A pair of vengeance fantasies — one with a literary pedigree, one a sicko comic-book saga — share more in common than might appear 

Revenge Served Hot

Revenge Served Hot

The same motor that powers superhero stories drives revenge scenarios: powerlessness. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why both have exploded in popularity since 2001. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a procedural mystery based on Stieg Larsson's best-selling novel, isn't technically a superhero movie — and technically, neither is Kick-Ass, a scurvy spoof about an inept wannabe crime fighter who dons a mail-order wet suit in order to ... you know. But seen back-to-back, they're a mirrored pair: stories in which victimized "girls" turn the tables on their smug male abusers, and outmatched, publicly humiliated guys strike back at an oppressive, shadowy power elite.

Title to the contrary, the guy is ostensibly the protagonist of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: a disgraced muckraker named Mikael Blomkvist (Martin Nyqvist) who's been handily set up and brought down by his latest target. While out of commission, he's contracted by a tycoon to find the old man's long-missing niece, an assignment that leads to a serial sex killer, lots of Zapruder-style archival sleuthing, and his employer's fascist family cabal.

Lurid as that plotline sounds (and is), it's actually trumped by a side plot involving the girl of the title: Lisbeth, a sullen, enigmatic hacker on probation for an unspecified crime. Played by Noomi Rapace, a sort of Scandinavian Gina Gershon with jutting cheekbones and a shock of goth-black hair, she's herself the target of a state-sanctioned rapist guardian (a loathsome Peter Andersson), whose appalling violations are used mostly to wind up the audience for the heroine's fist-pumping payback.

The late Larsson's novel (the first in a trilogy) was originally titled Men Who Hate Women, and the movie's graphic violence against women stands in for pervasive social evil, an institutional national sickness — which gives the retribution Lisbeth metes out to well-connected predators the visceral punch of a revolt. The movie's directed in workmanlike fashion by Niels Arden Oplev, who logs enough time on plot-advancing computer screens to open an Internet café, but its grotesque melodrama — helped by the leads' rumpled, prickly chemistry — proves shamelessly engrossing.

Shameless is the word for Kick-Ass, all right, which tries to have it both ways as a send-up of juvenile vengeance-is-mine obsessions with weapons, masked men and titillating violence, while being the awesomest spectacle of over-the-top ass-kickery in the history of awesomeness. It can be done — the ambiguous sangfroid of David Cronenberg's A History of Violence comes to mind — but director Matthew Vaughn is much happier embracing his inner delinquent, as its gawky teenage hero (a very funny Aaron Johnson, unrecognizable as the anguished adolescent John Lennon of the excellent Nashville Film Festival opener Nowhere Boy) suits up ineptly against muggers and street thugs, only to face big-time crime with caped crusaders Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage, in another clipreel-of-craziness specialty act) and his pre-teen daughter Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz).

Should I feign moral outrage at a movie that has a foul-mouthed little girl annihilating people by the dozen, or cop to laughing when the baby-faced sprite shows up in a schoolgirl get-up to waste a roomful of assassins? Truth is, I can't get too worked-up about Kick-Ass' hyperbolic, plainly ridiculous bloodshed, which (like Hit Girl) bears zero relationship to anything in the real world. Like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it's a fantasy of victims seizing power, and it only has power to the extent that we see ourselves in it.

Email arts@nashvillescene.com.


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