What a strange, stupid little movie. On the one hand, Kick-Ass is a refreshing, invigorating wannabe-superhero story about a charming but mislead young lad who puts on a costume and fights crime for no other reason than to boost his own self-esteem, but quickly finds himself carried away by the rush of vigilantism.
On the other hand, Kick-Ass is also about a father/daughter hit-squad extracting bloody revenge on a vague organization of mobsters for indirectly taking the life of a loved one. Both of these stories are decently told, but they feel like two completely different films, and everything starts to go helplessly awry at about the 41 minute mark as the two threads inevitably and nonsensically overlap, dragging both tales, and subsequently the movie as a whole, down into the gutter.
I want to get some preliminary points across before I start trashing this movie. For starters, it's hilarious. The banter between Dave and his friends is, for the most part, clever and well realized. Nicholas Cage is still the master of delivering casual dialogue in a dry and sardonic way that just causes me to lose it every other time he speaks. ("Oh child, you always know how to knock me for a loop!") The Mob Boss character, while terrifying, also breaks into comedy gold at the most unexpected times, and other screenwriters would do good to learn from Frank D'Amico as an example of how to give a villain depth and psychosis through strategically placed humor.
But there is a very fine line between dark humor and black humor, and Kick-Ass frolics haphazardly over said line on more than one occasion, to the point that it will leave a bad taste in the mouth of anyone who doesn't get a sexual thrill out of hardcore bloodshed (as I hope most of you don't). At first, the violence here is well-placed and logical; After donning his superhero personality "Kick-Ass", Dave gets into some pretty awesome and realistic tussles that often leave him within an inch of life, a detail that I really admired. The best scene in the film has him attempting to rescue a lost cat from the top of a billboard, only to fall into the middle of a beat-down in progress. Without hesitating, he jumps in to protect the victim. "What's wrong with you?" one of the thugs asks. "It's just some guy you don't even know!" Kick-Ass, squatting protectively over the wounded man, responds: "Three assholes... Beating up on one guy... While everyone watches... and you're asking what's wrong with me? Fuck it, I'd rather die!"
After the brilliance and surprisingly bold ethical stance of this scene, the movie just stops making sense. Dave tries to win the affection of this really vapid girl, Katie, from his school. Teenagers never seem to realize that being dumb is the same as treating someone like crap, because when you act stupid it drags down the people who care about you. In this case, Katie assumes Dave is a homosexual based 100% on a rumor, and never even gives him the chance to argue otherwise. What a great companion. This proves to be an interesting dilemma for Dave, as it keeps him from being more than simply a friend to Katie but provides a convenient alibi for his superhero doings... I think? The film never really explains this, instead using the plot-device as justification for a scene where Katie asks Dave to rub tan lotion all over her half-naked body. Cause you know, that's what all girls do with their gay friends, right? It becomes pretty obvious fairly quickly that this whole sequence of events is just another gay-joke dressed up as integral storyline. Shallow, even for the childishly right-wing Mark Millar.
That's just the beginning of Kick-Ass's muddled moral inconsistencies; Dave goes to confront some extortionists (or something, since all the bad guys in the world of Kick-Ass are apparently mobsters and gang-bangers) who scorned his wannabe-girlfriend. When he asks to see "Rasul, which one of you is Rasul?" some girl stands up and says "I'm Rasul, can't you tell by my big titties?" and proceeds to rub her cleavage together, which is distracting and stupid. What was the point of this? I guess the filmmakers were terrified of going five minutes without shoehorning in something "edgy", considering in the next 30 seconds a character called Hit-Girl shows up and murders everyone in the room FOR NO REASON while kiddie-porn music blares over the soundtrack.
This is how Dave meets Damon and Mindy, two ruthless vigilantes out to take down the mob. This is a very clumsily handled way of weaving their stories together, unless you consider a mobster muttering "They took out Rasul!" to be a legitimate explanation for how Kick-Ass becomes the target of organized crime (it's not.) Hit-Girl by herself is a cool concept, but there is no reason for her to be underage. This is another shameless cash-in on modern comic-book movie "edginess" (as well as a complete misinterpretation of what made Leon The Professional a decent movie). It's also a cash-in on a lesson that Batman already learned a few movies back: sometimes, to defeat violent human beings, we have to become violent ourselves, an idea that I disagree with for the most part and a test that Kick-Ass, sadly, fails. From the first moment he encounters Hit-Girl and Big Daddy, the rest of the film should have been about Dave trying to avoid their presence as vigorously as possible and sticking to his own guns instead of real ones. Instead, he embraces their violent lifestyle for no other reason than he is in the wrong place at the wrong time, completely contradicting much of what Dave stood for up to that point in the film.
