Kick-Ass (2010)

Kick-Ass is based on the comic book of the same name by Mark Millar, one of the more influential writers in comics today, and it begins with a relatively simple premise: What if an ordinary guy became a costumed superhero?

It’s not the most groundbreaking idea in fiction—Greatest American Hero was thirty years ago—but sure, the idea of a regular dude putting on a costume and fighting crime in the “real world” is certainly fertile ground for storytelling. Unfortunately, after the initial setup, Kick-Ass tosses aside all notions of realism in favor of fan service, video game references, homages to better superhero movies, and “kewl” hyper-stylized violence.

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The story is ostensibly about a high school kid named Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who lives in Manhattan, albeit a Manhattan that’s much brighter and cleaner than the real thing (most of the film was shot in Toronto, and it shows). Dave is obsessed with comic books, and wonders why no one has ever tried to be a superhero for real (apparently, he’s not familiar with the likes of Phoenix Jones). So he decides to put on a wetsuit and patrol the city himself as a superhero named Kick-Ass. Naturally, his first attempt at fighting crime lands him in the hospital, but after multiple surgeries to reinforce his bones with steel, and with permanent nerve damage that makes him highly tolerant to pain, he jumps right back into the bright green tights.

Kick-Ass (2010)

In a strange turn of events, there are two other superheroes already operating in the city: Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage, doing his best Adam West impression), a Batman-like hero who used to be a cop until he went to jail for crimes he didn’t commit, and Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), his 11 year old daughter/sidekick who assists him on his quest for vengeance against the mob. And despite her age, Hit-Girl slices up criminals with glee while spouting all sorts of profanity, which is sporadically funny, even if a lot of it doesn’t make sense (why is Big Daddy’s version of the Bat-Signal in the shape of a giant cock, exactly? And if Big Daddy himself never swears, who exactly did Hit-Girl pick up the habit from?).

Kick-Ass (2010)

But while father and daughter operate in the shadows, Kick-Ass has gone public with his exploits, building up a huge following on… MySpace? How old is this movie, again? Regardless, being the only recognizable superhero around draws the attention of a big-time mobster, who blames Kick-Ass for all the carnage wrought by Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, and soon poor Dave has the whole mob after him.

Kick-Ass is a mostly entertaining film, but it’s pretty obviously pandering to the stereotypical “geek” crowd, the same crowd that doesn’t care much about realism, physics, or actual characterization, as long as the action is frenetic and over-the-top and AWESUM!!1! enough.

This is a movie that can’t even be bothered with its own premise. It’s clear Big Daddy and Hit-Girl have already been at the superhero game for years, so what gives? Why make a movie about the first guy to put on a costume and become a superhero if he’s not really the first guy? And why start the film with a narration about “real” people becoming superheroes, only to follow it up with jetpacks and bazookas and an 11 year old girl shooting and slashing her way through a dozen armed men? Most action films are ludicrous to a degree, but this one is almost a cartoon. I felt about as much suspense over Hit-Girl’s fate as I feel concern for Wile E. Coyote’s health after a boulder falls on him.

Kick-Ass was directed and co-written by Matthew Vaughn (who went on to make a more straightforward superhero film), and despite having a female co-writer, this movie is pure white teenage male wish fulfillment, where women only exist as trophies for the hero, and minorities only exist to get wiped out and boost the hero’s cool factor (reportedly, the original comic—as well as some of Millar’s other output—is much more egregious in this regard).

The central character of Dave/Kick-Ass is obviously an author self-insert, and like most author self-inserts, he’s the most boring character in the movie. He has no actual story arc. Despite causing someone else’s death via his own stupidity, he learns absolutely nothing by the end of the film, and is more convinced than ever that being a superhero is awesome.

Clearly, Kick-Ass, the character, should have been ditched and the film should have been entirely about Big Daddy and Hit-Girl. Their relationship is a fascinating, subversive take on Batman and Robin. I mean, this movie may not be the first to do it, but Kick-Ass hammers home how fucked up the very concept of Robin is. Who adopts an orphan teenager and then immediately puts him to work fighting dangerous criminals?

Kick-Ass (2010)

The whole movie could have worked on that level, but what we get instead is bloodshed and violence grafted onto a slightly dopey teen comedy. They even got McLovin to play the supervillain.

