Kick-Ass (review)

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Watchmen Babies

Who would win in a fight: Superman or Mighty Mouse? Where did the pocketwatch in Somewhere in Time come from? And why don’t ordinary people decide to be superheroes? These are questions geeks discuss among themselves. They are important questions, meaningful questions, questions the answers to which might reveal deeper truths about the universe.

New York City teenager Dave Lizewski asks this question of his pals: With all the awesome comic books in the world for inspiration, how come no one ever one day just puts on a mask and a cape and fights crime, even if they don’t have superpowers? Clearly, Dave has never read the brilliant graphic novel Watchmen [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.], or seen the less brilliant but still provocative movie adaptation, because that’s the whole story there. Suffice to say that over the course of its tale, Watchmen discovers that widespread vigilante justice doesn’t really work so well for society at large or for the masked crusaders as individuals.
Poor dorky Dave (played by appealing British newcomer Aaron Johnson [he’s had small roles in The Illusionist, Shanghai Knights], sporting a perfect American accent) might be forgiven his lapse, even if the notion of a comic-book geek who has not read Watchmen is akin to a serious thespian who has never heard of that Hamlet dude. But the same cannot be said of Mark Millar (Wanted), who created the Kick-Ass comic book series upon which this is based [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.], screenwriter Jane Goldman (Stardust), or coscreenwriter and director Matthew Vaughn (Stardust). They cannot possibly had been ignorant of the fact that they were riffing on Watchmen, and if they were ignorant of this fact, they shouldn’t have been let anywhere near this material.

Look: This is the movie that features a tiny, cute 11-year-old girl who’s been so warped by her out-for-revenge ex-cop father that she puts on superhero duds, dubs herself Hit Girl, spits out some of the most foulmouthed bile you can imagine (I’m talking C-words… both of them), and then proceeds to kick the living bejeesus out of big tough male adult bad guys, to certain tremendous applause among the geekerati. People not among the geekerati will complain about this. (They’re already doing so in the U.K., where the movie has been open on its home ground for several weeks already.) I don’t have a problem with Hit Girl, per se — in fact, the now 13-year-old Chloë Grace Moretz (Bolt, The Eye) absolutely steals the movie, and is the only reason to see it, to witness the birth of a future megastar. (Her dad is played by Nicolas Cage [Astro Boy, G-Force], who appeared to think that pulling an Adam West impersonation would suffice to make him interesting. It doesn’t.) I do have a problem when the entire point of her character is: “Isn’t it hilarious to hear a little girl swear and see her whale on bad guys, because — heh heh — everyone knows girls don’t do that.” This is somehow meant to be a parody of comic-book conventions, or perhaps it’s sending up the ineffectualness of the male nerds in the audience who dream of greatness but never dare to do anything about achieving it: “Ha ha, a little girl in a little dress is more of a man than you are.” It’s distasteful, and pointless, and insulting to men and boys, women and girls, and superheroes of all stripes.

And I do have a problem when the entire movie zooms right past the very point it appeared it was trying to make in the first place. See, cuz Dave decides he’s gonna be a superhero, even though he has no powers of any kind, except, perhaps, the ability to be sexually aroused by the mere mention of the word “breast” (though that is pretty common among teenaged boys). He mail-orders a groovy green scuba suit, dresses up, knights himself Kick-Ass, and goes out on patrol. He gets the shit beat out of him — and more — on his first attempt at fighting crime, partly because he has no superpowers and partly because he completely lacks any of the attitude or confidence such a role would require. I knew that Kick-Ass was supposed to be a comedy before I went into it, but the early movements of the film range from the pointed and poignant — Dave is a far more realistic teenager than movies usually grant us — to the downright sad: It’s painful to see Dave slumped over in his superhero duds. This is why no one decides to become a superhero: it takes some major mojo the likes of which hardly anyone can muster.

But what’s not-funny in a pathetic sort of way at first turns a corner and becomes not-funny in a different way, as the film simply tosses out its own premise — it does grant Dave a sort of superpower, and it dispenses with the “but we’re not even superpower-free billionaire Bruce Wayne, who can at least buy whatever crime-fighting gadget he wants” objection, too — and becomes a celebration of violence as awesome and revenge as cool. Kick-Ass seemed to misunderstand the deeper appeal of comics, which is about empowerment and justice, not beating the shit out of anyone, and it fails to recognize that comics and superheroes are a lot more sophisticated than what it has to offer. (Even how the film resolves the subplot about Dave’s caped rival, Red Mist, played by the interestingly dorky Christopher Mintz-Plasse [How to Train Your Dragon, Year One], feels old-hat obvious.) Kick-Ass panders to geeks, but it’s a cold, heartless film that doesn’t really understand what drives geekery at all.

Watch Kick-Ass online using LOVEFiLM’s streaming service.

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Wed, Apr 14, 2010 3:04pm

I don’t like the eBay purchase at all; it’s quite a divergence from the comic book.

Der Bruno Stroszek
Der Bruno Stroszek
Wed, Apr 14, 2010 3:15pm

I enjoyed this film, but this is a fair review. Kick-Ass never seems to quite settle on an approach to its subject matter; it wants the kudos of dealing with “real-life superheroes” (though, as MaryAnn points out, it’s doing nothing Alan Moore hasn’t done better) but it’ll happily suspend realism when it wants Hit Girl to slaughter dozens of burly goons three times her size, then turn it back on when it wants you to laugh at Kick-Ass accidentally doing himself a serious injury in the course of his heroics.