I can accept Big Daddy training his daughter to be a killing machine, but why did he teach her to curse? In the first five minutes of meeting her character, this 10-year-old is going on about fucks and cocks and cunts. Yeah, no sexualizing happening here! And why train her to begin with? Why wouldn't Damon just seek revenge on his own? Big-Daddy's cop friend is right: he owes her a real childhood. Sure, D'Amico put him in prison, but it was Damon's wife who CHOSE to kill herself in a depressive fit by popping some vicodin. Except for a few over-the-top circumstances, the mobsters in Kick-Ass never hurt anyone but their own people. Why aren't the dynamic duo trying to take down something more menacing, like the Pharmaceutical industry? Again, moral inconsistency.
Unsurprisingly, Kick-Ass and his vigilante acquaintances team up, at which point the film goes on autopilot, leading to an increasingly dire and predictable series of betrayals and shootouts. I liked watching Big Daddy take out the warehouse full of goons, but why did this have to be out of chronological order with the rest of the film? Distracting. These scenes start to fall into the identical formula where a bunch of bad-guys get murdered in increasingly gruesome and far-fetched ways, and the hero runs out of ammo and is about to die when the music crescendos and they are saved at the last second by the other person, who was off camera just long enough for us to forget about them! WHAT ARE THE ODDS? Wash, rinse, repeat. Excitement for 'tards.
Speaking of mental deficiency, Christopher Mintz-Plasse is horribly miscast as D'Amico's power-hungry son. He has some kind of speech-impediment that makes it really hard to focus on what he is saying, and why he hasn't invested some of his Superbad fame in a voice therapist is beyond me. Every time he was on screen I wanted to do a little Ass-Kicking of my own. I also felt a little cheated by the fact that there is no explanation for his call-sign being "Red Mist"; I kept expecting him to do something cool, like TURN SOMEONE INTO A RED MIST, which never happens until the end of the film, and then not by his hand. What was up with him sliding the Mist-Mobile around corners? It only looks cool if you're chasing/running away from someone, not cruising around picking up chicks. For that matter, did we really need that slow-motion shot of Red Mist and Kick-Ass jumping away from an explosion? Hey Vaughn, you spilled some Dukes of Hazzard in my Comic-Book Movie. Dave showing up and saving the day with a chain-gun-mounted jet pack was the final nail in the coffin for me. Really? This is catharsis? Strafing an office Matrix-style and barely killing the bad guys? Check please.
I also could have done without the subtle musical cue when Dave touches Katie's breasts for the first time. 'Cause you know, I almost forgot I was watching a porno. The composers must really like John Murphy, because they rip his tracks off at two integral parts of the film. If you can make it through these scenes without thinking of the superior Sunshine or 28 Days Later, well, then you've probably never seen those films.
I guess I'm being too hard on Kick-Ass. This is a well put-together movie with some occasionally fantastic storytelling. There are few instances of sly social commentary, like the scene where the media stops the live feed of a gruesome torture due to its violent content, so everyone just goes and looks it up on the internet. Big-Daddy plans his hits against the mob by first illustrating them as stylized comic-book characters, and there is a breathtaking sequence where we learn Damon and Mindy's back-story by flipping through his personalized graphic novel, complete with schizophrenic voice-over. The camera flies into and pans around beautifully cell-shaded scenes of carnage and despair. I've honestly never seen anything like it, and hope to see similar storytelling in the future. And as much as I hated the tacked-on romantic subplot, it actually wraps up fairly professionally and honestly. Minor details, like the way Dave and Katie start having consistent and frantic sex once Dave "comes out" of the superhero closet, are realistic and well conceived. There is an especially hot scene where he bangs her on a trash can behind a coffee shop, which is sexy and hilarious. Lastly, the Mob Boss, D'Amico, is a great villain, very creepy, and I felt physically threatened every time he was on screen, despite him ultimately being just another shallow movie Mob Boss.
I just wasn't satisfied with the film as a whole. You start out with a decently paced and written teen-angst revenge flick, then suddenly it's like a bunch of teenagers got drunk and tried to make Crank 3. Style over Substance all the way. What was the point of seeing a man popped-open in an industrial-strength microwave, or another in a trash-compactor? Some of the violence here is graphic to the point of excess, and if Mark Millar and crew were attempting to make a statement about the glorification of violence in our culture, they failed, because it doesn't make sense to condemn brutality while simultaneously forcing your audience to lather in stylized depictions of it.
Kick-Ass is a rare film that is, sadly, not as good as the sum of its parts.