A satisfied smile crept on the faces of a hundred thousand comicbook readers when film critics of the world responded to Kick-Ass in outrage. Phrases like “turned my stomach” and “morally reprehensible” betrayed the costume that these obsolete academics wear, that of an open-minded authority.
The film, at its heart (yes it has one) is a fetishistic skinny dip into the dark side of the morally inflexible. Like many comicbooks, it’s meant to be an ethical response to an unethical society, but Kick-Ass also shines light on the ambiguity of it all. The film presents this motive alongside numerous others that cancel each other out. Still an entertaining ride, it visibly fails to be more.
Kick-Ass wants to be the zaniest teen comedy of the year. It starts off in a high school, not a first for crusader flicks but this one is cast and lit like a coming of age comedy. Early scenes look like American Pie, but with a few X-Men references thrown around for cred. Our soon-to-be-hero Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is more concerned about the girl he likes and his teacher’s low-cut top than any problems going on in the world.
So why is it he orders a scuba suit and fights crime? I’m not really sure. He likes superheroes and gets picked on and mugged by black people a lot, but he never seems to mind it all that much. Dave Lizewski has a same-time-tomorrow approach to life that makes him a believable character. That changes when he starts hitting people with sticks, not because nobody would ever do it, though. In fact, at least one documentary has been shot about people doing this exact kind of thing. As an audience we want to understand his reasons and “hey why not” doesn’t really cut it.
Kick-Ass wants to be The Sopranos, but without all that drama stuff. It features an old-school mobster instructing soldiers of strong accents to cut off each other’s fingers and try out his new people-microwave. He’ll then take his son to the movies and decide, in serious mobster fashion, which frosty beverage he wants. It’s fine for dealing punishment and receiving it, but dopey Italian-American shtick is out of style.
These two elements of the first act come together in the casting of Frank D’Amico’s son Chris (McLovin’) who is by far the least effective element of the film. Frankly, once you’ve cast McLovin’ in your movie, it’s reduced to Superbad spawn immediately. McLovin’ tries to play Chris D’Amico with a corrupted edge, and he’s clearly out of his element.
Kick-Ass wants to be an action blockbuster. Most of the time, it delivers exactly what we expect of other movies. Furious, well choreographed struggles for survival by the title character make up the best scenes because of believability, and the what-if-superheroes-were-regular-people premise kind of demands that. This is betrayed as soon as he meets Hit-Girl and Big Daddy, however. Both appear to have spilled into this film from The Matrix, where reloading handguns in mid-air isn’t completely unfathomable. That’s not to say these additional characters aren’t a blast to watch. It’s just a case of mixed messages.
You’ll lust over night vision first person shooting where the hands even move like that of a videogame. It also has strobe light slow motion, clever jump cuts, and bullet calibers that escalate to absolute ridiculousness by the shattering finale. Levels of blood are well above common for the superhero genre, and every set piece is accompanied by smart use of color and a well-suited soundtrack, from the raw energy of Prodigy, through a slightly modified greatest hits of composer John Murphy (28 Days Later, Sunshine), leaping off the springboard of the classic Ennio Morricone’s Fistful of Dollars theme into the emasculating Joan Jett.
The last of those is a little off key with the action when a 12 year old little-Suzie-samurai shoots through her enemies. A careful viewing justifies it though, as one of the last guys trying to silence her is put down in front of a “Brave Men” poster. At this point it clicks that the movie is a colorful, expressionistic venting of geek towards bully, youth towards adulthood, and even girl versus boy. Who better to have sing it than the first female rock God? It seems to have worked too, as I noted a lot more Hit-Girl costumes this Halloween than Iron-Man armor despite the second film crushing Kick-Ass in box office figures.
But did it gain a following for the wrong reasons?
Exchanges between Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his daughter (Chloe Grace Mortez) are what give the movie its teeth, by suggesting that how she chooses to apply her natural capability is just more brainwashing fed to the vulnerable by out-of-touch elders. This comes to an excellent crescendo as 12 year old Hit-Girl is being strangled, thrown, and bludgeoned by an adult, and asks everyone in the audience to question their own bloodlust. The comic on which the film is adapted from provokes in a similar way. One issue’s cover promises “Sickening Violence: Just the Way You Like It.”
I feel this is what the movie intends to express. The calculated action sequences of its movie adaptation are parodies of what parents think their kids are consuming.
Kick-Ass wants to be a Grindhouse flick. It challenges the age gap, along with those of race and gender by presenting them in an ironic but cheeky context, but satisfies too many other disconnected summer movie expectations to achieve any subversive goal.