That said, I did find the film consistently entertaining in all of its registers: as bloody action film, as slapstick comedy, as genre parody and as teen comedy. Nicolas Cage’s performance is, I think, a lot more than just an Adam West impersonation, not just because he only speaks that way when he’s in his suit: look at his hilariously out-of-place expression of teary optimism when he’s watching his daughter unwrap her birthday present. It’s a really well-judged, incredibly funny performance, the best thing he’s done in years.

The crucial problem is it’s hard to make the case for Millar’s work as subverting anything when his attitude towards his heroes is far less complex than any mainstream superhero title. There’s no real tension between Dave Liszewski and his secret identity, no threat that he might not get the girl or give up crimefighting, because ultimately he’s a wish-fulfilment figure. And there’s nothing wrong with a bit of wish-fulfilment – Hollywood runs on it – but we shouldn’t pretend this movie is any more ‘mature’ than the likes of The Dark Knight or Spider-Man 2 in anything other than its MPAA rating. Still, expect silliness and it’s a thoroughly fun film, IMHO.

C David Dent
Wed, Apr 14, 2010 3:26pm

I knew that Kick-Ass was supposed to be a comedy before I went into it,…

I really isn’t supposed to be a comedy. I realize that it is being marketed that way, and that a lot of people are going to treat it that way. And I am not going to deny that it uses humor to gloss over some of the more uncomfortable realities that it is addressing. But the original graphic series wasn’t a comedy and given the involvement of the creators in this, I’d say that comedy wasn’t their intent.

“Satire” would be the closest label I would apply to Kick-Ass. It satirizes the images we have of heroes in the movies and in comics. It satirizes the powerlessness we feel in a society that seems ill-equipped to handle real crime and violence. It reduces our moral choices to binary (good/evil) and examines the genuinely messy results.

The graphic series was brutal, bloody and crude and from everything I’ve seen and read here it seems as if that has been carried forward. But it was also a breath of fresh-air to read a comic that aired its flaws (and, in fact, celebrated them) rather than ignored them or creatively neutered them.

In fact, as the series progresses, you can see it skew farther and farther from reality…as if it were a dream fantasy of a likely comatose Dave Lizewski after his first failed outing. But it never really acknowledges that possibility, it just barrels ahead.

The characters are deluded optimists (and Nihilists) who sort of shrug in a “why not” response to the madness they are presented with. Those who enjoy that kind of entertainment are perhaps, themselves, deluded into expecting more meaning from the proceedings. And if that’s true, then I’m deluding myself into thinking I’ll like this.

I’m going to see this movie, despite your recommendation because I suspect that I am the sort of fanboy it was made for.

Wed, Apr 14, 2010 4:38pm

I don’t get the particular complaint on Hit Girl. I would agree it’s offensive if the narrative sent the message that the idea of any woman being a crime fighter to greater efficiency than a man is absurd, but it is completely right to sort of cheekily laugh at the absurd premise of an 11 year-old defeating grown adults with weapons in physical combat,particularly one so foul-mouthed and crude, as one (perhaps wrongfully) expects young children, particularly young girls, to be innocent and inoffensive. Then again, Hit-Girl in general sort of annoys me anyway, (not the character so much as her place in the comic), because I feel she makes the entire story’s premise sort of fall apart. I enjoyed her as a conceit, because the rest of the story stayed grounded in the “real-life superheroes would never work” premise by having Kick-Ass remain woefully ineffectual and just incredibly lucky for the most part(though by the end this gets to be less of the case and thus less believable). She was the only glaring bit of exception to this otherwise mostly maintained realism, but it was still a pretty big exception to have to deal with. I don’t know. I’ve only read the comic, so maybe the movie does something to make the idea of Hit-Girl seem more offensive there.

Wed, Apr 14, 2010 4:44pm

I’m not really convinced that Mark Millar understands what satire is, honestly. While I’ll admit to not having read much more by him other than his Wanted comic and now Kick-Ass, it just seems like he’s missing the point.

Satire is intended to make fun of its subject manner in a way which is supposed to illustrate its flaws and provoke change in its subject. Millar seems to desperately want to do satire about comic book heroes, but can’t seem to stop himself from going “They’re lame, but, also, they are so amazingly, freaking, AWESOME and sexy too!” It completely undermines any satire he intended to do.

Actually, it’s almost satire about satire, if such a thing is possible. One could make the argument that he’s trying to tell people that they’re wrong when they’re doing comic book satire, and that the ‘flaws’ being outed are, in fact, benefits in his mind, and should be expounded upon. Also, that there should be more foul language and atypical sexuality in comics as well, ’cause, like, it’s cool.

I don’t buy it, but I guess I’m not the target demographic: I grew up and wanted my comics to grow up with me, I don’t want to return to my childhood.

Wed, Apr 14, 2010 4:54pm

I really isn’t supposed to be a comedy.

Someone should tell Matthew Vaughn that, then.

Wed, Apr 14, 2010 5:23pm

As a long-time comic book geek, I’m not entirely comfortable with how popular Mark Millar has gotten. There are obvious strains of rage and bigotry in his work and they seem to be taken as standard by the geek community. I’m not gonna judge this movie until i see it, but the dude has a mean streak. I’m not expecting this to be a pleasant experience.

