Saturday, April 17, 2010

Love: Kick-Ass

Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves.  Kick-Ass is now playing in every theater near you.  It's threatening your morals and values, being an affront to your taste level, shaming you when you find it amusing, and attracting the children to its candy colored, high octane, profanity peppered orgy of blood.  It's dividing critics into camps of those patently offended and those reluctantly waving their fanboy freak flags.   And it will most certainly be featured with commentators deriding it as a negative influence and cause of violence in America on some Fox News evening report with a red faced talking head yelling about how outrageous it is and how Hollywood is a contemporary Gomorrah.  More importantly, however, maybe most importantly, as the characters in the film might tell you, Kick-Ass is f#@!*$g awesome, a smartly crafted whirlwind action comedy that skimps on neither part and slams its viewer with ethical questions that have never been more fun to address.  Yes, I belong to the league of disaffected youth who think playing Grand Theft Auto is a blast.  Take my commentary and slant it with that in mind.
Kick-Ass is based on a graphic novel by Mark Millar, a man of some ill repute amongst comic fans and a sure thing if you're searching for a quick, cathartic read that's all id. I've read the graphic novel, and while I'll admit to enjoying it well enough (in part because of its glossy glossy pages and John Romita Jr's illustration style), I have to say, flat out, no questions asked, this is an instance where the movie surpasses the original content in leaps and bounds. There are a lot of similarities, a lot of sticking to the plot, but somewhere in the transition from frame to frame, Kick-Ass came to life and the inherent satire did as well. Trust me, while it may be buried deep within bazookas, batons, and too many blows to the head, there's some lively satirical work being done with the generation in question and the reliance on technology, super ego, and instant gratification. Sure, it's also prodding the action genre itself, but mostly it mocks the notion of internet celebrity, media presence, and (what can be translated as the scariest bit) the way that those growing up in this age of technology perceive violence and mortal combat situations as something that they're equipped to grapple with. These kids are not invincible. So while you, sensitive parent, freak out about a mob boss bloodying an 11- year old weapon master's fragile frame, part of you needs to recognize the importance of the filmmakers exposing her mortality, and the real life danger involved.  I swear to you this isn't a twinkie justification for how much I enjoyed every bit of slicing, dicing, and clobbering in this film. Moving on...
The narrative ins and outs of Kick-Ass are quite simple.  Teenage comic book geek Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) dreams of being a costumed crime fighter.  He wonders why, in an age where everyone wants to be Paris Hilton, no one aspires to be Spider-Man.  He invests in a scuba suit, dons a mask, calls himself Kick Ass, and starts cruising alleyways with noble ambitions.  One thing leads to another, and with a stab wound and a masochistic addiction to his cause, he winds up a celebrity of sorts with a huge MySpace following and a lot of unwanted attention from the likes of a homicidal, well trained vigilante ex-cop called Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and his pre-pubescent assassin daughter Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), who, in pigtails, has a taste for blood and more skill with the blade than anyone Tarantino ever put on screen.  Kick-Ass himself is something of a pathetic figure, he never quite gets past that Peter Parker pre-bite phase.  His success rate is low and he's got the wounds to prove it.  Dave is just a kind of whiny dork lusting after a popular girl who thinks he's her new gay bff, and when he gets himself in hot water and Hit Girl mercilessly fells 8+ people with enthusiasm, he becomes a target for mafioso justice.

Everything you've heard is true, Chloe Grace Moretz is the film's break-out star, and one of the biggest on-screen bad asses you will ever see.  She's a bonafide action hero who plays her part with a balance of snark and sophistication those four times her age still fail to master.  She's a firestorm of uber-feminist girl power wrapped up in a teeny tiny package and topped with an electric purple wig, and because she's just a can-do kid, she manages to shred and eviscerate every absurdly sexualized, Angelina Jolie-vision of female empowerment ever served up in a double barreled popcorn flick.  Every line of dialogue she delivers is a gem, and her enthusiasm during the fight choreography is executed just as well as she pulls off the tragic emotional resonance needed later on.  Meanwhile, Johnson is an abolute charmer and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (as Red Mist) plays a version of McLovin run on pure, genuine, homegrown teen angst.
Director Matthew Vaughn, previously responsible for Layer Cake, also manages a small miracle: he reverses years and years of Nicholas Cage's career.  He does for Cage exactly what Pulp Fiction did for John Travolta.  Between this and Bad Lieutenant, Nicholas Cage has now officially boosted the underground street cred he's been slowly depleting since he refueled with Adaptation.  Apart from that, though, Vaughn guides Kick-Ass deftly through potential pitfalls, plot lags, and ethical dilemmas.  It's a slick mixed bag of mayhem and genuineness that reveals something of the conflicted emotional capacities of its characters even as it keeps you laughing and, if you're the right temperament, eagerly awaiting the next triple loop on the roller coaster.  It mines the dark hearts of teen fantasy and excavates a spit-polished grenade.  I'm not at all ashamed to admit that I found Kick-Ass to be 100% entertaining.  Not at all. 

Of course, I'm for all practical purposes an 'adult'.  A stunted one, sure, but an adult nonetheless.  I understand the concerns that Kick-Ass is a film too dangerously seductive for an 8-year old to possibly lead to anything good.  But then again, I also understand violence, even gratuitous violence, as sometimes necessary for the effective production of a stylized art form.  I also understand the difference between cinema catharsis, and real life idiocy.  I have the processing capabilities nailed down and I grasp that Kick-Ass is simultaneously symptomatic of both positive and negative attributes of our culture & times.  The kids don't.  The irresponsible parents behind me in the theater, for example, with their  <10 daughter, were doing it wrong.  If the kid has to ask "is that guy really dead? Did it hurt?" in the wake of a full-body microwave explosion (far less of a moment than the head in Scanners, btw), congratulations, you're not doing a good job explaining the difference between reality and fiction, and probably should have bought a set of tickets for How to Train Your Dragon.  Here's what I advocate: don't blame the media, there's a market for everything and Kick-Ass is an above average example of young n' dumb, genre bending entertainment.  Instead?  How about beginning to introduce the essential principles of communication theory in elementary school.  Have a class devoted to understanding images. Teach them how to deal with and process the differences between fictitious violence and its real results instead of trying to hide them away or overexpose them.  I mean, that seems like the real no-brainer. 


  1. mergh. i can't imagine this being WORSE than the graphic novel. millar's used up all the good will he earned with red son by now, and i'd like it he just stopped.

    did the movie side-step the pretty unsubtle racism of the book?

  2. I feel like the movie did manage to avoid the race issues that the book had. Or, at least, it became primarily comedy over action and managed to make them totally irrelevant.

    It's a lot of fun. Really, see it for Hit Girl alone.


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