Few recent films have given me as much pleasure as Kick-Ass (2010, dir. Matthew Vaughn). This independent film is one of the best comic-book-based films I’ve ever seen. It’s also a coming-of- age tale—an anonymous young high school boy, a comic book geek, ignored and made fun of by his classmates, ignored especially by the girl he’s fascinated with, wonders why in the real world there are no super heroes when there is so much need for them, when so many people enjoy reading about them. He decides to become one. There’s a super-hero “origin” story embedded here that makes gentle fun of the stories of how Superman and Spiderman and Batman came to be. The heroes in this film have no super powers. They live in the real world.
Rather than ruin the story for you, I will simply say that Kick-Ass is full of violent action of a type that makes you flinch. It has the foulest mouth I’ve ever heard in a thirteen-year-old girl, not to mention her skills with gymnastics, knives, guns, and all forms of mayhem. It has Nicolas Cage as her geek-father, Damon Macready, a former police officer set up for selling drugs and sent to jail by the town crime boss. Macready’s out for revenge and vindication. Cage is, for a change, quite good in the role. Kick-Ass also has one of the meanest, nastiest, dislikeable bad guys imaginable.
Notwithstanding the presence of Chloe Grace Moretz as a child super hero (“Hit Girl”--Moretz was 11 when filming began), no sensitivities are honored here: the violence and the shedding of blood and limbs are intense, graphic, and frequent—much of it accomplished by Hit Girl. I’ve read objections to the film’s use of foul language and violence in the guise of a 13 year old. There may be a point there, but the movie is what it is.
Kick-Ass is funny and gruesome. It employs a terrific soundtrack.
There’s not much substance here—why should there be?—Kick- Ass is mainly action and character. It shows us how Dave Lizewski struggles out of his timidity to become an adult. The central theme is not that “with great power comes great responsibility,” a line (I think) from the Spiderman films. Rather, it is that even without power one must take responsibility and act. The city where Dave and other characters live is overwhelmed with crime and major crime lords. We see scenes where citizens watch crimes being committed, people under assault, without doing anything to interfere. Dave assumes that responsibility. (A subtext here might be a call for average citizens to take action and exert moral authority when others are in peril).
If you measure this film by the laws of logic or physics or statistical improbability (with so many bullets flying, how do the good characters avoid them, how can they leap between buildings, and so on?), if you look for depth, the film won’t work. If you like intense action, spectacle, violations of traditional boundaries, and mockery of the very form to which the film pays tribute, then Kick-Ass will work for you. A sequel, unsurprisingly, is on the way.
As in many other films like this one—the Batman and Spiderman films, Watchmen, From Hell, and Sin City are examples—the urban world is dark and crime-ridden, on the verge of collapse if not already there. It’s a place of total moral anarchy. The protagonists of Kick-Ass are particularly young, facing on their own a world that adults have made for them. I find in this a grim assessment of our own situation.