Wed, Apr 14, 2010 8:23pm

Terrible review. You mention Christopher Mintz-Plasse and two of his previous movies, but Superbad isn’t one of them? As for bringing up Watchmen as a story about heroes without superpowers, uhh, Dr Manhattan throws that idea out of the window? Kick-ass gets the realism about right, with one or two OTT moments that require suspension of disbelief. Dave doesn’t have any superpowers, he has an extremely high tolerance for pain, which is a very real condition for some people (see Mark ‘Chopper’ Read for an example). I’m fed up with critics that made their mind up about Kickass before they even got to the cinema. You’re doing a great movie an injustice.

Wed, Apr 14, 2010 10:47pm

You mention Christopher Mintz-Plasse and two of his previous movies, but Superbad isn’t one of them?

I always mention the two most recent movies that I’ve reviewed. But because any other method of finding my review of *Superbad* is impossible, here it is. (You’re not gonna like it any more than you like this one, wayne.)

I’m fed up with critics that made their mind up about Kickass before they even got to the cinema.

And what on Earth makes you think I did that?

Wed, Apr 14, 2010 11:05pm

Nathan Fillion loved it.

just sayin’…

Thu, Apr 15, 2010 12:02am

“Kick-Ass seemed to misunderstand the deeper appeal of comics, which is about empowerment and justice, not beating the shit out of anyone, and it fails to recognize that comics and superheroes are a lot more sophisticated than what it has to offer.”
“Kick-Ass panders to geeks, but it’s a cold, heartless film that doesn’t really understand what drives geekery at all.”
That’s Mark Millar in a nutshell. I did, however, like his “American Jesus”. Maybe he should stay away from capes and tights?

Thu, Apr 15, 2010 1:26am

I realize you often have to take one for the team and go to movies you wouldn’t normally choose to see as part of your vocation…but I think you may have missed the point.

I have no idea if Mark Millar read Watchmen, but it’s a pretty safe bet he did. He may just not have liked it, and wanted to riff on the idea of everyman superheroes in his own Looney Tunes way. This is fine. And it’s a fairly safe bet that people who pay $11 to see a movie called Kick-Ass aren’t looking for a nuanced indictment of violence and normative gender roles.

Actually, your review of this movie confused me, because I couldn’t help thinking of Shoot Em Up, which I thought you’d also hate. But then I check out your review of that movie and find out you liked it for all the reasons I liked this movie. And if I wanted to, I could apply your review of this movie to Shoot Em Up, which I felt about how you felt about this movie.

Oh well. Different strokes.

Thu, Apr 15, 2010 1:33am

Also, point of order: I think Hit Girl’s characterization is more meant to be a commentary on the complete inappropriateness of early presentations of superhero sidekicks than a way to emasculate the bad guys (and demean little girls in the process). It makes no more sense for Batman to have a Robin, particularly a ten-year-old Robin in little shorts, than it does for Big Daddy to expose his daughter to such things. By making her a) female and b) foul mouthed (which, by the way, I think was an inversion of the original Robin’s ridiculous wholesomeness in the face of scarring violence) they make that a little clearer. Something similar was done in another graphic novel classic I’m sure you’ve read, The Dark Knight Returns.

Thu, Apr 15, 2010 8:15am

Um, Dave HAS read Watchmen. We SEE that very book in his possession.

And in any case, the comparison is meaningless. Kick-Ass isn’t supposed to be a clever deconstruction, it doesn’t genuinely seek to explore “reality”. It’s just a stylized action comedy. Whether you think it ends up betraying its premise or not, you can’t blame it for not being serious when it was never meant to be.

Thu, Apr 15, 2010 9:56am

Intersting review. I suspect a minority opinion, but certainly it is probably a fairly good sized minority that agrees with you on many of your dislikes.

You are definitely a bit confused in your point about Dave not reading Watchmen. Dave is a character in a movie, and he wonders why “real people” don’t put on superhero costumes. (1) If he had read or watched Watchmen, they would not be “real people” to him. They would be fictional, despite also being in movies (2) if you actually read or paid attention, the heroes of Watchmen are all either extremely well trained & athletically/intellectually gifted a la Batman, have superpowers, or use technology/weapons & law enforcement training.

I know that “Watchmen” is sometimes used these days as shorthand for more “alternative, reality based superhero universe”, but it’s just one of the first and best explorations into post-modern superhero worlds. It’s very popular among comic book readers of a certain age group (30s on up) but despite the recent movie, the book is decades old, drawn in a very un-modern style that doesn’t appeal to younger audiences, many comic book high school geeks have certainly not read it.

Jason M.
Jason M.
Thu, Apr 15, 2010 12:30pm

MaryAnn’s Watchmen comparison baffled me, too, Dcartist. To Dave, the Watchmen would be just another comic book band of heroes, like the Avengers or the JLA. Dave would think “Why hasn’t anyone put ever put on a costume, like Batman or Nite Owl, and kicked some fucking ass? That would be so kick-ass!”

But I think the point MaryAnn is trying to make is that if Dave had actually read and understood Watchmen, he’d come the the conclusion “that widespread vigilante justice doesn’t really work so well for society at large or for the masked crusaders as individuals.” Watchmen is a cautionary tale, but it doesn’t work if you believe it’s merely a badass comic book, as Dave might. I don’t know how “real” it is, but on the Watchmen DVD, there’s a special feature about real masked vigilantes trying to protect their neighborhoods, and the law enforcement expert interviewed is probably right about the Rorschach-wannabes likely getting themselves killed one day.

Thu, Apr 15, 2010 1:04pm

I realize you often have to take one for the team and go to movies you wouldn’t normally choose to see as part of your vocation…but I think you may have missed the point.

