As a man who absolutely hates a spoiler I do love Hollywood’s occasional lean towards misrepresentation in trailers. The promotion I recall for Kick-Ass falls squarely in this realm. The promotion left me with an idea of Kick-Ass as a comedic satire of the comic book superhero genre involving four ordinary people who team up to become superheroes. It certainly is a satire of the genre, but it’s too clever to be a straight up comedy. In fact there are some tragic elements that lend a lot drama to the story. Kick-Ass take a boldly irreverent approach to the life of a superhero. It’s as though either Mark Millar or Matthew Vaughn deliberately hates comic books. But then I guess I would too if I was force-fed them in the bathroom by the gym everyday at lunch in high school. His doctor kept telling him he’d be more regular with more green in his diet, but the bullies insisted on including the lanterns too.
How Nicholas Cage ever became a part of this movie I’ll never know, but he nailed his part. Cage dons a ridiculous mustache and pointy silicon ears to take on the role of Big Daddy, a Batmanesque superhero totally devoid of super powers, just a lot of confiscated drug money and a score to settle. He does a great Adam West when in costume and brings coherence and focus to what would otherwise be a short story designed to answer the simple question, why don’t normal people dress up like superheroes and fight crime in their community? As a friend of Kick-Ass, Marty, (played by Clark Duke, who looks suspiciously like a clean-shaven Jack Osbourne) said, no one actually has superpowers. Duh. But the truth is community policing has a long-standing tradition, though without the tight pants and capes. After all, who stopped crime before there were cops? And now we have the neighborhood watch group or more aggressive groups like the Guardian Angels.
The movie flirts with the concept of a lackluster Peter Parker donning the suit without a spider bite and taking on crime all his own, and as a deterrent he quickly realizes the err of his ways. A knife to the stomach will make anyone reconsider their life choices. But as I said, what really moves the flick along is Cage’s character. He’s not dressing up and buying a stockpile of weapons just to get noticed by girls at school. He has a plan. And he’s had time in a jail cell a la Shawshank Redemption to work on it. This is all well and good, but something is amiss.
There is something wrong with this film but I can’t put my finger on it. We first meet Cage as he is shooting his daughter in a misguided attempt to teach her what it feels like to take a bullet while in Kevlar. Yet the problem isn’t that Kick-Ass is overly violent. I’ve seen violent films, Kill Bill, Frank Miller’s Sin City, but Kick-Ass gave me something new, an 11-year-old girl with a greater capacity to take human life than many front line soldiers I’ve met. One could argue that Gogo Yubari is a similar character, but she took on her role in response to witnessing the murder of her parents, whereas Hit Girl is being trained by her father to be a psycho serial killer. Fun. It’s really her character that I think is at the charred black heart of this picture. Her twisted actions and language really set the tone for the whole movie. Still, I found myself cheering for the little girl in purple. It’s extremely sadistic and yet satisfying.
Perhaps what I find horrifying is the film’s approach to everything. It’s so straight forward. As though this is something that happens in the real world. Between the scene of main character Dave Lizewski getting down and dirty with his new girlfriend in the alley behind the comic shop to Hit Girl’s slicing and dicing in a drug lord’s den it’s so blatant. So straight forward. Almost nihilistic. Nothing is explained, it’s just presented. Right there in front of you, take it or leave it. If Tarantino directed some alternate reality episode of the Soprano’s this is what it would look like, I’m sure of it. It’s at once over the top spandex and nylon insanity and nitty gritty reality.
And if Tarantino were 10 years younger, or perhaps 20 years younger culturally, he would love the soundtrack for Kick-Ass. The song selection is better than most Hollywood films, but what makes the soundtrack great is the mixing. Songs are blended into each other by score engineer Tyler Barton so beautifully it brings the action to life. He pieces together snippets of songs with the expertise of a modern producer in a way that amplifies what the characters are thinking at that point in time in a way I’ve never seen before. After a Superman influenced opening credit sequence we’re treated to a Superman theme song influenced ditty as Kick-Ass tries on his suit for the first time. Just a few seconds of the theme from Fistful of Dollars during pre-fight prep lends weight to the anticipation of the coming storm, then we’re hit with an odd, sacrilegious even, juxtaposition of Elvis singing hallelujah while Kick-Ass lets fly with a fierce hail storm of bullets. Strangely Burton chose to leave the live applause from the Vegas recording in the movie. But some how this fits in this movie that seems to be a two-hour clash chord.
But did I like it? I did enjoy it, but it constantly rubbed me the wrong way. Like getting a glimpse into the married couple next door’s window on role-playing night. It leaves you feeling incredibly awkward, and yet intrigued. Did I just say that on the internet? See where this movie leads me?
But what of the question? Why don’t people dress up in bright primary colors and patrol their neighborhoods with night sticks? Well fact is, they do. And have been doing since before the movie came out. Maybe in today’s world of budget cuts and red tape costumed vigilantes are just the sort of thing we need to fight crime in the 21st Century. Until someone goes all Watchmen at least. But the movie is something we can all live without. It’s not the cutesy buddy film the trailers led me to believe. Not that I mind being lied to in this context.