Kick-Ass : Redefining the Superhero

Smart, scrappy and very, very violent, Kick-Ass redefines the superhero-movie genre

  • Lions Gate / Everett Collection

    Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz and Nicolas Cage in Kick-Ass .

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    Finally, what happens when a doofus in a green snorkel suit — the film's Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a.k.a. Kick-Ass — runs into two caped crusaders for whom crime fighting is not a game but a deadly mission? That's Damon Macready (Nicolas Cage) and his preteen kid Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz). At home they are a sweet father-daughter duo, but in costume they become Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, who are well intentioned, better armed and ... well, lunatic wouldn't be too strong a word.

    Heroism and Masochism
    Dave, a New York City high schooler, is neither freak nor geek, not prom king or suicidal loner. In fact, he's pretty ordinary, with a couple of good pals, Marty (Clark Duke) and Todd (Evan Peters), and a secret crush on the lovely Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca). What's different about Dave is his belief that adolescence is a malady for which superheroism is the cure. To shake off his teen torpor, he buys a wet suit, dons a mask and stands up to a bunch of toughs. As a reward for his good intentions, he gets a knife in the gut and is knocked unconscious by a hit-and-run driver. That might have put an end to Dave's do-gooding, but then there'd be no movie. Equal parts Marvel man and masochist, Dave, once healed, intervenes in a mugging and, with a couple of lengths of lead pipe as weapons, manages to defeat the goon brigade.

    This being the 21st century, someone records the battle on a camera phone, and soon Kick-Ass is an Internet sensation. Other kids emulate his exploits: fatally, in the case of the Aztec diver; dangerously, in the case of Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who was McLovin in Superbad ), a rich kid who outfits himself as Red Mist to impress his dad Frank (Mark Strong), the local crime lord. Frank, you'll have guessed, is the very bad guy Big Daddy and Hit-Girl are aiming to destroy. The story pits one close, fond, twisted father-child duo against another.

    Dave is aware of the line between sanctity and insanity, between superhero and serial killer. Damon and Mindy obliterate that line with each nighttime sortie. Damon stocks enough artillery in their outer-borough lair to keep a Middle East insurgency going for years and, during commando practice, shoots Mindy at close range (she's wearing a bulletproof vest) before taking her for a hot-fudge sundae. He's bats, no doubt — but he's also any doting dad training his kid for the family business. The homeschooled Mindy has no friends, other than the father-mentor-captor she adores, so she takes to the training like a pro — and to the raids like a ninja assassin.

    If the geek-fantasy aspect sounds familiar to many teens, it was autobiography to Millar. Like Dave, he and a school friend devised crime-fighting aliases and costumes; they worked out at a gym, until the superhero fever faded and they "decided to get fat and stop exercising and read comics instead." He chose his hero's name by holding a charity auction (the winner was a fan named Dave Lizewski) and updated his '80s teen life with modern touches: surely every superhero's best friends these days are eBay (where Dave buys his wet suit), YouTube (the main medium of his renown) and sites like MySpace and Facebook (where his legions of fans assemble).

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