Kick-Ass 2 is due out Friday. You might be wondering why a sequel was even made, considering the original was seen as a bit of box office disappointment, barely beating out How to Train Your Dragon in its opening weekend. Well, it’s safe to say one of the reasons it failed was that its target audience of teenage boys was mostly shut out by the R rating. And guess who sent it to the top of the sales charts once it hit DVD and iTunes?

But really, there’s no need to see the sequel. I can tell you right now what it’ll be like: The violence will be even more over the top. Hit Girl will curse twice as much (but it’ll be half as amusing coming out of the mouth of a teenager instead of a little girl). Roughly 30-35% of the dialogue will be profanity. Essentially, everything that got dialed up to eleven in the previous film will now be dialed up to 22.

Though, the one thing I doubt they’ll ante up on is satirizing the superhero genre, which in the first movie was mostly relegated to quoting a line or two from other comic book movies. Hell, the last line in the film is a direct quote from 1989’s Batman (when in doubt, go for a reference!). Superhero movies are now even more ripe for skewering than they were when this film was made four years ago, but a franchise like Kick-Ass is never going to bite the geeky hand that feeds it.

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  • RobinGraves

    Wasn’t Hit-Girl being sarcastic about the giant cock-signal, considering we never see it once in the film, and they’re very much outside of the law?

    • Thomas Stockel

      Yes, it was a joke. Chloe Moretz is by far the best thing about this movie. The scene where she is destroying the gangsters while they are playing the Banana Splits theme song is hilarious.

      • danbreunig

        Hands down my favorite moment in the movie!

      • tedzey71

        I still think they could have played the ending theme to The Powerpuff Girls, but there’s always the sequel!

  • Muthsarah

    “[,,.] but after multiple surgeries to reinforce his bones with steel […]”

    Hmm…of all the things I’ve heard and seen of the movie (I caught about half of it on TV), this is a new one. So he isn’t just Joe Everynerd who becomes a superhero, but an augment. And he still sucks at it. So…it’s a comedy? But it’s extreme, because Hit Girl. But it’s a comedy, because Nic Cage. But it’s extreme because R rating. But it’s a comedy because McLovin’.

    I gathered that the movie’s tone was all over the place, something that can (and may only have been intended to) be enjoyed on a superficial level. Which is fine, I guess. But that would completely fly in the face of it being satirical, as satire, by definition, has to have layers, since you’re being both the story you are and the story you’re sending up at the same time. At most, it would be a spoof. An R-rated, grisly, hyper-violent spoof. Is that why Hit Girl is so profane, because it’s sending up EXTREME superheroes, and mocking how bad ass superherodom has become in pop culture? Or is it using superhero comic tropes to mock real life superhero wish fulfillment? If so, where does Hit Girl fit in, since she’s obviously supposed to be a real superhero with real superhuman abilities? Or is it just being R-rated and having a little girl swearing all the time and having a “realistic” main character and beating up tropey badguys and flashy uniforms and tons of blood and lots of profantity and cartoonish violence because all these things are cool alone, so if you mix them together, they’re just gonna be awesomer? Like pizza-flavored ice cream covered in barbeque sauce.

    I had fun watching the (second half of the) movie, but it was pretty dumb. Though I couldn’t decide if it was good dumb or bad dumb. It felt like an R-rated movie for 12-year-olds. Which would probably be the most perfect thing ever for a lot of 12-year-olds, but doesn’t exactly…make sense. Or…work except as silly, borderline-disturbing spectacle.

  • The_Stig

    Why is Big Daddy’s version of the Bat Signal in the shape of a giant cock? Because there is no Big Daddy signal and Hit Girl was being sarcastic. Also, Big Daddy does in fact swear. Granted he doesn’t have Hit Girl’s sailor’s mouth but he uses the term “Junkie asshole” when teaching Hit Girl how to take a bullet.

    Other than that, I agree with you, Winston. The tone was all over the place. It didn’t know if it wanted to be a satire of the genre or a straight up superhero flick. I didn’t love it, but I liked it and besides, Sparks was on the soundrack!

    • Sparks are in my list of under-appreciated bands. The song on the soundtrack ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us’ was a number 2 in the UK in 1974 and most people who know of Sparks seems to remember only that song and the only album ‘Kimono My House’. That album is great and all but the fact that they have been a band since the late 60s and are still releasing albums with new material today, that in some ways is way better than their older stuff, is so awesome!
      I liked this film too. Didn’t love it, but it was pretty entertaining and ridiculous which is what I expected from a name like Kickass even if I didn’t know much about the comic.

