5 Cinematic Vigilantes You Didn’t Know Were Vigilantes

By  · Published on April 15th, 2010

Kick-Ass opens this week! It’s been quite some time since four little words have fostered such intense excitement in this writer, and I’ve already seen the film! But this adaptation of Mark Millar’s graphic novel so thoroughly impressed and wowed me at SXSW that I am chomping at the proverbial bit to see it a second, third, or even fifteenth time. Apologies for bordering on over-praise but I can honestly say that it already tops my favorites of 2010 list and it will take quite the cinematic heavyweight to de-thrown Kick-Ass.

On the heels of its release, and because we are all about motifs, we are in the throes of Kick-Ass week here at FSR. My undertaking was to, as inspired by the vigilante exploits of the titular protagonist of the film, construct a list of characters who made their mark by taking the law into their own hands.

But as every website will, and in some cases already have, wallpaper cyberspace with lists echoing all the standard choices (Charles Bronson, Mel Gibson, Batman), I thought I would spotlight those vigilantes whose perversion of various laws have gone largely unnoticed.

James Bond (Murphy’s Law)

Murphy’s Law states that everything that can go wrong eventually will go wrong. Funny, I guess no one told England’s foremost secret agent. Whenever Bond finds himself in a scrape – some elaborate, slow-moving murder device bearing down on him – he always manages to escape. More often than not, the secret to his success is one of Q’s various gadgets.

I don’t mean to seem a naysayer and obviously some disbelief should be suspended, but give me a break. Bond flaunts his good fortune in not only the face of Murphy’s Law but also the Law of Averages as well. At some point, during one of his innumerable missions, something has to go wrong for him in some way. One of those gadgets has to fail him; a laser watch jams or an exploding pen fizzles. For crying out loud, his saving graces are constructed by a geriatric tinkerer who lives in MI6’s basement!

Indiana Jones (Cultural Property Laws)

The love affair we all share for this fedora-sporting, whip-cracking rolling boulder of machismo must not blind us against his lawlessness. Don’t be so naive as to believe this mild-mannered professor of archeology is serving some sort of greater good. The fact is that Indiana Jones has made a career out of appropriating and redistributing cultural relics from all over the globe. You’d oft hear him exclaim, “it belongs in a museum,” but whose decision is that? I’m not sure the various tribes who worshiped that golden monkey thing from Raiders of the Lost Ark would take kindly to being charged admission to view their own sacred statue.

I will concede that he was often striving to keep powerful religious iconography from falling in the hands of those dastardly Nazis, but it is nevertheless an act of extreme presumption that Dr. Jones designate himself the ultimate agent of repatriation. Marcus Brody attests that Jones’ methods conform to the International Treaty for the Protection of Antiquities but we all know how dubious those guidelines are and how easily they can be corrupted by someone who treats the whole planet like his own personal Antiques Roadshow.

Loki (The 10 Commandments)

Do not be deceived by those piercing eyes or that sexy smile, Matt Damon wants to kill you. Or at least Matt Damon’s Loki from 1999’s Dogma wants to purge the Earth of each and every sinner. Much debate has raged over the millennia regarding whether any single entity may bear the wrath of God. Granted, Loki once occupied the position of Angel of Death so his authority to enact the vengeance of the Almighty was somewhat more valid.

But once he resigned from said position, his divine license to kill was revoked. Yet he roguishly dispatches commandment breakers left and right with violent fervor. Loki takes God’s most basic edicts and translates them into a bloody trail of carnage; taking God’s law into his own hands. The thing that augments Loki’s vigilante status is that he is frighteningly proficient at murder and brings the long-ignored adorable factor into the argument of the justification of killing in the name of God.

Lazarus (Leash Laws)

In the interest of both public safety and not jeopardizing the life of your pet, many cities have various denominations of the leash law. If the film Black Snake Moan is any indication, the leash laws in rural Tennessee are a bit too nebulous for comfort. After finding a half-dead woman on the side of the road, Lazarus (played by the ever subtle Samuel L. Jackson) decides that her wicked, man-hungry ways are leading her down the path of destruction and takes it upon himself to cure her. His cure? Chain foul-mouthed, tramped-up Christina Ricci to his porch until she exhibits more upright behavior.

I’m all for leash laws, and I’m not saying there isn’t something distinctly animistic about Ricci in the film, but at some point we have to at least consult the town charter to ensure this kind of rehab is above board. Lazarus takes the concepts of responsible pet ownership a bit too far with no legal ramifications. I can think of a dozen or so starlets I would love to fasten to my patio, but I don’t because it is not my place to force-feed morality…and because they all run way too goddamn fast.

Superman (Laws of Nature)

I know what you’re thinking, if one were going to assign vigilante status to a superhero the stronger choice is clearly Batman. But I am less concerned with the son of Jor-El’s presumption of authority in catching criminals and foiling bank heists as I am his flagrant disregard for the laws of nature. First of all, the man’s ability to, at-will, slip the bonds of gravity and take flight is troubling. Sir Issac Newton would be royally peeved by this effrontery, but the incorrigible Man of Steel seems content to fly in the face of physics in order to catch a helicopter mid-fall, surprise Lois Lane at her penthouse apartment, or merely summon a rousing John Williams score.

Also, Superman brazenly takes the laws of nature into his hands when he randomly decides to save Lois from the earthquake. Remember this? He doesn’t care much for her dying in that car during the quake so he decides to fly around the Earth with enough speed to counter its rotation and reverse time. Oh no, Kal-El, that’s cool. Nevermind the entire countries now consumed by massive tsunamis or the instant ignition of all of the volcanoes along the Pacific rim. At least you saved Margot Kidder.

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.