Ten Word or Less Review: A lot of fuss and muss. Kind of a bust.
“Kick-Ass” poses the superhero question as it should’ve been posed long ago. What if some run-of-the-mill slob, in this case a very average teenager, put on a costume and tried to fight crime? No super powers, no alien planet background, no dead parents, no billions of dollars to construct a top notch arsenal of wonderful toys. Just a highly evolved sense determination to see what would happen. The kid doesn’t even take karate. What should and does happen is that he gets his ass kicked by people bigger and stronger than himself. It’s taken two decades of putting actors in leather costumes for someone to get around to the fundamentally ridiculous idea driving all this nonsense and poke it with a stick. The end result is a low-tech, grab bag of comic book movie deconstruction that doesn’t have the fortitude to follow through with its central idea. By the time it’s ended it has abandoned its conceit and embraced the ludicrous nature of its forefathers, possibly because it thought it had no choice in the matter.
Dave (Aaron Johnson) goes to high school, is very unspectacular, hangs out in comic shops with his equally average friends, jerks off a lot, until one day he decides to fight crime. He isn’t insane or mentally challenged or even lonely in any desperate or unique way. Dave sees the villainy in the world, he’s a routine victim of it and he sees the apathy which guides most people. Repulsed by this malaise he’s inspired to take action by becoming the title character. Out of these circumstances he becomes Kick-Ass, a crime fighting vigilante who has a mail ordered costume, an e-mail address, fan sight and becomes a You Tube sensation after someone records his first successful crime intervention on their phone.
Dave’s initial scenes as this alter ego are down to life and true to the idea at hand. Director Matthew Vaughn embraces the no frills, low-budget approach by having Kick-Ass walk around in his silly costume getting weird looks, being beat up by bigger guys, nearly killed on occasion, until he finds accidental success followed by mild stardom. Within its first half “Kick-Ass” has answered its own question. It’s at this point that Vaughn starts to steer his movie into a more typical, if ironically toned, direction. Before long Kick-Ass is wrapped up in a plot involving teenage love, mobsters, betrayal by an insecure, masked bad guy, the introduction of two fellow crime fighters, Hit Girl and Big Daddy, and a progressing sensation that the filmmakers have quickly stretched out their own idea past its use.
Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicholas cage) are the best characters “Kick-Ass” has to offer and at the same time they start to undermine the entire conceit the minute we meet them. If the point of “Kick-Ass” was to propose a scenario where a regular guy puts on a costume, Girl and Daddy come from the very universe the movie portends to hold up as bunk. They’re a costumed vigilante, father-daughter assassination squad who break all rules of reality. Cage and Moretz have wonderful chemistry as this twisted, father-daughter dynamic duo and it seems wrong to criticize their presence, but they’re comic book characters in a film that’s supposed to not be about comic book characters. They belong in their own movie somewhere else. Hit Girl is already the point of numerous debates. A homicidal sociopath at age 12, she dispatches bad guys with gruesome efficiency. It’s hinted at that she may be unaware of her own homicidal nature, but the movie doesn’t care. She’s meant a satirical jab at comic violence. Dozens of nameless baddies die in movies every day and we the audience express zero moral outrage at any of it. So what does it matter if these dime a dozen hooligans are eviscerated by a little girl? If it didn’t matter when Bruce Willis killed them, why does it now? They’re dead all the same. Vaughn clearly relishes the idea and stages his best sequences around Hit Girl’s killing frenzies. She and Big Daddy are great creations, far upstaging the title character, but both are part of the escalating conundrum “Kick-Ass” falls into.
As it reaches its third act, the movie culminates in a wildly overblown action finale and the initial intricacies that launched the movie are shot to little pieces that fall to the floor and wither away. Despite this floundering one thing becomes clear, “Kick-Ass” thinks it had no choice but to evolve into the very thing it pretended to stand against. The sensation that hangs over much of the movie is one of mild indifference. It’s entertaining to an extent and funny in spots, but it can’t shake the vibe of being inconsequential in a very important way. Because Kick-Ass has no well tested motivations for becoming a hero, no journey to complete, nothing much depends on his actions as a central character. He doesn’t progress from the well-intention but dull nerd at the beginning of the story. His only real accomplishment is to achieve a generic sex fantasy with the girl of his dreams. The rickety mob plot that develops around him is driven by cases of mistaken identity and his own clueless nature. It isn’t until late in the film that Kick Ass is aware that evil forces are working against him. Then the overblown stuff sets off and the film buries its premise in bullets and bazookas. In short, Kick-Ass the character is a really thin foundation to build a movie on.
“Kick-Ass” set out with the question “What happens when a regular guy decides to fight crime?” It quickly gives us an answer, “He would get the shit beat out of him and probably die painfully.” But we have to have a whole movie so brazen action histrionics must take hold. It’s a cynical and clichéd ending to a story that had unique possibilities. Vaughn’s final message is that comic book movies have to function in certain ways and making them different is only possible to some extent. The good guy must win, he must get the hot girl, the bad guy must be vanquished in a large explosion, there has to be a sequel implied by the last shot. For all the effort “Kick-Ass” spends trying to be a different kind of comic book movie, it ends just like all the others.