It’s sometimes appropriate to explain my choice of films from the back catalogue. In this case, I’m motivated to look back for two reasons. The first is that I almost paid to see this when it did the circuit. Wherever possible, I go to see the films with my wife and am therefore constrained to avoid films that are, by her standards, gratuitously violent. The second reason is the news that a sequel is on its way. The trailer is already out and I was curious to see what I missed and thereby gain some insight into how well the sequel may fare. Kick-Ass (2010) is a beautifully subversive film about “superheroes”. I mean, if you think about it, there are all these millions of people around the world who read the comic books. They are dyed-in-the-wool fans of Superthis or Incrediblethat or Fantasticwho, yet no-one ever tries it in the real world. Ah well, that’s not actually true, is it? For a while, children used to jump off furniture pretending they could fly like Superman. Boy did they ever have a surprise coming to them when they woke up in hospital with broken limbs and concussion. Indeed, so serious did this problem become that television shows used to start off with a warning that no-one at home should attempt anything even vaguely heroic. It says a great deal about the gullibility of the young that such warnings should be deemed necessary. But back to this film (which does not have any warnings up front).
It’s making the point that most people are too afraid to intervene when they see criminals at work. Ask yourself honestly. If you were walking down a street and came across a mugging, would you remonstrate with the knife-wielding thief taking the cellphone from the wimp, or would you immediately turn around and walk the other way? Yes, self-preservation is one of these basic human instincts and no-one should think any differently unless they put on the uniform of a police officer or are authorised by the government to carry concealed weaponry of great power that can terminate anyone with extreme prejudice just by twitching a finger. Ah, wait, there’s the uniform thing. All superheroes have uniforms and not all of them have superpowers. Batman has gadgets, Green Arrow has a bow, Black Widow fights rather well with her bare hands, and so on. Police officers have their batons, tasers and guns. Even high school kids with no brains could put on a uniform and become a hero.
Yeh, like that’s ever going to happen!
So this kid, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) buys a uniform and practises not climbing tall buildings or jumping across the gap between those buildings. He knows the line between fantasy and the real world cannot easily be crossed. In his first outing to prevent the theft of a car, he also discovers a knife can deliver a painful wound to the stomach and that standing in the middle of the road can get you hospitalised when a car hits you. Some lessons have to be learned, but the aftermath of the injuries is quite a lot of metal reinforcing his bones and fairly extensive damage to his nerve endings so he doesn’t feel the pain (as much). When he comes out of hospital, one of the girls in school Katie Deauxma (Lyndsy Fonseca) befriends him (and not for the obvious reason). This partially restores his self-confidence so, when he next takes on three experienced gang members, he’s like one of these punching bags with a round bottom. Every time he gets hit, he bounces back and whacks them with his batons. This being the cellphone camera era, ten or so innocent bystanders video this heroic losing performance. He’s still fundamentally incompetent as a fighter, but he’s become a star of the internet. He calls himself Kick-Ass.
In another part of town, a loving father, Damon Macready aka Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage), teaches his daughter Mindy Macready aka Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), basic survival skills and a real life criminal, Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), worries that someone is interfering with his business. His only problem is where to find good help because his henchpersons are not overendowed in the brain department. So here comes the crunch. This film is a very clever juxtaposition between real menace and innocent make-believe. Next to our hero, even local petty criminals are lethal. Step up the level and the drug syndicate kingpin and his henchpeople are serious criminals who let nothing stand in their way. They have bought police protection and, some years ago, they framed a young police officer, Damon Macready, as a drug dealer and had him locked up. He’s emerged as a Batmanlike vigilante and his sole purpose in life is to bring down the D’Amico gang. He and his daughter are coldblooded killers and are slowly working their way through the lower reaches of the criminal empire, eliminating dealers and taking their product and money. By accident, Kick-Ass finds himself caught between the two opposing forces (not counting the corrupt and not corrupt police officers). This is not the right place for a young boy to find himself. But the kingpin sends a message when he kills a Kick-Ass wannabe. Whether it’s the original idiot or a fannish impersonator, every Kick-Ass found on the streets is fair game. When Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the kingpin’s son, calls himself Red Mist and pretends to be a crime fighter to lure out Kick-Ass, life gets complicated.
This film very cleverly plays the superhero game with one important variation. The babygirl Mindy can kill almost everyone she meets. This breaks the usual convention because children are not supposed to be vicious killers (or to swear quite so fluently). Our wimpy hero must balance two competing fantasies: to bed the most desirable girl in the school and to live to enjoy the girl, something he’s likely to find challenging if he continues to act the part of Kick-Ass. So he tries to retire, but discovers that with no power comes the responsibility to make up for past mistakes. Matthew Vaughn who shares the scriptwriting with Jane Goldman has struck a very delicate balance between a comic book superhero film and straight satire. The result takes itself very seriously and is all the more enjoyable for not mocking or overtly sending up the genre conventions. Aaron Taylor-Johnson walks a fine line between incredible naïveté and a stubborn determination not to embarrass himself (too much). His performance holds the film together. Surprisingly, Nicholas Cage manages to be a sympathetic character, leaving it to Mark Strong to do the villain with considerable style. Kick-Ass is great fun which may suggest the sequel may be worth seeing even though Chloë Grace Moretz is all grown up now and the shock value of her role as Hit Girl is lost.