Kick-Ass (2010)

Amidst the present-day cinemascape of mega-budget comic book movies comes Kick-Ass, ready to satire the genre by asking the question “What would happen if an average guy took it upon himself to be a superhero?”

It’s an enticing premise, to be sure, something I’ve wondered myself many times before. Kick-Ass, directed by Matthew Vaughn (who also directed one of my all-time favorite films, Layer Cake), is a hip and violent movie that seems like a comic book lovechild of Tarantino and Kevin Smith (There are even a few Pulp Fiction references to boot).

Kick-Ass follows Aaron Johnson as a high school loser who begins to pursue the life of a superhero. During his first outing, he is severely beaten, earning him some damaged nerves and metal plates. With these newfound “powers”, he ventures out again, this time successfully fending off three attackers while getting recorded and uploaded to YouTube.

Kick-Ass is born, and soon attracts the attention of the seriously ass-kicking superhero duo of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his 11 year old daughter Hit Girl
(Chloe Moretz). They’re doing their own (very, very violent) crimefighting, trying to get to the big baddy, played by Mark Strong. Christopher Mintz-Plasse plays Strong’s son who seeks both paternal pride and a bitchin’ superhero identity.

The cast is well-suited for their roles. Johnson seems like he could slide in next to Jesse Eisenberg on the “awkward young guy” continuum (with Michael Cera of course on Eisenberg’s other side). He’s naively sweet but also tough enough to stand and fight. Nic Cage gives an inspired performance as Big Daddy, occasionally channeling Adam West and bursting at the seams with pride over his daughter. Hit Girl, played by Chloe Moretz, will of course be the most talked about part of this film, and with good cause. She embraces the violence and obscenities with confidence, famously dropping the c-bomb at one point. While Moretz annoyed me in her little sister role in (500) Days of Summer, she’s easily the best part of Kick-Ass.

Kick-Ass is cutesy, snarky, and sticks to the source material through inventively portrayed backstories. The problem with the movie is that it’s too well aware of its strengths, so for everything else, it coasts. It coasts past any truly creative humor, past any overall moral message, and past coming up with original solutions to its fight scenes. Kick-Ass is like the cool guy at school who knows he’s cool; when he starts acting like he’s cool, it makes him less cool.

The premise of Kick-Ass requires that the story stay grounded in reality – after all, we’re supposed to identity with Johnson as one of us in the real world; he’s seen all the movies and comic books that we have. It succeeds in staying grounded, but this introduces a problem with all the violent murders going on. Big Daddy and Hit Girl are intelligent and efficient, no doubt, but they’re hard to root for when they kill so casually in a world that’s supposed to be our own. I don’t really have a problem with violence in my movies, but Kick-Ass is so mean-spirited that it’s hard to ignore.

That being said, the fight sequences were still my favorite parts of the film. Big Daddy and Hit Girl are truly amazing in action. In fact, in retrospect, I would rather the film had embraced its strong action sequences and taken a more serious approach. This is because the humor seemed like it was just recycled generic “cool loser” dialogue. A subplot involves the girl Johnson likes and the rest of his school thinking he’s gay because he was ostensibly brought into the emergency room naked (he had the paramedics dispose of his costume). Not only does this result in a lot of obvious gay jokes, but I can’t see how the student body came to the “gay” conclusion when it appeared as though their fellow peer was raped. It seems either not entirely thought-through or just plain cynical, and with the rest of the film being so amoral, I suspect the latter.

Finally, although the fight scenes were true delights, many of them ended the same way – one person getting pinned down, another showing up to save them at the last minute. This happens at least three times, two of them within fifteen minutes of each other. The “secret weapon” that remains offscreen for far too long is also fairly obvious and expected.

Overall, Kick-Ass is a movie that’s excellent in some areas and regrettable in others. It’s clear that it’s found a devoted fanbase, which isn’t surprising given its slick, action-packed, self-aware take on the comic book genre. I really did enjoy the movie, but I thought it could have been much better if the ideas had been more fleshed out. Still, Kick-Ass manages to be entertaining and pretty clever, so in the end it lives up to its name.

Final rating: 7/10

–James A. Janisse

 

 

 

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