Kick-Ass

It’s hard to believe that prior to Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000) and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man(2002) superhero movies (as such) were rather rare. Superheroes were kiddie stuff throughout the ‘40s and ’50s, and the campy “Batman” TV series would have seemed to be the gravestone on any non-goofy interpretation of superheroes—which may have been the reason that the Salkinds struggled so mightly with Richard Donner over the classic ’70s Superman movies, with Donner wanting to play it straight and the Salkinds going for slapstick.

But the Salkind’s Superman movies didn’t translate into a lot of other superhero movies any more than Tim Burton’s Batman did. Burton’s aesthetic translated marvelously to Gotham City and rescued an otherwise shoddy interpretation. (Burton doesn’t get comic books at all, as was disastrously apparent in his sequel.)
But with CGI, and the fortuitous application of some of our greatest younger directors, like Singer and Raimi, the box office bonanzas of the early part of the millennium have meant superhero movies galore.
Not only do we get a bushel of ’em every year, we also get parodies, deconstructions, and movies that pretend not to be superhero movies, but really are.
Which brings us to this year’s Kick-Ass. In this movie, a nerdy, bullied high-school kid decides to get himself a ski suit, some clobberin’ sticks, and fight crime.
Now, you never know which route a story like this is going to go. Does he succeed, empowered by his…uh…ski suit? Er, training. Yeah, like Batman? Or, does he end up getting super-powers through some unforeseen random chance? Or does he just plain get the crap kicked out of him?
I don’t want to spoil anything; in one of the nicer surprises I’ve seen in movies lately, the answer to the above is more complex than I’ve laid it out. Now, if you actually know anything about fighting and/or the human body, you realize that it’s kind of stupid, too, but a little suspension of disbelief goes a long way.
In his adventures, our hero, who clumsily dubs himself “Kick-Ass”, meets the equally clunky-named “Hit-Girl”, an eleven-year-old girl who has been trained from a baby to be a killing machine. Her father, who goes by the moniker “Big Daddy”, and dresses just like the campy Batman of the ’60s, has raised her up to help him take revenge on the drug lord who ruined his career, and on whom he blames the death of his wife and her mother.
So, in other words, we have a full-on genuine comic book storyline and characters in the middle of our parody. Filmmakers do this from time-to-time, with a sort of ironic detachment (I’m better than this, so it’s cool when I do it), and it can be disastrous.
It’s not here, at least I didn’t think so, until the climactic scene, when it’s very clear we’ve completely embraced the comic-heroic logic and dispensed with the parody. The end is actually a bit campy, unfortunately.
Entertaining film. IMDB currently has it as #150 on their all-time greatest, right next to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Bourne Ultimatum. I can’t imagine it being in the same class as the former but I suppose it’s up there with the latter.
As I said, entertaining, but also rather uneven as a consequence of trying to straddle two different sorts of realities.
Some people (notably Ebert) had a problem with the language that came out of young Chloe Moretz’s mouth, to say nothing of the violence she was subjected to and visited upon others. I tend to think that’s taking it too seriously, as the whole thing was patently absurd.
What else is notable about this film?
Let’s see: Nic Cage, as Big Daddy, does a dead-on Adam West impersonation, which is fun, but really makes it impossible for anyone familiar with the old “Batman” series to take seriously. The movie is trying to go for gritty realism and shock value with that stuff; it just seemed cheesy to me. (You don’t get any “realism” points in my book for adding violence or death or downbeat endings.)
The music is awful. It’s largely pop-songs and musical strains you’ve heard in other movies, but better in those other movies. Like Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation which was used rather more effectively in the original Shrek (when he beats up all the knights).
The one that drove me nuts was the use of In The House, In A Heartbeat, from the Danny Boyle Zombie flick 28 Days Later. (You can hear it on YouTube; about a minute in is the four note pattern that Kick-Ass uses.)
And none of the music rises (or lowers) to the level of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, as used in the blue penis movie.
So it’s got that going for it. Which is nice.
Anyway, The Boy said “It didn’t piss me off.” Which is high praise, because he thought it would. He rather liked it, though not so wildly as to put it at #150 of all-time movies.
It didn’t piss me off either.

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