      • The_Stig

        Sparks is, without hyperbole the most fun I’ve ever had listening to music. They’re always changing their style and it always works. One of the few bands whose newer material is arguably better than their earlier stuff. Probably the only band. It’s sad that most people only seem to know them for that one song if they’ve heard of them at all, but the truth is Ron and Russell Mael have influenced pretty much everybody that’s any good and it’s a crime they’re not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

        Although I do not recommend watching the video for “I Predict”. It is rather disturbing.

        • Lil Beethoven was a very fun album! “Suburban Homeboy” sounds like if Monty Python wrote “Pretty Fly for a White Guy”!

          • The_Stig

            I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not.

  • Alexa

    I think the biggest problem I have with the movie was all the meta humor, it made me understand a lot why horror fans, for the most part, really didn’t like Scream. I just want to watch a Superhero movie, not one that is basically pointing out the absurdity of the genre. I don’t care if the subject is absurd, I just want a straight forward superhero story. That’s all. Plus didn’t we do this whole song and dance with Mystery Men, making the concept kind of old hat when you think about it. Sure the movie is better quality then Mystery Men, but its still not anything all that interesting or original.

    And yeah I found Hit-Girl more annoying than entertaining, no offense to Chloe Moretz, I just don’t get the appeal, especially that line about the Bat Signal being a giant cock…I mean there’s profanity, which doesn’t offend me, and there’s just swearing for the hell of it, and that’s super annoying.

  • MichaelANovelli

    It’s a shame you didn’t care for it. I felt that it was my generation’s Toxic Avenger. :)

    • Cristiona

      Surely that honor should go to Super, no?

      • MichaelANovelli

        Didn’t see it. I honestly hate Ellen Page. I hate her so much that I refuse to watch Inception.

        • danbreunig

          I’d see it again just to hear that famous line once more: “It’s all gushy!”

          • MichaelANovelli

            “I just love the taste of blood from a woman’s mouth! It’s so BLOODY!”

  • I thought it was the general public who want frenetic, over-the-top action, and it was the geeks who complain about there not enough realism, physics, and characterization.

  • danbreunig

    One of the few movies I’ve enjoyed despite (or even because) of the multiple tones–which all reach an equilibrium in one level tone. I walked away satisfied seeing this in the theatre, like there really was still some freshness left in the superhero genre, despite my not knowing about the graphic novel version until shortly after–“what, another Sin City / 300 / -style movie trend? Hey, this movie still works for me…” So mixed tones–didn’t hurt me any.

    Odd enough about comparing the superduo involved in a play on Batman & Robin; as a dad-daughter superhero dynamic, I saw less Batman & Robin and more Man-At-Arms & Teela–if Man-At-Arms & Teela had no respect for life.

  • Thomas Stockel

    Sorry you didn’t like the film. I thought it was a lot of fun. I guess if I thought too much about it the flaws would have bothered me more but I think when you like a thing you are more likely to forgive it’s flaws.

  • Muthsarah

    I’m just gonna toss this out there, because. You didn’t mention it, Blockbuster Buster (from TGWTG, a positive review) didn’t mention it, to my knowledge nobody I know has mentioned it.

    I saw last year’s Anna Karenina before I saw Kick-Ass. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who plays “Kick-Ass”) played Count Vronsky, the romantic lead in that one, a young, dashing 19th-century Russian cavalry officer with a Russian mustache, who seduces Keira Knightley’s married-and-respectable Anna, while simultaneously romancing another young noblewoman, right in front of Anna’s face. Like a cad. And that was my favorite movie of last year. So, for me, it was more than a little distracting to see this same actor being a teen-aged American geek, dressing up in a dumb-looking striped outfit and trying to fight crime today, only to fall on his face more often than not. While in a dumb-looking striped outfit, sans mustache, and most of his dignity. It’s very possible this had an effect on my viewing of this movie, heightening the overall absurdity of it. It’s a shocking contrast, these two roles. I give Taylor-Johnson a lot of respect as an actor for being so very, very different and convincing in these roles. I wouldn’t have believed it was the same guy had I not noticed his name on the channel guide thingee.

    I had some gripes with the movie, but not with the cast. Chloe Moretz was really, really good, Nic Cage is funderful as always, and Taylor-Johnson….distracting, eerie, but very convincing. It’s the premise that I think is crazy, but the cast was fantastic overall.

  • Cameron Vale

    This is pretty much exactly what I thought, but for some reason no one was saying any of this. It even became a sort of paragon in its genre somehow. I suppose that sanity, much like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

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