skip to main content

Listen

Read

Watch

Schedules

Programs

Events

Give

Account

Donation Heart Ribbon

Review: ‘Kick-Ass’

A Film That Lives Up to Its Title

Above: "Kick-Ass"

“Kick-Ass” (opening April 16 throughout San Diego) is like an oasis in a desert of lame ass Hollywood fare. It’s funny, violent, unapologetic, and in your face.

Scottish comic book writer Mark Millar flipped off readers with his graphic novel “Wanted.” There was an edgy arrogance to that work that made it fresh as well as pumped up with attitude. “Wanted” came out in 2003. Five years later Millar delivered the “Kick-Ass” comics, which have an attitude all their own.

"Kick-Ass"

Lionsgate

Above: "Kick-Ass"

“With no power comes no responsibility,” says Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), riffing on Spider-Man’s famous line. Dave is a teenager who’s only “super power” is his ability to be invisible to girls. But he poses this question: Why hasn’t anyone ever tried to be a superhero? After all people love to read comics about superheroes so why doesn’t anyone ever try? Because you’d be dead in a day is the answer he gets from his two nerdy friends. But that doesn’t deter Dave. He orders a green and yellow scuba suit and sets out to save the world. Unfortunately, vigilante justice ain’t easy. So his first time out he ends up getting stabbed and knocked out of commission… but just for a little while.

"Kick-Ass"

Lionsgate

Above: "Kick-Ass"

Dave decides to pursue his dream of being a superhero. So he decides to call himself Kick-Ass and with a little help from the Internet and social media, he becomes something of an overnight sensation. He sets up a MySpace page and attempts to answer all his online requests. He also hopes that his superhero persona will get him the girl of his dreams. But Dave doesn’t realize that the bad guys out there can be really bad and genuinely dangerous. In addition, there are some vigilante crime fighters out there that are far more serious -- and lethally competent -- than him. So when Kick-Ass gets in another jam, he’s embarrassed to be saved by a pre-pubescent, purple-wigged girl who goes by the name of Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz). Unlike Kick-Ass, this girl really kicks ass. And Hit Girl is aided by Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage).

You could call “Kick-Ass” an anti-superhero film. It definitely has a comic book look and feel, and definitely taps into the superhero mythos but it doesn’t really deliver a superhero story. And that’s the point Millar was trying to make. Director Matthew Vaughn (Guy Ritchie’s producer and director of “Layer Cake”) delivers on the action and provides enough eye candy to keep the action junkies satiated. But if you pay attention the message he's tapping into from Millar's comic is that trying to be a superhero and administer vigilante justice is both dumb and dangerous. People get hurt in this film and the violence is not all sanitized. When Dave gets stabbed it looks real and it looks like it hurts. Vaughn plays scenes like this with an uncomfortable yet effective mix of pain and dark comedy. It looks like it hurts but we can't help but laugh because what Dave's trying to do is pretty stupid. He's a skinny kid trying to stop hardened criminals from committing a crime.

There are times when Vaughn pumps up the action to ridiculous levels in order to get the audience cheering and hollering so that they don’t notice that fact that the violence is brutal. And “Kick-Ass” most definitely has its share of deliberate comedy. Yet Vaughn continually shows us that trying to stop crime can lead to a lot of people getting hurt and killed. The director stops short, though, of being quite as critical as the comic is about vigilante justice, and he does opt for what’s much more of a Hollywood ending than the comic.

Much of the film's humor comes from the pint-sized Moretz as she repeatedly demonstrates her toughness whether it’s taking shots from her dad in training or using her girlish wiles to get past bodyguard doormen. The incongruity of Hit Girl is a delight and it’s refreshing to have a very different role model for young girls besides the wimpy Disney bratz. If I had a daughter I would wish for one with Hit Girl’s balls. She’s tough, smart, competent, and even a loving daughter.

"Kick-Ass"

Lionsgate

Above: "Kick-Ass"

Hit Girl has raised eyebrows for both her propensity for violence and her foul mouth. I read a commentary from a Women and Hollywood post in which the writer wondered whether Hit Girl was a step forward or backward for the female gender. The image of a young girl daring to use the "C" word (Horrors!) and daring to take the same delight men have been taking for decades in dispensing violent retribution has been seen as new and shocking. Well it might be new and shocking to audiences accustomed to Hollywood films but it’s a familiar sight in many Asian films and anime. A Japanese schoolgirl in a short skirt and wielding a sword or kicking some ass could almost be called a cliché in that country. But Hit Girl does play as something fresh in Hollywood films. Plus Moretz is great. She manages to be tough yet vulnerable, cute but never cloying or icky sweet. She can also act grown up while still being a kid unlike most of the precocious Hollywood kids you see in films. She’s a delight.

