Heroes and Zeroes
Kick-Ass is the latest work of subversion to accompany the popularity of comic book cinema. Flicks like these can be even more interesting than their straightforward counterparts; they have an in with superheroes and use their dirty little secrets to comment on the genre from the inside out. But films that advise against standing up for truth, justice, and all that jazz aren't quite box office gold, and it's safe to say Kick-Ass will have some trouble presenting itself to Mr. and Mrs. Moviegoer. Still, for something that cares not what you think of it, this film is easier to relate to than blockbusters demanding you invest in the impossible.
Why hasn't anyone ever tried to be a superhero? The fictional exploits of Spider-Man and company are well-documented, but how come no one's taken a real-life stand? This is an issue that's been bugging Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) for a while. But after a lifetime spent as a perpetually average comic nerd, Dave opts to go nuts for once and take to the Big Apple's streets as the crimefighter Kick-Ass. With just a scuba suit and some batons, Dave's vigilante exploits swiftly catapult Kick-Ass to YouTube stardom, though battling evil isn't as easy as it is on the paneled page. The more famous Kick-Ass gets, the more he ticks off gangster Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong), a man prepared to go to whatever lengths possible to ensure that no one dare don a cape in his town.
Despite its irreverent ad campaign, Kick-Ass isn't the least bit intended for youngsters. I venture that if little Timmy walked into this movie, everything he holds dear about costumed avengers would be crushed into a fine powder. Kick-Ass is for seasoned comic vets, for those who understand it's not so easy to slap on an outfit and go bust some heads. The world doesn't always side with the good guy, as Dave learns when his first outing as Kick-Ass lands him in intensive care. However, while director Matthew Vaughn (Stardust) puts some very immature stunts on display, he has a level-headed grasp on the notion of playing hero for real. Some may see the film going from quirky comedy to dark satire so fast as a little bait-and-switch, but Vaughn plays well enough on your knowledge of superhero cinema to make this betrayal short-lived.
That Kick-Ass doesn't try so hard to swipe your sympathy is a big reason why I went along with it. Dave serves as the perfect placeholder for the audience; if we tried to stop purse-snatchers and such, we'd probably meet with similarly mundane results. Johnson's performance reflects this perfectly, playing a guy who realizes he may not be able to back up his good intentions. Besides, you'd really have to be off your rocker to commit to the hero game, and that department is well taken care of. Waiting in the wings are Nicolas Cage and Chloe Grace Moretz, playing the positively psychotic duo of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl. Not only are they a clever reponse to the traditional vengeful origin story, their interactions provide the film with most of its dark comedy, not to mention enough insane action to drop jaded jaws everywhere.
The line between "outlandish" and "morally reprehensible" is a thin one, and Kick-Ass delights in dragging viewers from one to the other. It's just as plausible to deem the film trash as it is to hail it as one of the most observant pop culture commentaries of its kind. Kick-Ass may not meet the financial success of its traditional contemporaries, but rest assured its intelligence will have one hell of a shelf life.
MY RATING: *** (out of ****)
(Released by Lionsgate and rated "R" for strong brutal violence throughout, pervasive language, sexual content, nudity and some drug use -- some involving young children.)