So says Tina Turner…but at the rate movies about superheroes are coming out, I’d say that Hollywood would beg to differ. Frankly, the “Hey! Look at this cool new comic book hero I just discovered! I need to turn this into a movie!” trend is getting old. However, I have in recent days seen a couple of very refreshing movies about heroes that have turned the superhero industry on its ear. No longer must we have to undergo a painful metamorphosis driven by exposure to radioactive material! We don’t need to be sent from another planet or galaxy to have the yellow sun of the Earth enhance our natural abilities! We can be heroes by just being ourselves! Yeah!
Wait…what? Isn’t that…um…dangerous? Yup…sure is. But it makes for a great movie. So first, let me clarify that I’m not talking about the type of hero that Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark became. You might think they didn’t have superpowers, but they did. Their superpower is called filthy stinkin’ rich. I’m not even talking about Frank Castle, since he actually has two superpowers: death wish and access to a lot of ass-kicking weapons.
I’m talking about the type of hero that literally sees something wrong with the world, and decides that today’s the day he’s going to fix it. I’m talking about Kick Ass and Defendor.
Kick Ass (2010) starring Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Chloe Grace Moretz and Nicholas Cage
I would like to take a moment before I discuss this film, to recommend to everyone who has seem the previews for it, to purge their memories of them completely. Kick Ass is not a movie for children. It’s not going to be a movie for some adults…my mother, I’m sure, would be mortified that I liked it. It is violent, shocking and fantastic! From the moment Nicholas Cage and Chloe Grace Moretz hit the screen as father and daughter, an exchange between the two occurs that is a good indicator that this isn’t a movie for anyone with traditional morals. If you are offended by violence against women or children, you best turn your television off right now – because it’s going to be a bumpy ride for you.
The movie starts with a geeky high school kid named Dave. Dave is your typical nerd – wears glasses, likes comic books, painfully awkward – particularly around girls…yeah, you know Dave. Heck, some of you were Dave. Dave and his friends hang out at the local comic store, and discuss why someone hasn’t actually become a superhero. There’s got to be someone who has thought about it…maybe even carried through. But no one has ever stepped forward into the light to fight for truth, justice…and you know…all that other good stuff. One day, Dave witnesses an attempted crime, and he decides this is it. He’s going to be the hero. He dons his semi-assembled superhero costume, confronts the baddies – and gets the shit kicked out of him! But alas, he doesn’t give up…tries again, gets captured in a video, which is uploaded to YouTube, which becomes a sensation…and the rest is movie history.
There are so many funny and surprising moments in this movie, that it’s difficult to call it predictable. The general plotline is sort of easy to predict, but the character of Hit Girl is likely the most surprising aspects of this movie – and by far, it’s shining star. The young Chloe Moretz is stellar in the role and owns every aspect of it. The movie has her cursing worse than a trucker, but she admits that in interviews, she had to call the movie “Kick Butt” for fear of eternal grounding by her parents. I haven’t really caught much of her work, but based on Kick Ass, I am very much looking forward to her role in Let Me In – the American remake of Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In)…speaking of which, you need to see the original Swedish version. Amazing.
Those of you who have read this, know of my disdain for Nicholas Cage. I can’t get into his roles. I don’t appreciate much of anything that he’s done. Just the sound of his voice often grates on my nerves. Ugh. Somehow…everything I don’t like about Nicholas Cage finally seemed to fall into place for a role, and that was his role in Kick Ass. Taking a page from Adam West, and perhaps a little bit of William Shatner, Cage’s Big Daddy was a bit of a tortured soul, in the business of vengeance. Teaching his daughter how to fight, he raises her to defend the city from evil – only for perhaps more selfish reasons. His humour is deadpan, he has some killer lines, and has some wonderful chemistry with his on-screen daughter. Perhaps I need to give Mr. Cage a bit more credit…but then…there was The Wicker Man. That’s sort of unforgivable.
In any case, I truly recommend Kick Ass…for its originality and spunk if nothing else. Check out the trailer…but then forget about it. Remember…not a kid’s movie.
Defendor (2009) starring Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas, Michael Kelly, Sandra Oh and Kat Dennings
In a similar vein to Kick Ass, Defendor is about an ordinary man who feels that he must stand against crime in his city. Only, this man isn’t so ordinary. Arthur Poppington is a naive, mentally disturbed construction worker who believes that he can save the world – or at least his city – against Captain Industry. He believes Captain Industry is a local crime boss, responsible for distributing drugs, and turning his new friend Kat, to meth addiction and prostitution. There are some extremely funny and touching moments throughout the film.
What begins as an obvious parody of the comic book hero, slowly develops into a tragic tale of one man’s journey to right the wrongs from his childhood. Arther believes that as Defendor, he is invincible. His friend Kat, “brother” Paul and psychiatrist Dr. Park all discover through the course of the movie that while this may not be the case, his courage is unwavering. His moral compass may not always be pointed north, but his heart is always in the right place. This dark story is an emotional journey with an unbalanced man who cannot stop until he completes his mission.
Woody Harrelson gives an incredible performance as Poppington, inviting you to pity him, but never for long enough to forget to cheer him on. There’s always the danger of overacting or being insulting as a mentally unbalanced character, but Harrelson pegs it. I’ve always appreciated his range, but this character is prime Harrelson. It’s a true shame that Defendor is so underrated and unrecognized. Michael Kelly is fantastic has Poppington’s adopted brother, displaying the anguish of a friend who doesn’t understand their naivety, but doesn’t know how else to help. Elias Koteas is brilliant as usual as the creepy cop who keeps running into Defendor in his search for Captain Industry. Semi-indie darlings Sandra Oh and Kat Dennings round out the cast in highly emotional roles who discover just how insecure Arthur can be until he dons his disguise.
Seriously. Just go see this movie.