“Kick-Ass” is also fun because it mixes up genres. You get a coming-of-age drama combined with a teen comedy and then have comic book and action elements thrown in for good measure. The characters are well enough drawn that you care about them even when they are not wearing their superhero costumes. The cast is also kick ass. Johnson gives Dave some genuine emotion to keep his story compelling. Moretz as I said is a joy and she plays well off of Cage as her daddy. Cage hilariously affects an Adam West-like stilted delivery whenever he dons the Batman-like superhero costume, and he also reveals a very loving paternal side to his character. The father-daughter relationship here is actually well played and likable. Mark Strong makes for an easy-to-hate villain who’s also a bad father figure to his son.

"Kick-Ass"

Lionsgate

Above: "Kick-Ass"

Although not as pronounced as in the “Wanted” comics, “Kick-Ass” does a little flipping off of its readers and now viewers. Both the comic and the film make fun of the cult of celebrity in this media addicted and obsessed society. Kick-Ass gets popular through a cell phone video that goes out over the web through YouTube. People click to watch the video but no one at the scene of the crime seemed the least bit interested in helping Kick-Ass stop a group of men from beating up someone. Kick-Ass/Dave tries to lecture the people on their apathy but to no avail. They are only interested in him as something fun to watch on YouTube.

In addition, Kick-Ass and another superhero Red Mist maintain MySpace pages while live webcam broadcasts gain the attention of millions (especially when violence is involved). Vaughn both feeds into this and comments on it. People eagerly watch a broadcast where people are getting tortured. The TV news broadcasts the web video and reluctantly cuts away after they realize what they are broadcasting could turn into a snuff film --but they make sure to let everyone know that they can continue watching online. The film highlights our obsession with violence and then feeds it with some fun, over the top, frenetic action sequences. Critics may say this is schizophrenic and is what’s wrong with the film, but I think that schizophrenia is deliberate and reflective of what’s going on in our culture right now with real and fake images commingling to such a degree online that people just treat it all like entertainment.

"Kick-Ass"

Lionsgate

Above: "Kick-Ass"

Fans also get poked fun at in the film for their obsessiveness. Immediately after Kick-Ass debuts on YouTube, there are Kick-Ass costumes and comics available in the stores. The film pokes fun at the commercialization of Kick-Ass and people’s readiness to buy into it. But the film also punishes fans in a sense and when one fan dresses up like the superhero he idolizes, there are some very painful and terminal consequences. That's the price of cult obsession in the world of "Kick-Ass." So the film and the comics are critical in a way of their own fans. You could say Millar is biting the hand that feeds him but he's so cocky in the way he does it that people may not realize the joke's on them or they will take the criticism in the same cocky style it is delivered and say f-ck you back to Millar and go ahead and make "Kick-Ass" a cult hit.

“Kick-Ass” (rated R for strong brutal violence throughout, pervasive language, sexual content, nudity and some drug use - some involving children) is hilarious and brutal and even provocative if you are willing to look beneath the surface. It delivers a kick-ass action flick that feels more like 3D than most of the recent films actually employing the technology yet it also manages to comment on the violent action it creates and celebrates. Oh and it has a great soundtrack as well.

Companion viewing: “Spider-man,” "The Losers," "Rambow"

Comments

Avatar for user 'IanForbes'

IanForbes | April 16, 2010 at 5:12 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

Amen, Beth! Vaughn and company have delivered a layered film, which can please audiences on multiple levels ... assuming they aren't turned off by an 11 year-old girl swearing and killing (besides, if you don't like violent films, why would you care about seeing this in the first place?). I can't wait to see it again and again ... the Vlu-Ray can't arrive early enough!

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'trere8'

trere8 | April 16, 2010 at 8:37 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

Nice way of pointing out the critical emphasis on social media, voyeurism and apathy in the movie - probably an alternate way to get across the point of the comic, but with less graphic violence involving child characters.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'The0ne'

The0ne | April 19, 2010 at 11:29 a.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

Definitely was up to see this movie until the R rating from mostly a kid in the movie using obscene amount of swearing and violence/kiling as her strong points.

I love Kung Fu/Martial movies but I'm not about to support such a movie when I think about my nieces and nephews that could possibly imitate this behavior. And trust me, this R rating is not going to stop kids from going to watch it; why would it when it's squarely is aimed at kids in general and not adults like us? We already have "jackass" stunts and backyard wrestling, what more do we want to influence kids to do? Parenting would help? It hasn't.

I think I would like it but the thought of seeing any one of many nieces and nephews go about spewing foul language is not something I like to see at all. I'll pass on this one.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | April 19, 2010 at 12:05 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

I think it really all depends on the individual kid. The film actually doesn't glorify the violence -- the main character repeatedly mentions how painful his injuries are and loved ones are lost to violence. There is a price to pay for the violence -- but the film also has some fun revenge moments. Unlike Jackass, which just encourages people to be stupid for stupid's sake, Kick-Ass suggests that maybe you shouldn't do stupid things because there's a price to pay for it. So don't be a superhero, just go back to high school.

