Movie Review: Kick-Ass
By Matthew Huntley
April 19, 2010
There are some real zingers found in Kick-Ass, thanks mostly to its father-daughter superhero team, but I guess I was expecting a lot more. On one level, the movie wants to subvert the superhero genre. On another, it exhibits the same qualities as so many before it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because, hey, who doesn’t like a superhero movie? But as the movie tries to be two different things, it loses some steam. Not a lot, but some.
I’ve been excited for Kick-Ass ever since it previewed at Comic-Con last summer. When I saw the early footage, I thought to myself, finally, a superhero movie that takes place in the “real” world - that is, a world where the people are already aware of the classic, fictional superheroes from the Marvel and DC universes.
Similar to the way Scream infringed on horror movies, Kick-Ass violates the rules of its genre by being about a kid who reads comics and openly talks about characters like Spider-Man and Batman. And, just like most superheroes, that kid is a typical insecure teenager. His name is Dave Lizewski, who poses the question to his fellow geek friends, why has there never been a real-life superhero, especially in a world where everybody, at one point or another, has dreamt of becoming one?
Dave decides to give it a try. He purchases a green and yellow wetsuit online, obtains two police clubs, and assumes the alternate identity of Kick-Ass, local crime fighter and vigilante. His night job starts off slow and, at one point, becomes near-fatal, but once the public gets a load of this masked avenger, Kick-Ass becomes the latest Internet sensation, generating the most YouTube hits in history. He even has his own MySpace page for answering personal requests.
Joining Kick-Ass is the dynamic duo of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz), who deliver the movie’s funniest and most disturbingly inspired scenes. Big Daddy is a do-it-yourself version of Batman and Hit-Girl, his 11-year-old daughter, dons a purple wig and black mask. Together, they’re on a mission to bring down a local crime boss named Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), whose son, Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), has aspirations to take over the family business and become a superhero himself. The D’Amico father-son relationship is obviously meant to mirror Norman and Harry Osborn from Spider-Man, but it doesn’t necessarily have an attitude about it.
That’s sort of what bothered me about Kick-Ass. It’s not as original or edgy as it promises to be and it doesn’t take a really fresh stance on its subject. For the most part, it’s standard superhero fare, with all the customary characteristics we’re used to, only they’ve been adult-ized and taken to a greater extreme. Dave, for instance, is more or less a different inflection of Peter Parker - he wears glasses, he’s skinny and he lacks the confidence to talk to girls (the only girl interested in him thinks he’s gay). The only thing separating Dave from Peter is he’s more R-rated, which means we see him masturbating and looking at porn on the Internet. This is funny but not that funny. What works better is Cage doing an Adam West impersonation by talking with undulation.
The movie’s violence is also questionable. Like a lot of the movie, it exists on two different planes - on one, it’s gritty, realistic and illustrates how dangerous it could be to really try and be a superhero; on another, it’s gratuitous, over-the-top and fun. Most of this comes courtesy of Hit-Girl, who is not a force to be messed with. She can slit your throat, break your neck, stab you in the eye or stomp you on the face. The movie does a good job of choreographing her fight scenes and it’s difficult to know when Moretz has been replaced by a stunt double.
But does the movie want to be realistic or fantastical? Not that it has to necessarily answer that question to be a good time - and it is - but I’m not sure director Matthew Vaughn really knew what he wanted to accomplish. I haven’t read Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s comic book series, but I’d be curious to know if it’s any clearer. Did Vaughn intend to make a farcical superhero movie or one that pays heed to the classic conventions of the genre? That confusion prevents Kick-Ass from really taking off. Scream worked because it was sharper and more focused - it knew it was a horror movie first and a hip, self-referential satire second.
I enjoyed Kick-Ass, but it has mixed tones and its signals are not entirely lucid. For instance, will there or will there not be a sequel? The last shot of the movie suggests it’s either setting up for one or lampooning the very idea of setting up for one, all while referencing another movie. What does the movie really want to be? Like the characters of most superhero movies, that’s one of its internal struggles.