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Kick-Ass explores dark side of super-heroes

Kick-Ass movie poster
Universal Pictures

Kick-Ass, based on the series by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., tries to operate on two distinct, seemingly contradictory levels: On one hand, it wants to be a send up of traditional super-hero adventure stories; on the other hand, it is also a graphicly violent and darkly humorous commentary on the potential dangers if costumed vigilantes patrolled the streets.

It definitely succeeds at the latter. If it succeeds at the former it's totally up to the viewers interpretation.

Aaron Johnson plays Dave Lizewski, an average teenage boy with typical problems. He has trouble paying attention in class. He’s invisible to almost everyone except his closest friends, and even among them he’s not the funny one. He wonders why nobody, inspired by the super-heroes in comic books, has ever donned a costume to fight criminals.

The difference here is that Dave does something more than just speculate: he orders a wetsuit and a mask online, and he goes out and tries it as the masked adventurer Kick-Ass.

He promptly gets his ass handed to him and instantly becomes an internet celebrity in the process. In doing so, he inspires a father (Nic Cage) and daughter (Chloe Moretz) who are looking to take revenge on the mob boss who framed the father and caused the death of his wife.

Kick-Ass goes down a very dark road pretty quickly. The violence and gore becomes epic on a level not seen on this side of a Tarantino movie, and it plays into the entire idea of vigilantism that super-hero comics are based on. If half a dozen armed mobsters are attacking you at the same time, how likely is it that you’ll be able to disarm all of them without incidentally killing at least some of them. In the Army, soldiers are not trained to disarm terrorists with black-out bombs; they’re trained to kill.

And thus, so does Big Daddy (Cage) train his daughter Hit-Girl (Moretz), which leads one to the question: what kind of person would train his child to be a costumed crime-fighter? In super-hero comics, sidekicks and junior partners come standard with the other tropes, but here director Matthew Vaughn (Stardust), shows what kind of person Big Daddy is: a sociopath intent on turning his pre-teen daughter into a killing machine. It doesn’t help matters that half of Cage’s dual-persona is Ned Flanders from The Simpsons and the other is Adam West’s Batman.

However, the break-out performance is Moretz's. She plays the blends the morally desensitized Hit-Girl persona with the wide-eyed innocence that only a pre-teen girl can have. In a perfect world, when Robin is finally brought back to the silver screen, they'll use Moretz's performance as a template.

Some people are already calling Kick-Ass a game-changer. It’s no more a game-changer for super-hero movies than Kick-Ass the comic book was a game-changer for comic books. It’s certainly going to expand the genre, and possibly cater even more to the young male demographic than, say, Spider-Man did, but there’s an element of blind optimism that is core to most other super-hero movies that Kick-Ass replaces with cynicism. Already, movies like The Losers, Jonah Hex and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World premiering in the next few months, the phrase “comic book movie” doesn’t mean what it did even a few years ago. And with movies like Iron Man, Green Lantern and Captain America already either around the corner or in production, it’s unlikely that optimistic super-hero movies are going anywhere.

Kick-Ass is showing at Rave Motion Pictures at Polaris and other movie theaters around Columbus.

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