Kick-Ass is an entertaining riff on the superhero mythos. It begins with the question: why hasn’t anyone ever tried putting on a costume and being a superhero?
(Actually, it has been tried. See here.) This is a question many a comic-book geek must have asked himself. The way it’s answered in this movie becomes, fundamentally, an examination of commitment. This is my review of Kick-Ass. (And there’s some Kick-Ass toys you can get here to keep that intrepid feeling alive.)
Make no mistake, there’s plenty of witty action in this movie. It is not an exercise in philosophy. Entertainment-wise, its worth a $7 matinee ticket (I always review movies in dollars), especially if you like an action film that rings new changes on ways to dispatch bad guys.
Relatively unknown director Matthew Vaughan engagingly explores the stylistic nuances of violence. Early on, we see “ordinary” violence — the everyday kind that usually ends up with some poor shlub bleeding in a hospital emergency room. This is the sort of violence that finds its apex in places like the UFC, where athletes such as Anderson Silva reign supreme.
In his inaugural foray as his alter ego superhero “Kick-Ass,” Dave Lizewski (played by Aaron Johnson), the main character who aspires to do more than fantasize about being a hero, gets knifed by a punk. Later, he brawls in a parking lot. There is nothing graceful or thrilling about the ass-kickings he gets, and the clumsiness gives a sense of realism to Dave’s quest (only heightend by the fact that he is wearing a costume).
This everyday violence is contrasted with the business-like, slightly detached violence perpetrated by mob henchmen. To them, it’s just business, although it probably helps to liven up their workday. And finally, we have the fantasy martial arts unleashed by the true superheroes, Hit-Girl (Chloë Moretz) and her father, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage).
This is where the idea of commitment is implied. In order to be a superhero, you have to commit to it fanatically, obsessively. (This is the Batman sort of superhero, which is an acquired skill, not the Superman/Spiderman type of superhero who decides to use abilities beyond those of ordinary mortals for the greater good.)
After he decides to become a superhero, Dave is up on a rooftop working on his training, and he thinks about leaping from one roof to the next. As he runs up to the edge, he stops short. Like most people, he is more committed to his fear than his goal. He has not yet fully embraced his new role. His motivation remains nebulous. A real superhero would not hesitate. He would make the leap. Or take his daughter out to the aqueduct and shoot her for practice.
Chloë Grace Moretz is delightful (if that’s the word) in the role of Mindy McCready, alias Hit-Girl. Screenwriters Vaughan and Jane Goldman have taken the cliche of the wimpy, cowardly guy “screaming like a little girl” and turned it on its head. This is a little girl who makes others scream.
Moretz brings a bubbly personality and sneering physicality to her role as the daughter who has become the chief instrument of her father’s vengeance. There is nothing false or reticent in her performance. And Nicolas Cage brings a kind of lethal goofiness to his role as Big Daddy. The movie is at its best when one or both of these two are on screen (equalled, perhaps, only by the tricked-out Mustang). These characters have made the commitment to their roles; it’s all or nothing. And they have an effective foil in the chief bad-guy, Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), who for his part has committed to being the badass crime boss.
Is Moretz’s role inappropriate?
With respect to the nervous nellies who are complaining about the “inappropriateness” of Moretz’s role, or “exploitation” of a child, there is a long history of kids’ characters in movies being trained to grow up to be protectors or assassins. This especially happens in Asian martial arts films. They often start out in a monastery or mountain fortress as youngsters and the real action begins when they’re in their teens; Kick-Ass just gives Hit-Girl her coming-out party a little earlier, which is part of its charm.
Heck, even the movie Hitman is simply about one of these kids who has grown up. Why do people regard children as delicate, innocent “little lambs” who must be protected and coddled to order to maintain that (fictional) state as long as possible? Children are people, and people should be free to make choices about the ways they want to express themselves. Either we’re all “innocent” at every age, or none of us is. I enjoy the panache expressed by Hit-Girl. In a psychological sense, if she wasn’t committed to her path, she would never prevail as she does. We can commit to something at any age.
It takes commitment to rise to the top. That’s what Dave Lizewski learns.
And that’s what we all want, isn’t it — to rise to the top? In this kind of story, we always identify with the superhero — that could be us, in other words, if we were lucky enough to be bitten by the radioactive spider or overdosed with ionizing energy. Who identifies with the faceless crowd that the superhero saves?
Fundamentally, the superhero mythos divides people into two camps: cannon fodder and the strong (the good strong individual and the strong megalomaniacal sociopath). Lots of people feel rather impotent in their lives, less than the captains of their destiny, and the superhero is the anodyne to this.
Think about what it would be like, though, if there really were superheroes out there saving us from danger. It would actually be kind of annoying. No one wants to feel like they need to be taken care of. That’s the attractiveness of Hit-Girl. She has learned to kick ass. And she has $3 million in a suitcase.
Fortunately, she also has Dave as a friend. Being a superhero is often a lonely business. (How often do you see one hanging out having a beer with his pals after saving the world?) By the end of the film, Dave has begun to sort of keep up with her when it comes to butt-kicking. And he’s gotten the high school hottie along the way. At least the movie didn’t make us wait too long for that to happen.
Below are more Kick-Ass collectible doohickies to help inspire you toward your own commitments… And click here to see everything Kick-Ass from Entertainment Earth.