Kick-Ass is reminiscent of 2009’s Defendor (which you should watch, it’s real good, I promise), staring Woody from Cheers, in a couple of key ways. First is obviously that both films deal with the premise, what if a real-life, actual person tried to become a superhero? The general consensus seems to be that these misguided do-gooders would get the holy hell beaten out of them. In Defendor, Defendor comes home after his adventures and spits out his own teeth, while in Kick-Ass, Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson) gets stabbed in the stomach by the first pair of bad guys he attempts to thwart and spends months recuperating in the hospital. Interesting side note, the location where Kick-Ass gets stabbed is also featured prominently in Defendor. It is a real adult novelty store in Hamilton, Ontario, where both movies were filmed. That’s in Canada for all of you geographically challenged spawn of the American school system.
Neither movie shies away from showing the graphic consequences of the violence these characters seeks out. The first time Kick-Ass encounters Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz), a foul mouthed eleven year old with a penchant for brutally slaying criminals with happy grin on her face, he is shaken so bad that he momentarily hangs up his tights, or wetsuit in this case. The glee that she finds in killing is completely foreign to him. Granted, Hit-Girl has been trained and conditioned since birth by her vengeance driven father (Nicholas Cage, who, along with Bad Lieutenant Port of Call New Orleans, has made two movies in recent days that I liked. This is troubling, and if he keeps this up, I may have to seriously reconsider some deeply held personal truths.), and she finds her most intense pleasure in violence and the tools of violence.
Both Defendor and Kick-Ass are marketed as something that they are not. To look at the posters, art, and trailers, each of these movies promise to be light comedies about the bumbling exploits of everyday citizens attempting to live out a comic book fantasy. I mean if you see a commercial with a small child dressed up like a superhero flipping around like a cracked out chimp, you don’t necessarily expect to see this same child beaten within an inch of her life by a grown man, do you? Well, you will.
Kick-Ass does provide some laughs and scenes of levity. The scenes with Dave (Kick-Ass in street clothes) and his buddies Marty (Clark Duke) and Todd (Evan Peters) provide some good, shit talking banter. And it is fun to watch Hit-Girl fuck with her father by asking for a doll for her birthday. Defendor on the other hand doesn’t deliver much laughter. It is exactly as depressing as it would be if a mentally handicapped man actually did try to become a costumed crime fighter, befriending a crack smoking prostitute in the process.
Like I said, Kick-Ass isn’t necessarily what it first appeared to be at first glance. Sure, you get a mild-mannered kid (who seems to live in Spider-Man’s hood) who lost his mother to a sudden death. He gets picked on at school and on the streets. He feels lonely, isolated, and powerless, and decides that to fight back. Initially, his attempts to take control of his world prove disastrous, and, despite some internet notoriety that makes him a folk hero, he is largely ineffectual.
Hit-Girl and Big Daddy (Cage), however, are the real deal. Daddy used to be a cop, a good cop, a clean cop, but when he refused to take a bribe, he was framed for a crime he didn’t commit by gangster Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), and sent to prison. While inside his pregnant wife committed suicide, though the baby, Hit-Girl, survived. Upon his release, Daddy begins an fanatical quest for retribution, a quest that involves brainwashing his young daughter with comic books, and generally teaching her how to fuck shit up in every conceivable way. In the way her world view is informed by comics, Hit-Girl is like Kick-Ass taken to the extreme, and without a choice in the matter. She has been built for this. The first time we meet them, Daddy shoots his own daughter in the chest so she can get used to being shot while wearing a Kevlar vest. Obviously this dude has some issues.
Big Daddy and Hit-Girl are essentially Batman and Robin. Big Daddy’s costume is even patterned after the Dark Knight. They have all the toys (they get money by robbing the criminals they kill), gadgets, and training. Hit-Girl is like the Boy Wonder raised within the confines of a John Woo movie (and I mean a good John Woo movie, like Hard Boiled or A Better Tomorrow 2).
Because Kick-Ass becomes the public face of vigilante superheroes, the deeds of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl get blamed on him, and he becomes a target for the mob.
McLovin’ shows up as Chris D’Amico, son of Frank, a comic book nerd in his own right, who, due to his father’s line of work, is also balls deep in isolation and loneliness, though this is generally due to a large man with a gun cutting off any potential social interactions. At first I was afraid McLovin’ was just going to be McLovin’, and follow a similar path of Kick-Ass (from the trailers we already know he becomes a character called Red Mist). Fortunately they do something else with it. Chris wants nothing more than his father’s approval and to join in the family business. He knows how superheroes think and act, and knows that the best way to catch Kick-Ass is to pose as another superhero and earn his trust. Thus Red Mist isn’t another costume, he’s a trap.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding Kick-Ass. Roger Ebert has famously decried the violence and called it abominable, or something similar. (I hope he called it abominable, that’s a word that needs to come back, like mutton monger, an old timey way of saying pimp.) There are also a lot of back and forth reviews, some people loved the movie, some didn’t like it at all, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I sat down in the theater. (Side Note: I was the only person there. Sure, it was a noon showing on a Thursday fully a month after it was released, but still, that hasn’t happened to me since I saw Forrest Gump in the theater, also at a noon showing in the middle of the week. I did see the second Resident Evil movie with only one other person in the theater, a navy guy who kept talking on his cell phone. I didn’t really mind.)