Wouldn’t normally see?! I love comic book movies! I love geek movies! A movie like this is right at the top of the list of “the kinds of movies I love”… but I want them to be done right. I don’t think this one is, unless it means to celebrate violence and vigilantism. And if that’s the case, then it doesn’t understand comics, which have gone way beyond such base urges to explore *why* violence is not cool *in itself* and why vigilantism — that is, violence as a means to an end — does not work the way we might like to think it will. *Kick-Ass* might have been amusing before *Watchmen,* before *The Dark Knight,* in the early 80s, as a direct reaction to Adam West’s Batman and the idiocy of Robin. But it doesn’t work today.

If Dave has read *Watchmen,* he clearly has not understood it, whether he “just a character” or not. And there simply is no basis for suggesting that Millar or Vaughn intend for Dave’s story to be some sort of cautionary tale about being *too much* of a comic book geek that you don’t see the forest for the trees. It seems as if they have made a movie to appeal to the unthinking geek, the one who, whether he/she has read *Watchmen* or not, cannot see past the whiz-bang awesomeness of caped avengers to wonder what impact superheroes would have. We all know that the base level of thinking on this stuff has gone way beyond what we see in this movie. Why don’t the filmmakers?

I, personally, as a fan of these kinds of stories — and as someone who doesn’t look at them in a vacuum but finds them interesting precisely because they can offer intriguing commentary on the real world — find that insulting. If you don’t want to, fine. But I don’t like being talked down to.

It’s just a stylized action comedy.

I don’t understand this comment. Even a movie that is “just” a stylized action comedy has to have a basis for its humor, unless it intends to be merely Three Stooges-esque. Outrageous violence and vulgarity have to have a reason beyond themselves if they’re going to be funny — at least for me. (See my reviews of Crank: High Voltage and, as someone mentioned above, Shoot ‘Em Up. There’s nothing comparable in Kick-Ass.)

I wonder how many of those of are commenting here about how I’ve apparently misunderstood the film are responding out of their knowledge about the graphic novel, and haven’t even seen the film yet… Because I’m reviewing the film, not the book.

Thu, Apr 15, 2010 1:12pm

and becomes a celebration of violence as awesome and revenge as cool.

Let’s be fair, there are a lot of comic fans who are into comics just for that. Thing is, the movie starts off with an injection of reality to people trying to be a masked vigilante. My concern is that after going into a glorification of comic book violence afterwards, it never has the guts to turn around and treat that glorification with the same level of realistic scrutiny about the consequences.

I got into an argument at one point with a co-worker at the studio where he said society really needed a real-life Batman or Punisher. I had to remind him that in reality vigilante justice is the Klu Klux Klan, not Captain America. The Watchmen is one of the few comics that seemed to actually _get_ that.

Thu, Apr 15, 2010 3:13pm

I have to disagree on this one. I really enjoyed Kick-Ass – the absurdity, the characters, the extreme violence and bad language. So many comic-book movies recently have been sanitized, or moralizing, telling us ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. I found the deliberate exploding of these conventions exhilirating. Including the conventions surrounding the age and gender of the people involved.

In the real world, unfortunately, with great power comes great corruption – whether that’s running a police force or a crime gang or even being a parent. And most people turn a blind eye.

I’m always bemused that so many films feature bloodless violence and inoffensive language – if you’re prepared to kill someone you’re surely prepared to call them a c**t.

Thu, Apr 15, 2010 3:44pm

I think you’re probably giving Watchmen a bit more credit than it deserves by referencing it repeatedly. It doesn’t really demonstrate (at least not during it’s main plot) that masked vigilantes are bad, in fact the only real superhero leaving Earth is the inciting incident for the main story. It’s an immature and ultimately pretty nihilistic piece of work – both traits I’m sure you would stick on Kick-Ass. The plotting is simply godawful: the villain’s whole plan is something that would not achieve what the story expects us to believe it would achieve, and as a result any claim it makes a statement about human nature is totally negated.

The difference, of course, is that Kick-Ass realises that nothing about superhero comics will ever be mature in the same way that, say, Dostoyevski is mature – and is smart enough to build its entertainment around the inherantly immature and Manichean expressions at the heart of the genre while simultaneously mocking them. It’s this two-sided approach I believe you had a problem with, exactly because it was your own attitude to comics that was being satirised. I personally was not – but then I’ve never taken stories where people dress up in costumes and fight crime seriously. I suppose I’ll have to content myself with reading MAUS.

Thu, Apr 15, 2010 4:28pm

May I offer the suggestion that it is language that fails us in talking about this movie?

This is definitely not a satire, the closest thing would be a love letter.

But there really is no word to associate Kick Ass to a subject and or style.

So I´ll take a crack, at the very least, at the concept.

It’s a story, plain and simple, being told in a pastiche of styles that range from Quentin Tarantino’s hyper violent, foul mouthed delivery, to the most pure comic book traditions, like the double spread page, where no story is going on at all and the characters are merely posing, which is a valid storytelling device in comic books.

The story is told at a very “gut feeling” level, and thus not dependent on things like, plot or subtext.

If anything, the subtext are the feelings elicited by the viewer, if you read any further in, you might just miss the point.

This isn’t to say that Maryann’s review is invalid, I, however, do not feel bad about agreeing with this review and actually enjoying the material.

