Kick Ass (2010, dir. Matthew Vaughn)
Starring Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Chloe Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong
There’s a sort of geek wish deep down in those that read comics that somehow, someway they could don a cape and cowl and fight the criminal element of this world. The superhero idea goes all to the mythological heroes and into figures like King Arthur and Robin Hood to the Three Musketeers and the pulp mystery men and finally into comics. So our protagonist proposes a very legitimate question early on “How come no one has ever tried to be superhero?” It’s obvious that there are plenty of crazy people in this world and it comes as no surprise that there actually *are* people who have tried this. You can check them out at the World Superhero Registry. So how does the hero of our film try to tackle the nuances of masked crime fighting?
Dave is a high school student who is invisible to the opposite sex, but very visible to the bullies and street thugs of his city. After being robbed one to many times, Dave purchases a few essential components and becomes the mystery man known as “Kick Ass”. Kick Ass is immediately sent to the emergency room after his first battle and has steel rods and plates put in him that ironically grant him a certain level of invulnerability. And this is where the film completely goes off the tracks of its premise “What if superheroes were real?” and decides to be no more different than any other comic book flick. The duo of Big Daddy and Hit Girl are introduced, a father-daughter team of armed to the teeth avengers as well as The Red Mist, the son of a local mafia don who suckers his pop into stocking him up. The film goes through a lot of tonal changes and shifts, finally settling into a fairly predictable final battle sequence.
The movie is only shades different than Superhero Movie, a descendant of the Scary Movie parody genre. Whereas that film knew it was a comedy and behaved thusly, Kick Ass seems to want to be aloof and post-modernly ironic, yet still be a “bad ass” super hero movie. I’m not willing to go as far as Roger Ebert in his review, calling the film “morally reprehensible”. After watching the 2006 remake of Hills Have Eyes I think it could serve as a contender for that. I didn’t have a problem with the concept of this young girl, trained to be a super soldier by her father, slaughter masses of mob men on screen.
My problem with the film came from a couple elements that diverged from the comics which actually lent it real world credence. If you know me well, you know that I am not one of those comic book geeks who natters on about minutiae that differs slightly from the source material. I’m a geek who can be reasonable about conceits that have to be made in the process of adaptation. However, the first divergence from the original mini-series that irked me was when Dave reveals he is not truly gay to his love interest, she has mistaken him as such for the majority of the film. In the film, she is unnaturally forgiving and its implied the two have sex, after which they are a couple. In the comic book, she is pissed and eventually has her new boyfriend beat Dave up. That would be the actual real world way the story would play out. So while the film wants to be a wry commentary on the implausibility of superheroes in the real world, through this change it actually invalidated its premise to me.
The second divergence colors the audience’s entire perceptions of a character in a disturbing manner. In the film, Big Daddy was a police officer whose career was ruined by the mob, sending him to prison, while his wife went broke and died on the table giving birth to Hit Girl. Once out of prison, Big Daddy began training Hit Girl. In the comics, Big Daddy raised Hit Girl with this story. In reality, he was a no body, an accountant who had a mid-life crisis and kidnapped his daughter to create this more exciting existence. Once again, the film compromises its original intent for the sake of “superhero-ing” it up. I found the film to be enjoyable, but nothing I would watch again. Because it is too scared to make its characters truly real and give then the downbeat ending that naturally would happen it ultimately fails and ends up being yet another generic comic book movie.