Some people are disturbed by Kick-Ass because it features an 11-year-old girl who swears like a sailor, performs lethal, acrobatic feats of martial arts and casually pins grown men to the wall with steak knives. Needless to say, this is undesirable behavior for a minor, as well as unlikely. (With the exception of the cussing; surely those colorful terms aren’t unknown to middle schoolers with Internet access.)
But, looking just at the plausibility issue, is it any more realistic when a skeletal Angelina Jolie in spike heels takes out bad guys in Wanted? Or, for that matter, when Jason Statham slaughters a whole room full of armed opponents in any movie? At best, we’re inching toward verisimilitude here.
My point is not that no one should be bothered by anything young actress Chloë Moretz appears to do in Kick-Ass. But the movie gives us good reason to ask why we’ve become so accustomed to adults behaving like invulnerable comic-book characters in pretty much every action movie, even those with serious pretensions.
Such questions are actually (if briefly) raised by the plot of Kick-Ass, which was directed by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) based on a comic book by Mark Millar. The premise: A nerdy, horny, put-upon teen, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), decides to become a superhero. Like the ill-fated Batman impersonator in The Dark Knight, he has a costume, some weapons and a will to defeat evil, but no amazing gadgets or superhuman abilities. As his friends point out, this is a bad combination. When Dave tries to confront some thugs, he swiftly suffers a fate that would leave a real person disabled for life.
But that would be a downer. So, at this point, Kick-Ass shifts out of satire mode and into regular old superhero-movie mode. Dave rises from his ordeal with a body full of metal plates — like Wolverine, he notes — and plies his heroic trade in a more successful encounter that turns his alter-ego, Kick-Ass, into a YouTube sensation. In doing so, he runs afoul of a mobster (Mark Strong), whose whiny son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) also harbors a superhero fixation.
Luckily for our hero, help comes in the form of Hit-Girl and Big Daddy (Moretz and Nicolas Cage), a father-daughter team equipped with campy Spandex outfits and a veritable Bat Cave of weapons, who already have the bad guys in their sights.
Bloody mayhem ensues, much of it perpetrated by the tween, whose daddy has lovingly trained to kill. If you saw Moretz in (500) Days of Summer, you’re already familiar with her spookily adult demeanor and two-pack-a-day voice from the scenes where she offered romantic advice to Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Forget Dakota Fanning: This kid is the real heir to Jodie Foster. Not surprisingly, she’s already set to play the immortal vampire child in the American remake of Let the Right One In.
In Millar’s characteristic snarky (and sometimes smarmy) vein, Kick-Ass mocks comic books while reveling in their hyperreal aesthetic. Vaughn punches up the colors — especially reds — and fills the frame with goofy urban details. Musical cues underline the fast, furious absurdity of the action. (A glorious use — or misuse — of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” comes to mind.) The dialogue suggests Mad Magazine movie parodies back when they were relatively quotable.
That’s the movie in a nutshell: It’s a subversive spoof from an adolescent’s perspective, but it’s no Shaun of the Dead — to name a classic of the pop-culture parody genre. As sheer entertainment, Kick-Ass lives up to its name, but any attempt it makes to mean something is half-assed.