Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Chloe Moretz, Nicolas Cage
UK Release date: 31 March 2010
Certificate: 15 (117 mins)
I still don’t know what to make of Kick-Ass, which can be an awkward position for someone setting out to write a review of it. What was it I saw yesterday afternoon: a clever mish-mash of genres? A commentary on the battleground that is adolescence? Or just another puerile gross-out teen movie? Should I praise its daringness or damn its idiocy? Does it make any difference if the film is knowingly stupid or if it’s just stupid? Reviews elsewhere have been predominately exuberant: the film is anarchic, it’s wild fun, it’s a release from the politically correct world where little girls aren’t meant to say the C- word. Whatever it was, it was an event – something hard not to react to, even if you hadn’t heard what everyone else was saying.
Dave is – as the film’s unflattering opening lays out – an ‘average’ teenager who, in the caste-ridden world that it is Hollywood High, exists in the netherworld between geeks, jocks, gangsters, unreachably pretty girls and comic books. As anyone who knows anything could guess, Dave is frustrated with this life and his mediocre positioning in the great social ladder, and determines to become a superhero by dressing up in a green lycra wetsuit and accosting petty criminals. He ends up taking on the local crimelord in partnership with a father and daughter duo who, despite their lack of magic powers, have infinite funds and combat skills to rival anything the baddies can throw at them.
It’s the daughter, Hit-Girl, who dominates the screen. She’s an 11-year-old character played by a 13-year-old actress who cuts off people’s legs, shoots them in the head and makes her way through the whole Lexicon of Cuss as calmly as if she were reciting the lines to a Gilbert and Sullivan musical. Incidentally, when I was 13, I was reciting the lines to a Gilbert and Sullivan musical; The Pirates of Penzance to be exact, and I can just about remember there being a risqué pun about a donkey. The point being that watching a small girl mouth off obscenities retains the power to shock at least this reviewer and his companion. Teen comedies have of course made their money by stripping away the remaining taboos but there is still something unnerving about having an actress read out a script for a film that she won’t be allowed to watch (in theory at least) for another couple of years.
If Kick-Ass was all just ultra-violence and swearing it would be easy to close your eyes and wish away the next hour and a half. That it isn’t, is partly down to Nicholas Cage’s moustachioed Big Daddy (as my companion pointed out, his stilted delivery is a parody of Christian Bale’s subterranean Batman voice) and partly down to a script that teases us with a wit that it never quite embraces. In the right frame of mind, Dave’s friends reacting to his ‘messed-up nerve endings’ by whacking him with a tray is kind of funny, as is the parody of Spider-Man’s proclamations (‘with no power comes no responsibility’). But then it all degenerates into bazookas and machine guns and gratuitous sex scenes and you realise that you aren’t a teenager and even then, this would have been pretty lame.
If the violence mimics Kill Bill and the characterisation a mixture of Spider-Man and Superbad, then the tone of the film dallies with a Dave Eggers/Wes Anderson view of humans as endearing obsessives who love tenderly, awkwardly. Less pretentiously put, at times the characters become more than tools in a slick set-piece fight. Dave’s fantasies about being a hero are only clichés because I suspect we all engage in them, and as individuals we probably rerun our favourite daydreams endlessly. Most of the man-made images we see each day are trying to convince us that a better life exists on the other side of a commercial transaction. Our consumer culture thus exaggerates the possibilities of what life could be; the result is a clash with the mundanity of what it actually seems to be. It’s easy to see that in such a culture, and without a strong sense of meaning, life can get pretty boring. And not just boring: empty of emotion, of heroism, sacrifice – all the things that Dave seeks in his green-suited alter-ego Kick-Ass. The film almost engages in what it is to intensify the meaning of your life but its self-awareness extends only as far as some knowing references and its maturity can’t rise above that of its characters. That it doesn’t engage in this answers my initial question about what Kick-Ass really is – another silly superhero film whose significance will fade when the next foul-mouthed child kung fu star turns up.
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