Reeve famous; and Batman in 1966, (based on the campy TV series) which starred Adam West and Burt Ward. There were also four more recent Batman movies made from 1989 through 1997, but the last one was so bad that they put a chill on future production of superhero movies until the year 2000 when X-Men was released.
X-Men made $296 million worldwide, and made films about caped crusaders and masked supermen bankable once again. Since X-Men’s original release the major studios have been strip mining comic books for material and over the past decade have released a large number of films featuring superheroes. These include three X-Men sequels, including X-Men’s origins: Wolverine, three films about Spiderman, two films about the Hulk and stand alone adaptations of Watchmen and V for Vendetta.
The most recent film in this genre is Kick Ass, the story of Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), an unskilled, unnoticed, but impossibly good-hearted comic book nerd who decides to right society’s wrongs while wearing a ski mask and a wet suit. During his adventures as a vigilante he gets mugged, hit by a car, almost murdered by a small-time drug dealer, and eventually becomes the target of Frank D’Amico, a powerful mob boss played by Mark Strong.
In the midst of all this chaos, he meets Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), a father-daughter team of costumed heroes who actually know what they are doing when it comes to fighting crime, and Dave becomes enlightened as to how feckless he actually is. All of this leads to an incredibly violent, yet bittersweet conclusion.
I liked this movie very much. Aaron Johnson has come out of relative obscurity to play a wonderful role as Dave. He expertly portrays a geeky everyman with whom the target audience can readily identify. Nicholas Cage (Con Air, Face Off, National Treasure) is extremely engaging and turns out one of his best performances in years as the undoubtedly unbalanced Big Daddy. Mark Strong (Body of Lies, Rock and Rolla), here doing what he does best, plays a debauched villainous bastard, and succeeds in making us wish for his demise. Christopher Minze-Plasse (SuperBad), another young actor who we haven’t seen much previously, gives an acceptable performance as D’Amico’s son, Chris (Red Mist). Dave’s goofball friends are played by Clarke Duke (Greek, Hot Tub Time Machine) and Evan Peters (The Mentalist, Criminal Minds) and they are definitely a highlight of the film. But the one truly stand-out performance is given by Chloe Moretz (500 Days of Summer), whose portrayal of the trash-talking, miniature killing-machine called Hit Girl is very good indeed.
Strangely, if I have one problem with Kick Ass it would in fact be the character of Hit Girl. She is central to the plot, and while Moretz makes us feel like cheering for the young heroine, the mind rebels at seeing a twelve-year-old who can kill without remorse. I know some feel that our society makes little girls grow up too fast, but this pint sized warrior takes that idea to an absurd extreme, which may be the point of the character, but it just makes this critic cringe somewhat.
Still, I give this film two thumbs up.