Here’s the thing about Kick-Ass. It’s not just kicking. It’s shooting, and slicing open, and blowing to bits, and popping like a grape. And it’s not just ass. It’s chest, and face, and groin, and extremities. You might say that by comparison to the movie itself, the title is quite polite.
Drug dealers and common decency are both in the line of fire in Kick-Ass.
Adapted from Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s comic by Jane Goldman, director Matthew Vaughn’s vivid, silly and self-debauching Kick-Ass concerns a teenaged comics geek and wannabe superhero (Aaron Johnson, appealing) who decides to become an actual superhero. He instead becomes a viral-video curiosity, which in its insidious way is close enough to becoming the real thing. I hate to reveal all the pulpy, plotty details, but yes, an Adam West-referencing Nic Cage gets involved. So does Christopher Mintz-Plasse, in a part potentially even more enduring than his turn as McLovin in Superbad. (There’s another very memorable character, about which more momentarily.) There is also some black-comedic commentary on the special brand of social isolation that results from all the shallow posturing of online life. But mostly, Kick-Ass is concerned with the kicking of ass.
It’s hard to know—or care, really—whether the innocence in the film is cynical. Kick-Ass does have a peculiar transgressive appeal, at least for those viewers who might say to themselves, “Ah, excellent! I’ve been waiting for a film about dorks and superheroes in which one of the characters is an 11-year-old girl who calls people unspeakable things and then kills them very violently!” Others will be glad these viewers aren’t likely to rear children of their own anytime soon, as it’d be hard for them to find a mate.
Anyway, that’s the other memorable character. She’s called Hit Girl, and is at least partly responsible for the controversy that has surrounded Kick-Ass. It should be pointed out, levelly if not approvingly, that movies have seemed to enjoy requiring un-little-girl-like behavior of little girls for many years now. As for young Chloe Grace Moretz, the scene-stealing co-star of Kick-Ass, it’s hard to know what her post-Hit Girl life, which of course is almost entirely ahead of her, will be like. (Maybe she could play Anne Frank on Broadway, like Natalie Portman did.)
Those viewers who might have liked to reclaim the troublemaking thrill of Joan Jett’s song “Bad Reputation,” heretofore rendered perhaps too innocuous by its use in the opening credits of “Freaks & Geeks” (and also, for that matter, by its use in the closing credits of The Runaways), probably will be made to feel too old by its use in Kick-Ass. Yes, this is a movie that will make some people feel old. But it will make some others feel young.