“Kick-Ass” revels in its transgressive, nasty brutishness, and its audience will, too.
Of course, it’s one thing to have a 11-year-old girl in a comic book use very strong language and kill lots of people and it is another thing in a live-action movie, when the character is played by an actual 12-year-old. So let me say up front that I object to the rules allowing a child actor to perform this kind of role. If there are words an adult could be arrested for saying to a child, a child should not be permitted to say them on screen. Director Matthew Vaughn says that it is hypocritical for people to complain about the language used by a young girl, but not the violence. Well, first, I am complaining about the violence; I do not think children should be permitted to film graphic violent scenes whether they are the perpetrator or the victim (this movie has both). And second, the violence is fake but the language is real, so it is fair to take that seriously. So, for the record, to the extent I endorse this film, I want to be clear that I object to the involvement of a then-12-year-old in making it.
The problem is that it is getting harder and harder to find anything that is shocking or disturbing and having a child use bad language — in this case some crude sexual terms that are arguably misogynistic — and shoot bad guys in the face is one of the few remaining ways to provoke that delicious boundary-defying sensation. And — reservations aside — it works. Seeing Hit Girl, well, kick ass to the kicked-up-a-notch cartoon theme from the “Banana Splits” and then to Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” is a tonic. And there is something undeniably heady about seeing a vulnerable young girl mow down the bad guys — like “Home Alone” on crack.
“Kick-Ass” is a knowing tweak on the comic book genre. Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a comics-loving high school student who dreams of being a superhero, but, as he says, “My only super-power was being invisible to girls.” Undaunted, he orders a diving suit, turns it into a uniform, and re-creates himself as Kick-Ass, defender of justice. And then he gets beat up, stabbed, and sent to the hospital. No radioactive spider-bites or gamma rays, but he does come out of the hospital with two helpful results from his injuries — nerve damage that lessens his ability to feel pain and some metal plates in his bones that make his x-ray look — at least to him — like Wolverine’s.
Meanwhile, a former cop (Nicolas Cage) is raising his young daughter to be a killing machine, a pint-sized Kill Bill he calls Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz). His superhero persona is Big Daddy and his uniform is reminiscent of both Batman and Night Hawk. What they don’t have in superpowers they have in training, equipment, very, very heavy artillery, and single-minded focus.
Director Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, “Layer Cake”) has a great eye and knows how to stage stylish, striking action scenes. Moretz (500 Days of Summer and Diary of a Wimpy Kid) has a great deadpan delivery and a natural chemistry with Cage, whose witty, skewed take is slyly funny.
The superhero genre has always been about transformation — the mild-mannered loser who contains within him (if only everyone knew!) a secret source of power. Here, the power is not x-ray vision or the ability to fly; just an extra dose of the hallmarks of adolescence: an affect of ennui about everything but smashing through limits and a sense of irony about everything but sex.
Parents should know that this film is intended to be shocking. It has very graphic and intense, though stylized, violence, characters in peril, injured and killed, constant very strong and crude language, vulgar and explicit sexual references and situations, and drug use. Note that a large part of this movie’s transgressive thrill comes from the depiction of a young girl using outrageously bad language and being involved in brutal violence, killing many adults and being hit and injured.
If you like this, try: the Kill Bill movies, Shoot ‘Em Up, and the Kick-Ass comic book