When we saw this movie at a Regal in Bellingham, it had been rendered "Kick-A#s" on all the signs and was "Kick-A**" on our tickets. According to the ticket seller, this was a last-minute decision by Regal. For the protection of our precious children, you know.
Roger Ebert, bless him, has called the movie morally reprehensible. On the other hand, he found The Dark Knight a haunted film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing tragedy.
Since I was one of approximately half a dozen people worldwide who found The Dark Knight to be actually rather tedious, I find this contrast interesting. Because my immediate reaction to Kick-Ass was that it was far better than The Dark Knight at addressing the same kind of story and thematic elements. Also, it was funny.
Kick-Ass is essentially two stories: A story about a resolutely average 16-year-old boy who longs to be a superhero in order to bring meaning to his life and also impress girls, and B story about a father-daughter vigilante team who dress up Batman-and-Robin style to eliminate the empire of the drug lord who ruined their lives.
Story A is the narrative framing device, but Story B is the one with the emotional impact. It is, essentially, the Batman story — a driven man without superpowers who is partly heroic, and partly just seriously messed up, out there eliminating the criminal element but also blurring the line between hero and villain. Nicolas Cage plays "Big Daddy" as a truly devoted and loving father… who has also raised his now-11-year-old daughter "Hit Girl" to be a ruthless killing machine, in what could be seen as a particularly elaborate form of child abuse.
I mean, this is a movie where we see a father shoot his daughter point-blank in the chest (yes, she is wearing a bullet-proof vest) in order to teach her what it feels like. So she’ll be ready when it happens in real life. Then they go out for ice cream and bowling.
It’s hilarious, and did I mention, seriously messed up?
One of the things this movie addresses — both comically and seriously — is that, in real life, violence hurts. Yes, it celebrates the giddy cinematic thrills of mayhem, particularly in the scenes where Hit Girl goes to town on the bad guys, but there are moments of a kind of visceral sympathy even for these bad guys.
And they are such very bad guys. Not only ruthless, but also sadistic. Hit Girl and Big Daddy aren’t sadistic. They’re efficient. Like exterminators. And they have to be, because they wade into wasps’ nests of gun-toting underworld types who would, in fact, kill them if given half a chance.
This movie made me realize something about most superhero stories, that the most artificial thing about them is the notion that you could do battle with multiple gun-toting bad guys, and subdue them without killing them all.
The movie ends up feeling like it exposes something uncomfortable about superhero myths: we dream of a clean victory, a pure heroism, that in real life simply cannot exist. Not even if you had superpowers. In real life victories are bloody and messy and painful and sometimes you can’t even tell if they’re really victories.
Unlike The Dark Knight, these ideas are brought out in the story without anybody having a dull and implausibly self-aware conversation about them — which might be why the movie is a bit controversial. You know, without any of the characters explaining the themes in plain language like they’re introducing an English lit paper, how are we supposed to know what to think about when we watch it?
Hit Girl seems to be particularly controversial, more even for her foul mouth than for her incredibly high body count. I find this kind of interesting, because for me her profanity only registered as surprising the first time. I don’t know, maybe most reviewers have never been an 11-year-old girl, and aren’t aware that some girls just, you know, swear?
Even her ruthlessness rang true to me. In case you didn’t know, there is no creature on this earth more cruel than an 11-year-old girl. In fact, she’s redeemed in the story by the fact that she turns that steely sociopathic glare only on murderous thugs.