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.