Yes this is a strong R rating and parents should check it out before considering if it's appropriate for their child. It also helps to talk about the film with your kids if they do see it. There actually are some themes an issues raised about responsibility, apathy, and taking justice into your own hands that are worth talking about. My son is 16 and he saw it and he didn't emerge from the theater spewing foul language and trying to stop crime.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'The0ne'

The0ne | April 19, 2010 at 2:09 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

Beth,

I know you're saying this with good intentions but if the same argument was used for just about anythng I don't think we be in such a nice place by now. Yes it "can" depend on the individual and kids can make decisions and choices. However, kids are influential for both good and bad ways. That is why they are kids and teenagers. Parents and adults need to teach and parent properly imo.

For example, thousands or even millions of kids growing up wanted to be like superman when the movie came out. I was one of them. I and my friends strapped a cape on, jumped off pretty high buildings and thankfully no one got hurt severely. We wanted to do good, to stand up for justice but ended up getting pulverige most of the time...well except me since I was pretty tough myself.

I think you get the idea. This film may seem to you not entirely bad for kids but most kids will not see it the way you do. And although there might be underlying messages in the film not many will care or bother to realize them. What is going to stick is the violence and the profanity, as they always do.

And that is where my concern is for my nieces and nephews. If my nephew from Colorado can spend a few weeks with my nephews here in San Diego and learn to take on their personalities (profanity, fads, fashion, attitudes, etc.) I have no doubt a movie like this wouldn't be able to do the same. He even started calling his father OG :/

Citing your son and/or one example is not justification for what we already know how influential kids and teenagers are.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'The0ne'

The0ne | April 28, 2010 at 12:33 p.m. ― 4 years, 7 months ago

update:
I saw the movie with my nephews here (They are 20+) and we were all shocked at this movie, to say the least. The tone of the movie is definitely not what the trailer had instilled in us. This isn't another quirky teen/young adult movie like Superbad, Knocked-up, or Pineapple Express. This movie is actually pretty dark and disturbing. To say the least we consider it more horrifying than say most horror movies like Friday the 13th, Holloween, etc., and has a more serious tone (revenge/do good) than most superhero movies.

For example, this kid, child rather, kills people but the film/direction takes it much deeper and shows the viewers scenes where she "casually" sticks a sword completely through people, shots them in the head consistently (yes, count them), slices throats and all in vivid display. Like I said, more horrifying than most horror movies.

Her father...is insane. There's absolutely no doubt about this as the movie has him explaining why. He want revenge and no one is going to stop his killing to get to the man. No one. Think Watchmen was dark? It's a cake compare to the tone of this. And he brings his vengeance out by using his own daughter, which the movie admits.

And the music? Sure there are the quirky ones but most of it is dark and eerie and perfectly suited for the scenes :)

This is not a "fun" movie by any stretch of the imagination. We surely didn't laugh that much and we sure thought a lot of the movie was "OMG, this is just horrible." When the child was getting pulverized towards the end, we all cringed thinking what would be funny about this, absolutely nothing. You have to be insane to think this scene is remotely funny.

Last uttered words from one of my nephews after the movie? "How can this kid be normal doing what she does?" I have no answer to that as the movie doesn't address it.

Oh, and funny enough the movie opens with a kid leaping off a tall building like Superman.....to his grueling death. My example prior to seeing the movie in fact. And his grueling death is suppose to be funny? How?

Be careful parents and think twice about letting young kids see the movie! I think Beth is way way way off of this movie. My favorites movies are Martial Arts, Comedy and Horror and this movie ranks with Horror in my book, just more realistically more gruesome and serious :)

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | April 28, 2010 at 2:10 p.m. ― 4 years, 7 months ago

And that is exactly the point the film is trying to make: being a superhero is dumb and dangerous. It is dark and disturbing but also funny and clever. I'm glad you thought the violence was extreme. It should be. What's dangerous is comic book movies where the violence is all cleaned up and sanitized so it looks like nothing hurts. Kids aren't going to come out of Kick-Ass and think they can jump off a building, not even the main character of Dave wants to try that because he realizes he could get hurt. But he's willing to let himself get beat up to help another person. That seems like a good message.

I think the film does want people to feel shocked because it is shocking that someone would rather videotape a person getting beat up than help them. But the film manages to find humor, albeit painful humor, in some of the violence -- like the kid who think he can fly or the fan whose willingness to dress like Kick-Ass has lethal consequences. So the film asks us to laugh uncomfortably at times and at other times feel compassion for the characters. It's a film that requires you to react to it at different levels. If you choose to see only a comic book action film then you will be missing some of the other aspects of what the film is trying to say.

So this is a fun movie because it plays with cliches yet it's also a movie with something to say about violence and celebrity in our culture. And I'm not advocating that parents take their little ones out to see this but I think if you know your kids and you talk to them about what they watch, this film is appropriate for some under 18-year-olds to go see. And it may even get them thinking about bigger issues, especially if parents ask them to look beyond the surface and that is part of what good parenting is -- encouraging your kids to THINK. And this film can actually be a good catalyst for discussion.

Thanks for sharing your comments.

( | suggest removal )