Kick Ass begs the question, “Have comic books really grown up at all?” If this were the only indicator, I would say that they still retain the level of conscious maturity that they started with; only now, they’re trying like hell to convince us they have. Kick Ass isn’t a bad movie. It can be a lot of fun. In fact, it starts out great: our likeable everyteen of a protagonist, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) gets us acquainted with the world around him without wasting any time – he goes to school, has a few friends, likes a girl, and reads comic books. He wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider, or abandoned on our alien world by his dying parents; he’s just one of us, your average Joe Average, for 2010. His story really begins though, with the purchase of a green and yellow wet-suit he chooses to don and fight crime in. There’s a very human scene of him trying it on in front of the mirror, making faces and striking a pose. “You are f***ing awesome,” our would-be Travis Bickle-Batman tells himself, punching at invisible bad guys.
Dave (or Kick Ass, his superhero identity) begins his crime-fighting career with a bit of a bang, in that he attempts to stop two amateur thieves (who routinely take his lunch and/or comic book money) from breaking into someone’s car, and ends up in the hospital. This was the kind of honesty and [near] realism that I had hoped for in a movie like this, a satire of such a customarily invincible media. It’s a simple point, and it grounds our hero in the reality of the world we live in. There is no place in this world for such optimism.
The movie carries on in this fashion for a little while longer, with focus set firmly on this bumbling, naive teenager of a hero, but soon transgresses into darker, more crowded territory, with the introduction of three new super heroes: the trigger-happy Batman type, Big Daddy (gleefully played by Nicolas Cage), his daughter, the grossly precocious assassin, Hit Girl (13 year old Chloe Moretz), and Red Mist, a classmate of Dave, and the son of a wealthy businessman with questionable business practices and moral fiber (enthusiastically played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Each of these other heroes brings something new to the table, something we haven’t really seen before. Cage’s character lights up the screen with what I would describe as a psychotic Adam West impersonation. He plays “daddy” with his daughter while out of costume, hamming it up in a great mock-yuppie dad voice, spoiling her with ice cream and deadly weaponry. He’s spent her whole life training her into the murderous martial-artist and weapons expert that she is. There is a delightful scene in which he shoots her in the chest to show her what a gunshot feels like (through a bulletproof vest, of course). You’d think he was making her finish her vegetables, the way he goes about it. They go out for ice cream afterwards, too.
After the girth of the first act has passed, the film begins to droop and decline, its tension and excitement leaving, to be replaced by boring exposition. Among the film’s lowest points is a predictable and drawn out romantic subplot between Dave and his crush, a girl named Katie, who volunteers readily, and dates dirtbags. Sound familiar? The whole thing feels so shallow and predictable, that it drags the whole of the film down with it. It takes up too much time, and really takes the story nowhere. A movie with such a full plate shouldn’t spend so much time and effort on such a needless affair. All that awkward, forgettable romance could be diverted to something better, say, some more crime-fighting experience for Dave (who only dons the mantle of Ass a grand total of 3 or 4 times, to actually accomplish something). That’s another thing: the city world seems infatuated with this hero who’s only ever received one spot of publicity, a cell phone video gone viral. They barely know him, they barely know if it’s real or not, yet there are Kick Ass comics, Kick Ass merchandise and costumes and all kind of feverish delight in someone almost completely absent from their city. If this were the real world, then ‘Star Wars Kid’ would be president by now.
A point that grabbed my attention (or didn’t, rather) throughout the entire story was a balding Mark Strong, who *spoiler* is the movie’s main bad guy. You would think that such a steady satire would do the part of the menacing villain well, but the evil mastermind pitted against our heroes is more like your generic mob boss than anything resembling a proper villain. He seems more like one of those guys the real villain is using to do his dirty work; you know, the number 2, the miniboss. He doesn’t even have an evil laugh. For shame. He does curse an awful lot though, and he’s seen holding guns quite often, as well. He is a seedy character, and someone you definitely wouldn’t want to mess with, but for all his eyebrows and intensity, still fails to intrigue. He just doesn’t seem like an appropriate threat. Around the end of the movie he darkens a good bit, and we see a side of callous villainy more befitting the genre, but it’s too little too late to make a difference to the experience. A ‘bad guy’ in a movie like this needs to come alive, and stand out at you, tower over real life, he needs to be a match for the protagonist, a threat that only he can eliminate.
