This super-antihero film exists in three worlds without belonging to any one of them. It is part superhero film, adhering most closely to a riff on the Spider-Man origin story. It is also a critique of the genre (think The Incredibles, Mystery Men, or The Tick). Finally, it’s a straight-up, full-blooded revenge flick. That it sincerely wants or tries to be all three types of films will confound some, probably because we’ve seen so many superhero films lately that when a movie doesn’t follow convention it can seem off-pitch. Roger Ebert recently took moral exception to the film, but I don’t think it’s any more irresponsible than any of the dozens of candy-coated superhero films that thoughtlessly equate vigilante justice with moral responsibility.
The story focuses on Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), who is a boring teenager in search of a personality. He orders a costume online and sets off to fight crime. But Dave is not a hero; he’s irresponsible, and his actions at times have terrible consequences. The film is as much a critique of Dave’s hubris and naivete than anything else. By the film’s end, I was just hoping he’d find some way to redeem himself for his idiocy.
None of which is to say I found him intolerable. I thought he was utterly nuts, but he was also often braver than I think I would ever be able to be. My girlfriend said she really wanted to see a nice training montage where he learned to be a better fighter. I agree, but I think it’s a credit to the movie that it stayed away from any easy beefing-up of its unfortunate main character.
Kick-Ass keeps it messy, and that puts it closer in spirit to Watchmen than X-Men. But where the film version of Watchmen ended up feeling rather turgid and not all that fun, Kick-Ass is an absolute blast, owing in no small part to its terrific supporting cast. Nicolas Cage and Chloe Moretz as the father/daughter crime-fighting team of Big Daddy and Hit Girl are the best part of the movie, capturing both the joy of watching talented assassins do their thing and also the creepiness of masked family bloodletting. Maybe it’s Nic Cage’s mustache, or maybe it’s the way father and daughter bond over bullets and knives, but their relationship is both awesome and extremely disturbing.
I guess that’s why I loved this movie so much; it’s aware of its own sick heart. Big Daddy rips off Batman’s costume design but uses guns to freely slaughter rooms of thugs–things Batman would never do. The costume disguises the identity of the crusader as well as the psychosis of the man committing the violent acts. Like Kick-Ass himself, Big Daddy and Hit Girl are characters to root for even while you worry about their mental health. What the film version of Watchmen managed to do with Rorschach, Kick-Ass achieves with all its major crime-fighting characters.
It’s a complicated vibe, but it works. Fiction should never have to behave itself, and Kick-Ass delightfully makes a lot of other superhero films look dreadfully square in comparison. It’s deviant, subversive, inappropriate–and a whole lot of fun.
Kick-Ass, directed by Matthew Vaughn. Written by Jane Goldman and Vaughn, based on the comic book by Mark Millar and John S. Romita Jr. Running time: 117 minutes. Rated R (for strong, brutal violence throughout, pervasive language, sexual content, nudity and drug use — occasionally involving children).