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April 25, 2010


Movie Review – Kick-Ass (2010) [Helen Geib]


Kick-Ass (2010)

Kick-Ass is the “superhero” alter-ego of Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson). Dave is pretty much your average American teenager. His background is urban lower-middle class. He lives in an old city neighborhood with a troublingly high crime rate and goes to a typical big city public high school where security guards man metal detectors at the entrance. He’s a good kid who stays out of trouble. He has two close friends and the three of them hang out together a lot at the local comic book/snack shop. He’s a little bit geeky, but nothing out of the ordinary, and less so than his comic-relief buddies. He has the rail thinness of teenage boy growth spurt and exuberant curly brown hair. He has a crush on a beautiful, popular classmate named Katie.

Getting mugged (not for the first time), and knowing that someone saw it happen but did nothing to help, spurs Dave to do something. Where his father would do something like joining a neighborhood watch group, Dave’s something is fashioning a superhero costume out of a wetsuit and looking for opportunities to help people out. The scenario is weirdly plausible. Contemporary teenager Dave’s mind is informed by popular culture, by comics and movies; the invention of “Kick-Ass” is completely in character.

The film, co-written by director Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman and adapted from Mark Millar’s comic, shares its hero’s absorption in pop culture. It further assumes that its audience shares it as well, or at least is enough aware of it to be in on the joke. The film is highly referential. It is self-consciously formulaic in establishing Dave’s situation and throws out a stream of pop culture references in the visuals and dialogue. The script supplies a voiceover narration by Dave that is referential in itself and in content. The references are often seriocomic, like the passage in the narration when Dave reminds us that the fact he’s talking to us now doesn’t mean he’s going to escape the imminent threat of death; haven’t we seen Sunset Boulevard?

The story creates a productive tension between Dave’s Kick-Ass fantasy and the reality of his life that throws the appeal the fantasy holds for him (and us) into sharper relief. He does not have superpowers, and does get himself badly beaten up more than once. His impulse to do good is admirable; the way he acts on it, absurd. He knows the sensible thing is to stop, but he keep on with the masquerade. Dave is fully aware of this tension- he revisits it frequently in his narration. It plays out as well in Dave/Kick-Ass’s relationships with other “superheroes” and their various targets and fans, while the other superhero’s individual stories hold up a fractured mirror to Dave’s.

Kick-Ass eventually becomes entangled with father and daughter team Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, the superhero alter egos of Damon (Nicolas Cage) and Mindy Macready (Chloe Moretz). Big Daddy and Hit-Girl’s story takes the film’s fantasy-reality dynamic to its extreme limit. The high concept is The Punisher with a pre-teen daughter fighting- and killing- alongside him. Their ultimate object: to kill the mob boss who framed good cop Damon and caused the death of Mindy’s mother. Their subsidiary object: the annihilation of his organization. The crusade for vengeance-justice plays out in intensely exciting action sequences prominently featuring Hit-Girl in action.

Big Daddy and Hit-Girl’s personas (costumes and high-tech equipment) are derived from Batman and Robin. Damon and Mindy’s story is tragic and their mutual devotion palpable. Damon is plainly deranged, Mindy too young to realize it. Cage and Moretz are scene-stealing perfection.

The tension between fantasy and reality is ultimately resolved within the film in favor of fantasy. Dave’s story is a teenage male fantasy at heart, most obviously in the construct of Katie and Kick-Ass’s instant celebrity (via a Youtube video, natch). The brutal action finale is unabashed fantasy, the potent, bloody nods to the reality side of the equation notwithstanding. Kick-Ass neatly sidesteps the inevitable uneasiness over Mindy as Hit-Girl/indoctrinated child-soldier, and both its and our pleasure in the comic-book movie spectacle of which she is the undisputed star.

3 stars


Commentary Track review of Kick-Ass by Nir Shalev.

Stardust is a family-friendly film from director Matthew Vaughn. Notwithstanding the presence of young children at the screening I attended, and doubtless at many other screenings around the country, Kick-Ass most definitely is not.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. miriam
    Apr 25 2010

    Very persuasive, Helen.

    I have no use for critics who can’t evaluate a movie fairly because it’s not the movie_they_would have made, so I am trying not to fall into that pit. I would have liked to see a movie in which the ‘be a superhero’ fantasy actually played out in more or less real life. And I would have liked to see a movie which was totally about Big Daddy and HIt Girl (My first reaction after seeing Kick Ass was to run home and watch The Punisher.).

    Kick Ass handles the conceptual elements well and blends/contrasts them with some skill. It’s hard for me to see children getting beaten up, even in a cartoon, so the seams between the stories frayed for me. I did enjoy all the pop culture references – though do you really think even two people in any of its audiences will recognize the Sunset Boulevard joke? I’m going to place myself right on the fence between you and Nir, but leaning just a bit toward your side. So 2 and a half stars from me.

  2. Nir Shalev
    Apr 25 2010

    Boy, am I glad that my review was put up first because this version, much better written and dictated is basically the Tylenol to my headache. 0_<

    Miriam, read my review to Defendor. It's very well acted, the story is good, and the movie takes place entirely within the real world. I find it far superior to Kick-Ass and Hancock put together.

  3. Aaron
    Apr 25 2010

    Whew, after reading Nir’s review, I was worried you wouldn’t like the film Helen.

    I’m looking forward to watching it now!

  4. Helen
    Apr 25 2010

    @Miriam: I’d like to think you’re wrong as to Sunset Boulevard, but you’re probably right. The scriptwriters seem to agree that most people won’t get the joke, since they threw one or two other references in to make the exact same point. There were probably a bunch of comic book references in Kick-Ass that I didn’t get, but that doesn’t make me sad like it does to think people don’t know about Sunset Boulevard!

    @Nir: Thanks. :=) Honestly I do think some of your criticisms are well taken, but I still really enjoyed the movie overall.

    @Aaron: Be sure to comment again after you’ve seen it- I’d like to get your take on it too.