Thu, Apr 15, 2010 8:02pm

I haven’t seen it yet, so won’t comment on the movie at all, but I’m surprised at Maryann’s statement that comics aren’t about revenge and vigilanteism. Ummm, YES, *many* of them are, and they are quite successful at it. Being a huge Punisher fan I’m biased, but let’s look at all the violent vigilante titles that have sold quite well: The Punisher, Wolverine, Deadpool, Conan, Deathlok, Robocop, The Hulk, Preacher, Spawn, and Ultra just to name a few. And look at popular cult movies like The Boondock Saints. We have a want and need to see bad people get killed in horrible and awesome ways. Comics have been selling that to us for a long time.

Thu, Apr 15, 2010 11:47pm

We have a want and need to see bad people get killed in horrible and awesome ways. Comics have been selling that to us for a long time.

“We” have a “want and need” to see graphic, proto-fascist, vigilante violence in comics and movies in the same way that “we” have a “want and need” to eat a super-sized Double Quarter Pounder combo. And that analogy holds both for the causes of such a “want” and for the likely results of giving into it.

Fri, Apr 16, 2010 7:07am

The Punisher, Wolverine, Deadpool, Conan, Deathlok, Robocop, The Hulk, Preacher, Spawn, and Ultra just to name a few.

But the *good* ones aren’t *just* about violence and revenge — they comment on the wages of violence and revenge. A smart story understands that while there are undeniable human impulses toward violence and revenge, giving in to those impulses is rarely a good thing. A juvenile approach to the subject results in a movie like *Kick-Ass,* which might get the “good” guys beaten and bloodied, but ends up with them mostly triumphant and having learned the lesson that not only are violence and revenge a helluva lotta fun, they also work.

And look at popular cult movies like The Boondock Saints.

Yeah, well, I fuckin’ *hate* those movies, too, and for the much the same reasons I hate *Kick-Ass.*

Kick-Ass realises that nothing about superhero comics will ever be mature

I think that’s unfair to comics and what the medium is capable of. That’s the pandering I was talking about. With a modicum of real creativity and insight, this could have been just as “kick-ass” a movie while also not being insulting and heartless. But it doesn’t even work on the terms it sets out for itself (like removing superpowers and tons of money from the caped avenger’s toolbox). I’m not offended by a little girl with a foul mouth — I’m not offended by her violence, or even by her getting beaten up. But I am offended when a movie treats me like I’m stupid.

Fri, Apr 16, 2010 8:07am

With all due respect MaryAnn, I think some of your criticisms are falling into the ‘but it’s not what I wanted it to be’ category, rather than taking it as it is.

I especially don’t think it did treat the audience like they are stupid. It’s just not interested in the cerebral exploration of issues a la Watchmen, but the adrenaline-fuelled enjoyment of them a la Shoot Em Up. Which I also enjoyed, by the way.

It does involve a pastiche of the genre it sits in, but it is a very affectionate pastiche. It’s winking at the audience, not lecturing it.

Fri, Apr 16, 2010 9:45am

I go my whole life without encountering slight young female protagonists who fight people whom they call “cunts,” and then in Dragon Tattoo and this review of Kick-Ass I get two of them in the same week. Go figure.

Hope the trend dies at that, would be nice to have at least one word that avoids cinematic overuse and thus retains its power to shock.

Fri, Apr 16, 2010 2:12pm

I go my whole life without encountering slight young female protagonists who fight people whom they call “cunts,”

Really? Hmm…well, none that I know are actually 11, but, still, maybe you should get out more? Or maybe I just hang with the wrong crowd.

Fri, Apr 16, 2010 4:48pm

Being a fan of the book, but certainly not a fan of Millar himself, reading your review has made me question my desire to see this movie. The book in my mind is a rather clever look at comics and the different approaches taken by superheroes fighting crime through different eras of American history as well as the tragic effect being a “real life” superhero would have on your life.

Dave will not kill in the book and is actually horrified by the violent actions of Hit-Girl and Big Daddy. Leading Hit-Girl to criticize Dave by asking him if this is “the Silver Age.” (A time when comics were heavily censored by the comics code.) Even when presented with an opportunity near the end of the book to kill a mobster who is killing Hit-Girl he chooses instead to wound the man and not kill him. This, coupled with the changes in Big Daddy’s motivations in the movie, seem to have muddled the point of the book.(At least what I perceived to be the point of the book.)

Hit-Girl’s and Big Daddy’s methods, Hit-Girl’s loss of innocence and her tattered life are all tragedies and are dealt with very nicely at the end of the story. Kick Ass’ refusal to kill but his desire to fight criminals who would kill him without a second thought, his desire to do right by doing no wrong is very noble and the horribly tragic and pathetic effects it has on his life make him even more of a heroic character.

By making the film an “action comedy”, by giving Dave a happy ending, having him kill and changing the motivations of one of the key characters the tragedy inherent in “real life” superheroes is lost. Hit-Girl is not a little girl who’s childhood was torn from her by her father’s insanity. She is a vengeful and justified hero. Kick Ass is not a dweeby kid with a heart of gold and an unswerving devotion to morality and charity (albeit highly misguided, deluded and tragically ineffectual). He is a teen who gains confidence and the girl of his dreams through violence and murder.

Perhaps I am giving the comic too much credit, I don’t know. Perhaps I am giving Millar too much credit, after all Wanted the comic was a nihilistic, vile and horrifying read.

dougie F.
dougie F.
Fri, Apr 16, 2010 5:15pm

As someone who considers comics a valid artform and longs to see more cartoonists use it as a platform for telling deeper stories about complex ideas, watching Kickass was like watching a minstrel show. And seeing the fanboy community applaud what basically amounts to a showcase of their creepiest and most childishly vapid sensibilities is just downright embarrassing. This movie is about nothing but watching things go boom and people go splat. All the postmodern self-awareness in the world doesn’t change that. It’s just a dumb movie.

