Kick-Ass is going to cause a lot of controversy. It’s about vigilante justice. It’s about revenge. It’s about a twelve-year-old girl swearing and stabbing people and shooting them in the head and cutting off their limbs.
The strangest thing is that people are shocked most of all by the girl saying “the c word”, rather than the brutal murders she commits. The unstrange thing is that a lot of people – chiefly the denizens of this faceless morass we call the internet – are going to love it.
I didn’t quite love Kick-Ass, and part of that was the audience, and part of that was a not very subtle undertone of homophobia, but it’s a worthy enough movie that I hope achieves enough success for Matthew Vaughn to keep making movies.
Dave (Aaron Johnson) is a frustrated nerd. After being rolled a few too many times by thugs, he decides to do something about it: become a masked superhero – Kick-Ass.
Kick-Ass’s activities earn the attentions of the legitimately violent Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), and also of organized criminal Gigante (Mark Strong). A lot of violence follows.
Following the recent trend of sexually frustrated nerds in movies being interested in pretty girls (see also: Zombieland, most movies with teens/college students in them), Kick-Ass features a romance story arc … which would be fine if it weren’t based around the fact that Katie thinks Dave is gay, and he goes along with it to get closer to her. (I’ve since looked this up and it makes more sense in the comic).
It’s great laughs for some in the audience, but I didn’t like the way it played out at all. Hit Girl also tells Kick-Ass that his taser is “pretty gay”. Fortunately, there is more to the film than this, but I am certain it is possible to make a modern movie without alienating some of the audience (i.e. me, the most important audience member) like this. I had read that Mark Millar’s racial representations are occasionally “off” in his comics, and Vaughn has managed to side step that issue fairly effectively here.
So Dave/Kick-Ass is exactly the same character as Jesse Eisenberg’s in Zombieland (and many others before him), but he’s pretty cool. He has two friends who are basically carbon copies of himself, except they don’t get turned into Wolverine. His arc is subtle outside of the whole “fake gay” thing, and Aaron Johnson is good at what he does. He appears to visibly age as the movie progresses, and I honestly don’t know if that’s symbolic of his character’s burgeoning maturity, Johnson’s actual aging process, or simply the difference of matted hair and no glasses.
Nicolas Cage is hilarious as Big Daddy, being kind of a creepy but well-intentioned father in his civilian mode, and being Adam West when in his suit – a hybrid of Batman and Nite Owl. Chloe Grace Moretz, who brings purple hair and profanity to the role of Hit Girl, is more than his match. The two of them are pitch perfect in their roles and would feel underutilized if the film weren’t supposed to be about Kick-Ass himself.
It should also be noted that Christopher Mintz-Plasse is still trying to valiantly kinda distance himself from McLovin, and that Mark Strong is better here than in the veritable sleep walk that was Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. Also Dexter Fletcher is on board for some reason.
One of the themes of Kick-Ass is the viral nature of the internet in spreading a message; the problem with this is that Kick-Ass’ major platform is MySpace, which I am fairly certain no one uses any more (if they ever did). It makes sense as a portal for requests for Kick-Ass’ services, but it does not seem like a true place for him to connect to the world. I say this as a cynic who entirely sidestepped the popularity of MySpace, but it seems out of time and place in this movie – but then, it’s a movie where the cinemaplexes are playing The Spirit 3, a movie which will never happen, so anything’s possible.
Action wise, Vaughn has done a good job of at least investing a little something in every character who comes to a sticky end, involving a lot of Chekhov’s weapons, almost playing “Tarantino’s Suitcase”, and generally making the movie fun to watch even when it threatens to turn into Spike Lee’s Bamboozled. The violence is a bit much, but because it’s that way people are going to laugh at it and enjoy it much more than be simply horrified by it. The theme of the movie is also such that no one will be tempted to go out and rain vigilante justice down on villains, so any moral panic generated over blood or use of the word “cunt” by a pre-teen girl will be the simple fever dream of over concerned parents.
I’m not sure if there is a higher moral lesson to take from Kick-Ass, save that Vaughn mortgaged his house to finance it. Universal apparently only bought it after they were shown a 90% complete cut. Vaughn was present at the screening via a satellite call, and at revealing this information said “Are you there, Universal? You cheap fucks!”.
To me, Vaughn seems to be taking a similar trajectory to Edgar Wright, who has moved from films such as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz to make his own comic adaptation in Scott Pilgrim, which is name checked in this movie. Vaughn is plainly a talented filmmaker, and I simply didn’t agree with some of the source material (although, admittedly, my issues were handled better there). The audience I saw it with, though, they were the true hive mind, the true group that this movie was made for: the kind of people who clap during movies. The kind of people I could never hope, or want, to be. If you’re the kind of person who could describe a movie as being “full of win” and “epic” without wanting to shoot yourself in the face, Kick-Ass is the movie for you.
Watch Kick-Ass when it comes out in a couple of weeks. Enjoy it. Maybe even love it. Just let Vaughn continue to make movies, because he produces a baseline of entertainment that so much of the modern industry can’t hope to hit at its current peak.