The greatest source of displeasure came from the much-talked about Hit Girl, the 12 year old daughter (and partner) of Big Daddy. Her screen presence is crass, vulgar, and ultimately contemptible, as every scene she steals ends in some of the most gratuitously unnecessary, over-the-top violence I’ve ever seen. Slashes, gunshots, kicks, punches, all thrown with devilish intensity, all punctuated by four-letter words and crass one-liners. Have I mentioned that this girl was 12? This was the main draw of the movie, for many: watching people beat each-other up, and use all the words mom and dad said were off-limits. Now I’m not normally turned off by violence; I am by no means squeamish, or faint of heart. My main gripe with it is the level of obscenity crammed into every frame, in the vain attempt to make the movie ‘edgier’ than it needs to be. It does nothing for the plot, but slows it down or distracts from it entirely. It stabs away at the tension and suspense, too. It all ‘feels’ too choreographed, like Hit Girl and these criminals got together beforehand and rehearsed it all. These regular people start looking like they have superpowers, and the more invincible they appear, the lesser the threat feels. It’s one thing to know that your hero will make it through a movie, but to think they’ll make it through without a scratch? That’s not good storytelling. Suddenly, these “real world superheroes” don’t seem real al all. I may have missed the point entirely, and all this biting ‘satire’ may have just flown right over my head (probably thrown over, by Hit Girl), but this just doesn’t appeal to me in the least.
To her credit, 13 year old Chloe Moretz plays the part well. She brings a cool bitterness to the character, a darkness that only someone in her [character’s] shoes could house. She does well to make the unpleasantness of her presence go by quickly, thankfully, but whenever she came onscreen, my interest in the movie simply plummeted. There is only so much “satire,” of this variety, that I can handle. Satire should be no excuse for this kind of behavior. I find no humor in it; this is a girl, snatched from childhood, brainwashed to kill, to serve as a tool for her revenge-obsessed father. She kills with impunity, tortures for torture’s sake, and curses explosively. All in the name of ’satire’. Her precociousness only amuses as far as the first “F-bomb,” and the shock of her gory actions wares off with their frequency.
It’s this gratuity that slays “Kick Ass.” The film has potential, and so much of it still remains enjoyable; but the frequency of these gross instances of generalized, loud extravagance stand in the way of a movie worth heavy recommendation. I enjoyed a lot of Kick Ass, really. It was well made, well acted, had characters I liked…but it tends to bite off more than it can chew from time to time. The first act is semi-plausible, while maintaining that comic book freshness and over-the-top air about it. It begins a clever superhero satire of how it would really go, as a tongue-in-cheek realistic take on the genre. But the continuity of the film is the true enemy of its success: the further into it you get, the less and less believable it becomes. As the action scenes get bigger and bigger, the characters become less apparent, as the set-pieces and choreography become the main focus. This wouldn’t be a problem, either, had the whole thing began as such. The film doesn’t seem to know what it wants, and I don’t blame it, either; it’s hard to juggle this kind of action and comedy, as well as a coherent story and some believable characters. Hollywood seems to think that when there can be action, there should, and the bigger the better. But I’ve grown tired of the all-out showdown at the end of action movies, they aren’t always necessary, and the execution often suffers, or falls flat. The most exciting and interesting scene in the movie comes when there’s just one superhero onscreen, and no guns or bazookas or jet-packs with gatling gun shoulders (which there really are – much later). The first real fight for our hero ends up being more memorable than the biggest. It’s just Dave, his three attackers, and a crowd of gawking onlookers.