Fri, Apr 16, 2010 5:42pm

I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this more MaryAnn, but I don’t think you’re wrong about it generally. It is having a bet each way with pretty awkward results a lot of the time. After a certain point it’s as if two completely different films are running concurrently

tachin1 put it pretty well, I think. Others throwing around words like mashup and pastiche are getting close to what’s going on as well. It’s part of a writing trend that mixes and matches elements and tones almost at convenience.

It’s probably not a good trend but unlike mercenary, post modern horrors like Transformers I managed to find some heart there. At a, dare I say it, meta level there’s a teenage geeky enthusiasm to the ‘chuck it all in’ mixture of earnestness and ridiculousness. I think that’s what I found endearing even though the mixture is pretty uneasy.

It also feels refeshingly unrestrained, not overly massaged and focus-grouped. That joi de vivre helps it rise above the fact it hasn’t been that well thought through as a parody or satire.

The girls other than Hit Girl were pretty disappointing too, being flat ‘girl on a pedestal’ ‘and friend’. It would have been more interesting if that had been a bit more down to earth (I was hoping she’d throw him out at the big reveal). But that’s to be expected from the teenaged mishmash I’m talking about above. I agree all of this produces missed opportunities by the truckload; about comics, people, vigilantism, violence, m&f relationships. But I was entertained all the same.

Fri, Apr 16, 2010 8:06pm

[quote]I think that’s unfair to comics and what the medium is capable of.[/quote]I notice you cut out the part of my comment where I wrote “…like Dostoyevski is mature”. That’s a pity, as it was essential to the point I was making. You’re also pretending I was referring to comics as a form and not the superhero genre. Please don’t do that.
[quote]With a modicum of real creativity and insight, this could have been just as “kick-ass” a movie while also not being insulting and heartless.[/quote]No, because the instant you make a story about people dressing in silly costumes fighting crime you distance it from reality: everything about it becomes less relevant to the world as it exists. Serious themes in superhero comics are tacked onto a backdrop that is inherantly juvenile and founded in wish-fulfillment. What makes Kick-Ass special is that it understands that about itself.

This is the point of Hit-Girl. She’s the real face of the superhero as it exists in comics: a child who has disproportionate abilities to enofrce attrition upon those deemed immoral by the audience. Thankfully this movie was smart enough to make it’s satire entertaining unlike that more self-serious deconstructionalist superhero comic, which panders to comic dork’s desire to treat the genre as Serious Business.

It’s also the point of the Youtube fame and the broadcast later: that’s how the vicarious enjoyment of violence actually works.

The reason it registered as heartless for you is precisely because it did not ‘pander’ to your expectations for the genre. The bad guys got to be funny as well as scary. None of the characters ever got a chance to gaze into their navels Peter-Parker style without being mocked for it. There was no sentimentality about ‘justice’ or ’empowerment’ in the context of characters with superpowers they acquired by random chance. The violation of it’s own ‘rules’ was the whole point.

This was a genuinely subversive treat. It says absolutely everything that needs to be said about the superhero genre that the subversion started by applying realism to the setting instead of by treating realism like comedy ala Dr. Strangelove.

Fri, Apr 16, 2010 9:21pm

I don’t see anything subversive about *Kick-Ass.* I didn’t find the bad guys funny. I don’t think the notion of justice is sentimental. And I don’t think superheroes are inescapably juvenile.

I understand that those who cannot see greater possibilities in the superhero story, who think tht superhero stories *must* be empty expressions of the most simplistic, unthinking urges toward violence, think *Kick-Ass* is the ultimate superhero movie. But I want more from superhero stories, and I do not accept that they cannot be more. *Kick-Ass,* as you defend it, Doug, is about acceding to the lowest, basest possibility. If you’re happy with that, I’m glad for you. But I’m not.

Sat, Apr 17, 2010 1:46am

Having just seen the movie, I felt like commenting on this:

But what’s not-funny in a pathetic sort of way at first turns a corner and becomes not-funny in a different way, as the film simply tosses out its own premise — it does grant Dave a sort of superpower, and it dispenses with the “but we’re not even superpower-free billionaire Bruce Wayne, who can at least buy whatever crime-fighting gadget he wants” objection, too — and becomes a celebration of violence as awesome and revenge as cool.

To me the climax with the “superpower” as you call it was more just protecting Hit-Girl rather than a celebration of violence.


We see bits of Dave struggling with the superhero life throughout, and he does immediately dispose with the Kick-Ass identity at the end of the film. He didn’t kill Frank out of revenge, he killed him because he was about to shoot Hit Girl dead.


I don’t know if everyone else in the audience will see it the same way, but personally I thought Kick-Ass and Hit Girl were very well developed as characters and I didn’t find anything illogical about their motivations in the second half.

Sat, Apr 17, 2010 3:16am

Not to be a dick, but I don’t get it. You say you want more from superhero stories, but you gave that piece of junk X-Men Origins: Wolverine a pass (a “see it” if I remember correctly).

Why should it fall to a movie called Kick-Ass to be the new Watchmen (the original comic isn’t deep. It’s just a crazy romp)?

It’s almost as if it’s only cool to like a superhero film when the fanboys are pissed about it. When they’re actually excited about a comic adaptation, then the lectures start…

The irony being, I agree with your statement about how deep superhero stories can be.