First off, if the violence of Kick-Ass didn’t involve a little girl, no one would blink at it, it is no more violent than a movie like The Matrix or Die Hard, things you’ve seen a thousand times. And if she didn’t say the dreaded ‘cunt,’ no one would give a shit about her swearing. Kids swearing in movies are usually good for a laugh, and I remember what a foul mouthed little bastard I was. Maybe I’m jaded, maybe I’ve seen too much onscreen violence, or maybe I’ve just seen too many Robins get waxed in Batman comics, but the violence didn’t bother me. In fact, I kind of thought most of the action was pretty awesome. Maybe that makes me a bad person.
I admit, the scene were Hit-Girl is beaten by D’Amico is difficult to watch, but not because it was a grown man pummeling a child, it was because it is a character that I had grown to care about being beaten. Child or not had nothing to do with my feelings. Again, maybe I’m jaded, but it was equally difficult to watch Kick-Ass and Big-Daddy, who are old enough to make their own choices, be tortured.
I think a lot of people are missing the point. This situation is more telling of Cage’s Big Daddy character than anything. It is indicative of how messed up he is. He is so driven, so blinded by rage, that he can’t see, or he doesn’t care, what he is turning his daughter into. Like any child, all she wants to do is please her father, and the best way to do that is to massacre bad guys. That seems to be the point the filmmakers are making (I haven’t read the comic, so I can’t comment on that aspect of it), that too many people, parents in particular, don’t consider the consequences their obsessions have on other people, specifically impressionable young children. What better way to get that point across than by a revenge fixated father corrupting his daughter for his own ends? Hit-Girl kills without a second thought. Her father has drained her of any emotional connection to ending a human life.
The violence isn’t supposed to be easy to take. The point is to make you uncomfortable, to make you squirm in your seat, and, hopefully, think about that discomfort. Hell, the movie starts out with a man with a history of mental illness dressed as a superhero plummeting to his death because he though he could fly. You’re not in for a cake walk here.
I can see where people are coming from with the violence, but I don’t necessarily agree with them. Again, maybe I’m a jaded asshole. Okay, I’m certainly a jaded asshole, but still, the gratuitous, pointless violence in movies like Hostel and other new-jack horror movies of that ilk, bother me a whole lot more than the violence in Kick-Ass.
I wasn’t sure if I would like Kick-Ass or not. Admittedly, I’d read a wide sampling of reviews, from people I tend to agree with, and from people I generally don’t, so I didn’t go in cold. And I enjoyed it, I thought it was pretty fucking badass.
Here, however, is where I’m going to rant for a little bit. I hate that every movie made anymore has to be aware of itself in that really annoying, pretentious, obvious way that every fucking movie is. Comic book movies and horror are especially prone to this phenomenon. I don’t need a comic book nerd commenting on comic books and superheroes. I’ve seen it. Why the fuck can’t you just make a fucking movie without trying to be hip and ironic? Jesus fucking Christ it annoys the shit out of me. Like Dead Snow. I enjoyed Dead Snow. I would have enjoyed Dead Snow a whole lot more if the characters didn’t continually reference that they were in a horror movie. I know they’re in a horror movie, I’m the one who rented the goddamned thing. If they had left it alone it would have been way more awesome and pissed me off way less. We get it, it’s cool to be a comic book or horror nerd now. I don’t need to be reminded of it.
But after the initial onslaught in Kick-Ass, that aspect of the movie falls mercifully by the wayside and takes a back seat to the actual story and characters. This movie is so self-aware that they even play with the convention of being self-aware. Because they’re grown ups and don’t know anything about comic book superheroes, the gangsters are unable to track down their costumed foe. Chris, however, being deeply immersed in the funny books, knows exactly how to best entrap someone playing superhero.
So, you can take Kick-Ass at face value, as an exceedingly violent spectacle, or you can view it as appalling sign of society’s impending doom. You can watch it and never think about it again, which a lot of people seem to be doing, or you can watch it and pick out any number of deeper implications. Personally, I think you should take the later route. Whether you love it or hate it, there is more to this movie than just the surface, and it provides something to think about.
I think Kick-Ass is pretty great. Also, you should watch Defendor, because I don’t think many people will, and the two movies go well together.
I also have to give the filmmakers props for including Yancey Butler of Mann & Machine and Hard Target fame in the cast. Way to go, guys. Way to go.