Half ‘Ass’ superheroes
Is this the pivotal moment where I have truly become my father? How else can explain my terribly mixed feelings of the film “Kick Ass.” For it is a film that embraces and executes my childhood fantasies of dispensing justice while donning a super-suit. Yet it is also a film that features repeated violence by and to an 11-year-old girl.
The film seems as though it suffers from the same tug of allegiances as well. On the one hand, it wants to be a polished, honest superhero movie, meanwhile it panders to the hipper-than-thou crowd, wanting to keep things real, with a healthy dose of hyper-violence throughout.
Based on a comic itself, “Kick-Ass” follows Dave (played by Aaron Johnson), a virtually transparent high-schooler who tires of his city’s societal decay. And even though his pals chide him for even wanting to be more, he decides to slap on a SCUBA suit, grab a couple billy clubs and start cracking skulls as the eponymous hero.
Unfortunately, his skull is first to be cracked, as things don’t quite go as planned and he winds up with more metal in his body than Iron-Man.
Concurrently, we follow the story of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl (Nicolas Cage and Chloe Grace Moretz), a father-daughter duo of vigilante costumed crime-fighters who have some very specific targets for their particular brand of justice. Their path and that of Kick-Ass ultimately cross and they prepare to take on a local mob boss, Frank D’Amico (played by Mark Strong).
Through his opening voice-over, “Kick-Ass” goes out of his way to tell us just how normal he is compared to other “origin stories”of fellow masked avengers (no mutated spiders, no nuclear experiments gone awry), but it’s actually narratively identical to most other background tales of superheroics. While the British-born Johnson nails the whiny American high school accent, he’s not compelling enough to keep engaged the entire film. Enter Big Daddy and Hit-Girl.
The duo and their reason for costumed crusading is obviously more fascinating, but it is, to this reviewer, also more frustrating. It is revenge that fuels this family, and it’s a much darker direction that director Michael Vaughn seems to take every opportunity revel in. Attempts to satisfy audience bloodlust dramatically shifts the film’s tone, and the fact that the heroine has yet to reach puberty but is seen blithely stabbing, hacking, shooting, maiming and de-limbing countless criminals (at least, we hope they are) makes it all the more disconcerting.
It would be easier to swallow if the film rested strictly in the comics book realm, but it introduces a character who lectures Big Daddy about stealing the girl’s childhood by teaching her such violent ways, but he soon disappears until the finale and the issue is never again addressed. So the film itself introduces the issue of morality, but does nothing else with it.
I can buy buy the whole “just a movie” argument if the film did not go out of its way to repeatedly attempt to ground itself in the real world. I can even cut a sliver of slack to those who reference its “R” rating (even though we all know that is catnip to younger viewers). But I cannot buy the fact that somehow Hit-Girl is supposed to be some female empowerment message when the girl is years away from her first training bra yet well-versed in bullet-proof vests. It’s also troubling how her action sequences as supremely stylized, complete with feel-good soundtrack accompaniments (an edgy “Banana Splits” theme song and “Bad Reputation” cover), ability to dodge bullets by merely ducking and overall video-game quality to her gun battles.
All that said, there are parts of my comic-book-loving core that really enjoyed bursts of adrenaline that punctuate this film, but in its attempt to be everything to everyone, “Kick-Ass” fails to live up to its title, and is merely half-assed.