Robert M.
Robert M.
Sat, Apr 17, 2010 12:27pm

I’ll take a pass at this one, Saladinho: it falls to Kick-Ass to “be the new Watchmen” because that’s the subtext behind the premise.

Kick-Ass is in Watchmen’s house, wandering around looking at the furniture and the paintings. Moore entered the space between superheroes and regular people and then played with the boundaries; Millar goes into the same space, and like an eleven-year-old boy he comes out with “wouldn’t that be totally awesome?!

In fact, I’d say the problem with Kick-Ass extends through all of Millar’s work: he wants to explore weighty themes, and keeps coming back to good and evil and justice and what-if… and then he turns whatever half-uncovered nugget he manages to find into a fetishistic celebration of violence for violence’s sake.

Sat, Apr 17, 2010 1:38pm

Saw the film yesterday with a friend, and we both agreed the film was good, but that it raised moral issues that it couldn’t resolve.

The overall morality of the tale itself: was it right for a framed cop to seek vengeance (sure) using his own daughter as a trained weapon (uh maybe not)? While Kick-Ass spoke early on that it was better to fight even for someone you didn’t know than to just stand on the sidelines and do nothing, what in the end did he truly accomplish (do we see other ‘heroes’ other than Big Daddy and Hit-Girl – who already had their own agenda – go about the community trying their hand at fighting or helping others)? And yes, the movie goes out of its way to show how evil and stupid the bad guys are, but doesn’t anyone have to answer for the body count totaled up by the credit roll?

Part of the problem for me was that the movie started off playing by the rules of the Real World (you fight somebody you’re gonna get a shiv to the gut), but by the time Hit-Girl goes on a roaring rampage of revenge any concept of broken ribs or physical exhaustion isn’t even considered.

The film was enjoyable as an escapist fantasy, that is if it tried being a comic book/revenge movie to begin with: on those terms Hit-Girl is probably the coolest awesomest heroine ever. But the movie doesn’t start that way, so the tone of the film is schizoid. The graphic novel that provided the source material was darker, more amoral, but at least attempted to keep the narrative grounded in the ‘real world’.

Oh, and the film should have kept the drug reference in. And the flamethrower.

Sat, Apr 17, 2010 2:53pm

“But I want more from superhero stories, and I do not accept that they cannot be more.”

Thanks for replying. I’ll try one more time.

Even if a superhero story includes grandiose themes (and I agree that some do, you missed my point again), it’s still a superhero story and hence represents an abstract, romanticised view of reality. There is actually no theme a superhero story expresses that hasn’t already been done in a more realistic manner by another genre: the superhero stuff is just there to make the thematic meat more accessible for a particular audience (teenagers and adults such as yourself).

That’s the case even for deconstructions like Watchman. Talking about them like they’re gritty is silly: they’re applicable to real life as metaphors and explorations of theme. This is certainly the absolute limit of Kick-Ass’s achievements, but Kick-Ass doesn’t act like those limits are irrelevant to the experience.

Storytelling isn’t reductive, it’s multiplicative. Kick-Ass for the vast majority of people who view it will work 100% as a superhero movie, as a thematic experience – but also, unlike any other superhero movie, as a send-up of the absurdity of its own genre. I’m sorry that you were turned off enough by the cynical parts that you missed the idealistic parts, but they were there. The trouble is you’ve internalised the conventions to such an extent that going outside them appears to make you uncomfortable.

Sat, Apr 17, 2010 3:06pm

To clear up one last particularly egregious misunderstanding:

“There was no sentimentality about ‘justice’ or ’empowerment’ in the context of characters with superpowers they acquired by random chance.”

^^ re-read what I wrote about justice. See how I’m not saying I think Justice itself is sentimental? I’m saying that when a guy who got superpowers by being bitten by a magic spider soliloquises about Justice and Empowerment, THAT is sentimental. You have to admit, those are problems most IRL New York City beat cops would love to have.

Sat, Apr 17, 2010 5:09pm

Having just gotten back from seeing this, there were choices made to remove certain details and scenes and plot points that I think REALLY detract from it. I don’t think the original is brilliantly subversive or anything, but I think it does it’s job of maintaining and driving home the simple message it sets out with: that anyone who would want to do this in real life has to be an absolutely amoral, insane masochist and they will get their ass kicked. The protagonist does not get a shining moment of greatness on par with what he got in the movie, the violence done to him is far more crippling and severe and his torture is horrific. It isn’t portrayed in a way that is humorous, the entire final act is different, set ups for characters and plot reveals are handled differently (and badly imo, particularly Red Mist and Big Daddy). I think this movie would have been better had it stuck to the source material more, which is a hard thing for me to say, as I hate when people say that.

Sat, Apr 17, 2010 5:19pm

My wife and I enjoyed the film. I understand some of your concerns however I thought your review missed some crucial points. I thought that Nicolas Cage’s role as father played a significant role in the development of the girl. She never went to school so her only role model is her father who is hell bent on getting the culprits. This had to have an impact.

On a separate note, my wife understood the girl and could relate to her. She to lost her mother at a young age and was raised by her father. He was also not adept at raising a child and could understand why the girl is the way she is.

Sat, Apr 17, 2010 7:16pm

I understand why Hit Girl is the way she is. The question is, Is the way she is something cool and something to be celebrated and cheered, or is it something sad and something to be fixed?

