Kick-Ass: Should I Cheer or Be Disturbed?

Kick-Ass is a lot of fun… and strangely, that’s exactly why I left confused and somewhat disappointed. As a superhero action flick, the film works marvelously, with several stellar violent combat scenes and a catchy soundtrack, making all Tarantino disciples giddy. However, the entire point of the film is that being a real superhero is hard, bloody, and outright psychotic. The first couple of conflicts are unpleasant for our hero because he’s not a good fighter and every punch, kick, and stab hurts the way it would in real life. But then the film introduces Big Daddy and Hit Girl, who are enormously fun but are perfect at fighting and immune to pain. Thus, the whole object of the satire– that superhero movies are unrealistic and being one for real would get you killed– is undone due to the lack of focus. Is it still fun? Sure. But does it work? I can’t say yes.

Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a loser. He’s a comic book nerd who can’t catch the eye of Katie (Lyndsey Fonseca), the girl of his dreams. He devises a scheme to become a superhero, donning a costume and fighting crime– though his friend Marty (Clark Duke) notes that anyone who tried that in real life would get his ass kicked. Sure enough, the first time he attempts heroism ends badly for him. Eventually, he is successful and someone catches it on video, making him a Youtube sensation and a major news story. This catches the eye of real superheroes Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), who are good at what the do… and unlike Kick-Ass, they’re cold-blooded enough to kill a villain if necessary. Unfortunately, mob boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) believes that Kick-Ass is responsible for the damage Big Daddy has inflicted upon his cronies, and looks to take him out. Frank’s son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) comes up with a plan: become a fellow superhero, Red Mist, and get close to Kick-Ass through camaraderie.

The premise is intriguing: a satire of superhero depictions by showing the gritty realism of what would happen in real life if someone attempted to do it. There are both some laughs and cringes at these moments, and director Matthew Vaughn doesn’t hold back in pummeling our hero senseless, in scenes that carry the sloppiness of a real-life fight, not the choreographed mayhem we’re used to. By the second time he goes into battle, we no longer mistake this for a normal superhero movie– we believe this film has the balls to kill or seriously cripple our hero. Even something as simple as jumping down a few feet can indeed injure a human being if he lands the wrong way. The number of ways in which a human being can be injured in any sort of physical activity are limitless, especially in something as uncontrolled as hand-to-hand combat. There’s a bit of a cop-out: after his first encounter, he’s left so damaged that many of his nerve endings die, rendering him less vulnerable to pain. I’m not certain of the science of this, but it seems like more of a standard superhero origin to me, taking me out of the freshness of the concept.

Another element that ruins the concept is the execution of the Big Daddy and Hit Girl scenes. Their back story is disturbing and realistic enough, but their actual fight scenes are the standard comic book superhero fare in which our heroes never miss a shot, knock out bad guys with a single punch, and dismantle entire troops of mob toadies in a single bout. What’s even more confusing is how enormously fun and engaging these scenes can be. The Hit Girl scenes are some of the best superhero fight sequences in recent memory, and Moretz is incredibly charismatic, our eyes drawn to her character every single moment she’s on screen. The bottom line, however, is that I’m enjoying these scenes because they are the same comic book fare that I’m used to and enjoy so much. Watching someone get beaten brutally isn’t fun– watching a little girl never miss a shot and take out bad guys in expertly choreographed sequences is.

There are so many individual things to enjoy about the film: Mark Strong is always a terrific bad guy, and this is a role of enough grandeur and operatic force that Nicolas Cage is the perfect casting choice. Hit Girl’s first couple of scenes and Big Daddy’s last couple of scenes are shocking, intense, and utterly watchable. I found myself laughing at times, but there were also many times I was disturbed. Savage beatings, public executions, and mortal wounds inflicted upon main characters are all fair game. There’s a double standard with the violence though: it wants to depict violence realistically, with the same harsh after-effects violence has in real life, but it also wants us to laugh as Hit Girl effortlessly disposes of a series of bad guys without missing a single shot or punch. Hit Girl’s backstory is disturbing as well– we laugh the entire film at her foul mouth and amazing fight skills, but then the film gives us justification for her being this way that makes her seem more than a little sad. Even the final few scenes result in the usual genre trademark twists and one-liners. Does Kick-Ass want to be satire or superhero flick? It tries to have its cake and eat it too. Though it’s worth seeing, since the film has slick visuals, a quippy script, and entertaining action sequences, I left feeling confused about what I’d just seen. Perhaps that was the goal… but instead of leaving me to contemplate the superhero genre, I was too busy contemplating whether the movie worked. In terms of commitment to its satirical goal, Kick-Ass seems half-assed.

~ by russellhainline on May 3, 2010.

One Response to “Kick-Ass: Should I Cheer or Be Disturbed?”

  1. I have to disagree with your review on this movie. The main point I disagree with is that you keep referring to the movie as a satire, which it is no such thing. It’s a movie adaptation of a comic book (which wasn’t supposed to be a satire either) It’s a comic, which contains those elements of course, with a real world aspect to the comic book genre. And yes you were supposed to be disturbed and shocked because it was a huge additive of the story. Basically I disagree, this movie warranted 4 popcorn puffs 🙂

    I love the hell out of this site though, keep up the good work 🙂

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