Kick-Ass introduces itself as a movie that wants to deconstruct super heroes and, by extension, super hero movies. By placing non-super-powered, costumed vigilantes into the real world, it explores, with a dash of humor, the ridiculousness and the dangers inherent in the concept. But even though it gleefully tosses its own thesis out the window quite literally by the final reel, Kick-Ass is no less entertaining for it.
Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), high school comic book fan, one day innocently asks his friends why no one has ever actually put on a costume and gone out to fight crime on the streets. He quickly finds out exactly why not when, after putting on a wetsuit and some common kitchen rubber gloves and anointing himself “Kick-Ass”, he sets out to stop some car thieves and gets knifed and then hit by a car when stumbling in to traffic. But the near death experience doesn’t deter him from venturing out on to the streets again once he gets out of the hospital. On his second attempt at being hero, he manages to do better and some video of his exploits quickly become an internet viral sensation. He soon meets the gun-totting vigilante Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and his young sidekick/daughter, the lethal Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), and is drawn in to their much more deadly crusade against a crime boss (Mark Strong).
Dave/Kick-Ass has no real motivation to put on a suit and fight crime other than his desire to help people. Of course, without any kind of training it does not go well for him. Even as he gets better at it, he still manages to get beaten pretty hard. But where Dave’s character is used to explore the practicality of putting on a costume and patrolling the streets, Big Daddy and Hit Girl are used to see what would happen if it a revenge-driven character like Batman or Punisher actually existed in the real world, and the results aren’t pretty. Some may argue that Christopher Nolan’s two recent Batman films – Batman Begins and The Dark Knight – also explore similar territory, but Nolan’s films still have an element of fantasy about them. Here, though, the approach is done slightly tongue-in-cheek, as evidenced by such things as Cage’s dead on Adam West-impersonation when in his Big Daddy armor. But the point is made just the same.
Although the kid sidekick has been a standard comic book trope for some seven decades now, the way that Kick-Ass looks at them has drawn criticism unseen since the 1950s. But those who have decried the heavy level of violence being meted out by the pint-sized Hit Girl have missed the point that director Matthew Vaughn and comics creators Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., are making. Hit Girl is a critique of those carefree young characters who launch themselves into life-threatening situations with little more than a glib quip. And let’s face it, if Gotham City’s police Commissioner Gordon was more competent, he would have had Batman arrested years ago for child endangerment. Interestingly, this is actually the first comic book film that actually has a young sidekick character, so possibly some are reacting to the satire without a strong grasp of what was being satirized. (For the two Batman films in the 1990s in which Robin did appear, the filmmakers side-stepped the issue by making the Boy Wonder in his late teens/early 20s.) Hit Girl is no more a glamorization of youth-perpetrated violence than Trainspotting is an endorsement of heroin use or Thomas Payne’s “A Modest Proposal” actually encourages cannibalism.
But the film manages a few mis-steps. The character of Hit Girl is so strong compared to the rest of the main cast that she steals the focus away from Kick-Ass much in the same way that Jack Nicholson stole 1989’s Batman away from Michael Keaton. The storyline between Dave and his new found girlfriend seems perfunctory and doesn’t add much to the overall story. Her mistaken belief that he is gay and his refusal to tell her the truth feels like the setup for a punchline that never comes. Had it been excised from the script, it would never have been missed.