I think it’s the latter. The movie thinks it’s the former. Which I don’t think is cool.

Sat, Apr 17, 2010 11:52pm

@Robert M. With regards to your first point, I’m genuinely surprised you’re making that argument. Saying that because Kick-Ass sort of shares a similar premise to Watchmen (and it really doesn’t), it should be expected to pick up the mantle of Watchmen (only to then be judged as not having succeeded at this arbitrarily imposed standard), is akin to expecting a rock guitarist to play in the style of Jimi Hendrix.

Nothing about Kick-Ass pretends to be lofty or literate or deeply meditative about the human condition, the nature of time, the political implications of costumed crimefighters, or even the nature of how these themes and ideas can be explored. It merely asks the question: “What happens if a kid dresses up like a superhero and tries to fight crime?” Answer: “He gets his ass kicked.”

Now, the film may be crap (I’ve read the series and found it good, but not Millar at his best)-I’ll see it tomorrow-but, it just seems like the standard for this film is different than it was for something like Wolverine or even the dumbed down Sherlock Holmes.

Your point about Millar is noted (again, Kick-Ass the series was good–but at times, smug and annoying). However, his work on The Authority, Superman: Red Son, Superman Adventures, and his initial run on Ultimates makes a pretty good defense of him.

Sun, Apr 18, 2010 6:32pm

“Is the way [Hit-Girl] is something cool and something to be celebrated and cheered, or is it something sad and something to be fixed?

I think it’s the latter. The movie thinks it’s the former.”

No, the movie didn’t take sides. They’re both legitimate views of the character that were expressed at different times in the movie (the nay-side was even stated in dialogue on two seperate occasions). As a critic, it’s technically your job to notice this stuff – but as you apparently didn’t I’m glad to help, lol!

Sun, Apr 18, 2010 7:41pm

“As a critic, it’s technically your job to notice this stuff – but as you apparently didn’t I’m glad to help, lol!”

Wow. I hope MAJ snarks at this bit of douchebaggery. It’s pretty much why I read this site.

Mon, Apr 19, 2010 9:54am

Gotta love a good critic.

Between your blog and Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw’s “Zero Punctuation”, I spend about a quarter of what I used to spend on movie tickets and video games.

I already read the comic, the movie sounds skippable. ^_^

Mon, Apr 19, 2010 3:08pm

Wait… what’s the second C word?

Mon, Apr 19, 2010 4:19pm

“Wow. I hope MAJ snarks at this bit of douchebaggery.”

MJ made the claim that the movie had a particular ‘view’ of Hit-Girl even though two of the good guys (Dave and Marcus) on separate occasions state the opposite view. It’s only a movie and everything, but it *was* an oversight.

Mon, Apr 19, 2010 6:11pm

I’d just like to point out a personal pet peeve of mine: a number of people in this thread, including MaryAnn, are conflating “comics” and “superheroes”, as when someone criticized superhero comics for being immature and MaryAnn launched into a defense of comics. And I absolutely agree, comics are one of the most exciting and interesting media around right now…but they’re not all about superheroes. And that *is* a problematic and generally juvenile genre.

I’m not going to utterly dismiss superheroes, of course–there are great superhero movies and comics–but it’s certainly true that the genre was created for kids, and it takes a talented writer indeed to rise above that. The vast majority of “serious” superhero comics these days are just as mindless as Superman’s struggles with red Kryptonite and extra-dimensional imps back in the 50s and 60s, except without the fun and imagination. In their place is angst, bloody violence (seriously, Kick-Ass, the movie, is pretty tame by the standards of a lot of the ‘mainstream’ DC and Marvel books right now, except for the profanity), self-importance, and endless continuity wanking. This is because superhero comic fans–mostly grown men–are desperate to prove that their hobby is “grown up” while still being terrified to move out into other genres that are far more logical sources for mature, intelligent stories.

Which seems to be exactly what this movie was satirizing. Not for nothing is Hit Girl a violent, foul-mouthed assassin in a child’s body. That pretty much summarizes where superhero comics are at right now.

Admittedly, the comic’s writer, Mark Millar, is a monumental jackoff who simply loaded up the comic with snark and cheap, button-pushing tactics. But the movie rose beyond that by finding the genuine humanity in the characters (Nic Cage’s character in the comic was a hateful ass who brainwashed his daughter into being a superhero for no other reason other than he thought it would be “cool”–thus making the themes of refusal-to-grow-up and poisoning childhood even more explicit). The satirical content is aimed at a pretty narrow audience, but it’s undeniably there. This movie understands superhero comics better than any movie ever has.

(And if you want any further proof of this tendency: look at this movie’s exact opposite, Watchmen, which took a sophisticated and intelligent comic and reduced it to empty posturing and fetishized visuals. How MaryAnn can possibly think that movie is better than this one boggles my mind.)

Mon, Apr 19, 2010 9:26pm

I actually liked this film, but I find myself very sympathetic to MaryAnn’s point of view. Any film this witty and genuinely ass-kicking has got my respect (it’s a fuck of a lot better than the previous Millar adaptation, “Wanted”), but yeah, it’s a weird, confused film. Is it satirical? Is it played straight? It’s not either of those things. I have no idea what tone it was actually going for. Usually, things like that bother me a lot more than they did here; I get the feeling that I’m the idiot for liking this.

Tue, Apr 20, 2010 1:04am

Reading all these comments, I find myself tempted to watch the movie someday, just to see if I could fix it. I get that fixin’ feeling from time to time, when I see unfulfilled potential.