You know, I am getting tired of comic book movies. They have been made, remade, hyperstylized, turned into gritty urban nightmares, parodied, and every other item you can think of. What does Kick Ass do? I am not sure. It tries to be a parody ( and was marketed as such) but turns into a sort of John Woo spectacle that we already saw in Wanted.
Let me be clear-the film is funny, the action well done. I did laugh, and I did cheer. I also admired the performances. Sadly, I left the film feeling hollow. It is not that I fundamentally disagreed with anything in Kick Ass. It’s the fact that it does not present ANYTHING for me to fundamentally disagree with or agree with. It just sort of exists.
The film is about Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) who becomes the super hero known as Kick Ass on a whim. At first, he is savagely beaten by bullies, only to be revived in the hospital with dead nerve endings. This makes him slightly more tolerant of pain, creating a sort of super power. He relaunches his career and manages to become an internet sensation without doing anything particularly heroic. Yet this new high profile catches the attention of gangster Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) and his son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who becomes the hero Red Mist in order to lure Kick Ass to Frank. Yes, Red Mist is technically a villain. Also involved are the super heroes Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and his daughter Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) who wish to take revenge against Frank .
Yes, I know this is based on a graphic novel. No, I have not read it. The film should stand on its own. And the film…well, it does not entirely succeed as parody or as an action spectacle. This is mostly because the film so desperately wants to be both. The characters Kick Ass and Red Mist would have worked in order to bring super heroes to the real world. That is, they would not do anything heroic and would merely exist as a publicity stunt. The characters of Big Daddy and Hit Girl would exist as a parody of 1960s style morality in comics combined with the current focus on violence. On their own, both stories could have been very effective as parodies in and of themselves.
But no, the film wants to do both and the result is schizophrenic. I saw one critic in the trailer say the film was a cross between “Superbad and Kill Bill.” This is strangely more accurate than one would think. But think about the implications. Those are two very different films with very different goals. Trying to combine the two would have some wonderful moments. However, the end result would be hopelessly unfocused.
And that is Kick Ass. There are some great moments culled from other place. An Ennio Morricone score shows up, as does some Heat cinematography. And, of the the two stories, I much preferred the Big Daddy/Hit Girl one. There was a lot of potential there to discuss changing morality. Can such a bizarre outlook exist? Can a man really train his daughter to commit more murder and show more glee about it than Alex DeLarge? It was a fascinating question.
And for that matter, if the idea is for these super heroes to exist in real life, why choose such a setting? Maybe it is impossible, by its very nature, to make a realistic setting. Yet that was the entire point behind Kick Ass. I guess no one can make a comic book movie have a realistic setting, even if they show actual landmarks.
I do sound like I have an entirely negative outlook of the film. I do not. It certainly is not dumb (and certainly not unambitious-I still think that trying to use comic book mentality to comment on real violence is a thoughtful idea),there are some genuinely funny moments, and the action sequences are well done. The film also maintains a charming sort of goofiness throughout which is very infectious. I ultimately liked it-I have seen far stupider comic books movies (it is a better movie than Wanted, which tried to do sort of the same thing but never came close to the level of parody present in the comics). I am not entirely happy with the film-it spread itself far too thin. Was it too much to ask the film to be more focused this time around? After all, sequels do exist for a reason.
UPDATE ON 4/15- This section is not an addition to my original review. I have thought about it and still feel that I have painted an accurate picture of the film. This is a response to the review Roger Ebert posted today. Now, I deeply admire Roger Ebert. But I also feel that he ultimately failed in his review-that is to say, he did not look at what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish and to determine whether or not they accomplished their goals. Instead, he merely questioned the morality of the character of Hit Girl and wagged his tongue at seeing such horrendous violence committed by an 11 year old girl. Yes, the character was a very violent one. Yes, she is the reason the movie was rated R. But you know what? I felt that making the character so violent was an effective commentary (like I said) of 1950s comic book morality on modern day urban gang warfare. It is certainly following the trend of young side kicks present in comics for many years. Did Batman ever question the morality of taking the young Robin patrolling? And one of the Robins even ended up killed. Satire forces us to confront with a certain trend that society finds acceptable but that has very disturbing implications. I am sure no one has thought about that trend in comics to include young side kicks. And then Kick Ass shows us exactly what that would be like in a real world setting. It may be disturbing to some (and clearly was disturbing to Roger) but that was the element I found the most effective about the movie. To base a film simply because you find it distasteful-isn’t that the exact opposite of what you are supposed to do? I myself find some of the violence present in movies to be distasteful. The film Ichi the Killer was very distasteful to me. But I did not give it a negative review because I simply had a hard time watching the violence. No, I gave it a negative review because the violence didn’t mean anything. Here, yes, the violence is distasteful. Yes, I can see what you meant. But ultimately, the film worked. By not acknowledging that, Ebert sadly failed in his review. I would also like to point out that he opened his Death at a Funeral review with the following line: ” Oh, I know a lot of Death at a Funeral is in very bad taste. That’s when I laughed the most.” Isn’t that a double standard?