With Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Chloë Grace Moretz. Rated R for strong brutal violence throughout, pervasive language, sexual content, nudity and some drug use – some involving children. 117 minutes.
There are movies filled with foul language and violence that are simply trash. They may be stylish trash, but that’s like admiring the design of a garbage can. Then there are movies that deliver the goods for the action crowd, but manage to be something more. Such is the case with KICK-ASS, a movie already controversial for having a pre-teen girl swear like a longshoreman, and with enough violence for a Quentin Tarantino curated film festival.
Based on the comic book series by John Romita Jr. and “Wanted” creator Mark Millar, “Kick-Ass” asks a simple question: given the popularity of superhero comic books, why don’t we see costumed crime fighters in real life? The lack of actual super powers isn’t a drawback for Batman, so where are the masked fighters for justice? Geeky teen Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) decides to rectify the situation by donning a costume (actually a deep sea diving outfit) and becoming Kick-Ass, fighter for truth, justice and… well, you know the rest. In his first outing he nearly gets killed, but that doesn’t dissuade him. In fact when he actually fights off a pack of thugs in front of witnesses too busy filming it for YouTube to think of calling 911, Kick-Ass becomes a phenomenon, even inspiring copycats.
It’s the father/daughter team of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) who make things interesting, as they’ve actually trained to use weapons and martial arts with deadly precision. Big Daddy is an ex-cop who blames a local mobster for setting him up and eventually causing the death of his wife, and now he and his little girl are planning on taking the gang down. This ups the ante considerably, and it becomes even more complicated with the arrival of Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who is, in fact, the son of the mobster.
In a way we are in “Watchmen” territory, not in terms of plot and character, but in questioning what sorts of twisted personalities would choose to adopt secret identities and fight crime. In the world of Batman (and Superman and Spider-Man), we get some back story, but the motives of those heroes are pure. Here that’s not the case, with Kick-Ass compensating for the fact that girls have little interest in him and the one who finally befriends him does so because she thinks he’s gay. While Hit Girl provides a strange sort of amusement as we watch a pre-teen slaughter a group of vicious thugs, one has to wonder at the father who would train her in such a fashion (in one scene he shoots at her point blank so she can used to being armored).
“Kick-Ass” fascinates precisely because it works on so many levels. It’s funny, it’s action-packed and, if you’re so inclined, it provides some food for thought. No doubt most of the audience will be there to see Kick-Ass do just that, and the movie certainly provides plenty of over the top action. However by the time we see the thugs beating and torturing two of our heroes – live on the Internet – this becomes a critique of our culture in the way more mundane action films are not.
Don’t tell the people who will line up to see a tween girl kill bad guys, but “Kick-Ass” is a lot smarter than it might look.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.