Kick-Ass

It says something about the maturity and popularity of superhero films that a film like Kick-Ass can get made. This is not a straight forward action film, where nobody gets really hurt but the bad guys. Nor is it a lighthearted spoof, although it is quite funny. Kick-Ass is an often disturbing amalgam of tones and themes. Among other things it is an exploration into the psychology of why people like superheroes. It is the first deconstructionist superhero movie, as it tries to blend the adolescent power fantasies that fuel the demand for the genre with the violence that’s inherent in it but almost never realistically explored. How do you even pitch that?

Dave Lizewski, played by Aaron Johnson, is a typical comic book geek. He’s pretty smart but not terribly motivated to do anything but watch TV, play games on his computer and read comics. He’s not an athlete, nor a whiz with gadgets and technology, but he wonders aloud to his friends one day why no one has ever tried to be a costumed superhero in real life. After they get mugged by the neighborhood bullies for what is obviously not the first time, he decides to give it a try. Thus Kick-Ass is born. He spends a lot of time in the green wetsuit he orders online, jumping around and practicing his moves, but not really training in any disciplined way. So when he tries to actually stop a crime, he’s almost killed. But that doesn’t deter him.  He knew he’d be in over his head when he got into it. His second attempt goes better, although he still gets beat up pretty bad. But the fight is caught on camera and he becomes a huge You Tube sensation. This draws a lot of attention to Kick-Ass, whose Facebook page really takes off. But not all of the attention is welcome.

Things really get serious when he meets Big Daddy, played by Nicolas Cage and Hit Girl, Big Daddy’s eleven year old daughter played by Chloe Moretz. This pair is motivated and deadly. They are after Frank D’Amico, played by Mark Strong, a crime boss that killed Big Daddy’s wife. Their training is disciplined and effective and they have enough firepower to arm an army. Kick-Ass stumbles into this conflict and learns whole new definitions of the term, “in over his head.”

This is where the movie either goes off the rails or becomes interesting. Up until the entrance of Hit Girl, Kick-Ass is a comedy about a kid who’s seeking a way to gain self-respect and some power over his life. After that, the theme becomes somewhat unfocused and the events unrealistic. And it’s obviously a choice. Matthew Vaughn, the director and co-screenwriter with Jane Goldman is too skilled for this to have been a mistake. The parts of the film are too well crafted. It’s the whole that’s puzzling. And I don’t think it’s studio meddling either. The fact that they are able to put the image of an eleven year old graphically massacring whole rooms full of adults (this film earns it’s R rating) on screen, tells me that the filmmakers were free to do whatever they wanted. The question is why. There are only two ways to react to this film: either to be appalled or to be struck by the fact that you probably should be appalled. There is a moral inversion here that has you cheering and laughing at some very disturbing images.

Is it anarchy? Maybe Vaughn is saying that vigilante justice inevitably leads to chaos and desensitization to violence, a loss of empathy. That seems a little prosaic to me. I could be wrong and the film is just flawed but I can’t help but think that I’m missing something. Sitting in the theater, I had the sense that I was watching film history unfold. It was like seeing A Clockwork Orange for the first time. It’s totally new.

In any case the performances are great especially Aaron Johnson as Dave. Even through the mask you could see his fear and determination. Chloe Moretz is fantastic as Hit Girl, playing daddy’s little girl and homicidal maniac in almost the same breath. Her’s is the image that you’ll take away from the film and perhaps carry into your nightmares. Nicolas Cage is definitely in wacky mode as the driven Bid Daddy. It’s an entertaining, if only skin deep performance. Mark Strong continues his hot streak of baddies as a smart, ruthless but not arrogant crime lord, who’s actually a surprisingly good father.

If you are considering seeing this movie, I’d recommend that you read a few more reviews of it before you decide. If you are bothered by provocative material, by all means stay away. In either case, keep your kids away. This isn’t Spider-Man.

But if you are in the right frame of mind Kick-Ass is an entertaining and possibly great film.

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