Forget subtexts about the influence of media violence on young and impressionable minds. Forget the other subtext about effect of family dynamics in forming the characters of those equally young and impressionable minds. Though both are present in KICK ASS, based on the comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr., and employed as dynamic elements in the tale, the main thing to remember is that this is a film designed to play as pure popcorn entertainment. And it does. As a plus, it’s also written with the elan of an action film re-imagined as externalized angst, directed with the assurance that the poetry of violence is no excuse to make it innocuous, and played to the hilt by a cast that understands that the absurdity of an 11-year-old killing machine sporting a purple bob has to be played with complete seriousness for it all to come together.
The hero is Dave (Aaron Johnson), an average kid with an above-average passion for comic books, specifically super heroes. Not the ones with super powers, but the ordinary guys who apply themselves with superhuman determination. After being mugged one too many times, David dons a makeshift costume made from scuba gear, takes the name Kick Ass, and goes forth to save the world, one petty crime at a time. After a setback that works in his favor when it comes to enduring pain and avoiding broken bones, he settles into a life that he hopes will evolve beyond finding lost cats. When it does, though, it comes with a price higher than having to pretend to the object of his affections, do-gooder volunteer Katie (Lyndsy Fonesca), that he is gay in order to be close to her.
He becomes a phenomenon, but he quickly learns that he’s not alone. Which brings in that 11-year-old. She’s Mindy (Chloe Moretz), shortly to be known at Hit Girl, and she’s been trained for six years by her paranoid but otherwise sweet father (Nicolas Cage), shortly to be known at Big Daddy. If Dave can barely handle the fighting batons he takes with him on patrol, Mindy is a master of knives, semi-automatic artillery, and taking a bullet. When they start to put a dent in the local crime lord’s operation, a new superhero appears, Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and Kick Ass becomes a moving target. In a nifty twist, his complete averageness is echoed in the super hero world, as Hit Girl has an impressive array of specialized weapons at her command in contrast to the big sticks and bigger attitude that Kick Ass has, and Red Mist has a pimped out car and custom-leather costume. And they both have capes. They also have a cool back story, one told in cool graphic novel flashback, while Dave has a nice dad and solid middle-class upbringing.
Johnson never tries to be more than the average kid Dave is supposed to be. Smart move. He’s absolutely the schmoo next door whether it’s mortification after making a boneheaded move in front of hot girls, or the less than smooth fighting moves in front of Hit Girl, or the cape envy that wells up. It all meshes effortlessly while he still radiates the optimism and naivite that Dave nails as the hallmarks of the successful crimefighter. Moretz is tough in the way girls that age are when they are focused on what they want, some want dolls, she wants fighting knives, the which she enjoys as much as the hot-fudge sundae she cajoles out of her father. She’s a mix of adult confidence and whole-hearted childlike enthusiasm that quite believably terrifies a full-grown thug packing heavy artillery.
There is no skimping on the violence here. People explode, implode, and are sliced, diced, and plugged in a multitude of realistic ways, some at the hands of Hit Girl herself. When some of it is shown live in a webcast, the audience tunes in for the sheer entertainment value, a disquieting image that is social commentary without the sermon. The most unnerving aspect of this story is Mindy’s utter ruthlessness at such an early age, nurtured by a doting father. At the same time, there is for the audience the delight both unsettling and utter, in watching her take out the bad guys while barely breaking a sweat. As for Kick Ass, his is a steep learning curve that nearly does him in, but never deters him, even when he suddenly has something to live for in the way of a girlfriend. The everyman in him is as compelling as the pure fantasy of Hit Girl’s mastery of the martial arts.
There are all the usual idioms, the secret identities that no one quite figures out, the enemies who in another life would have been best friends, and the struggles some of the good guys have with using violence to solve the problem of violence. It gives KICK ASS the cred of both a great comic mythos. Plus, it’s got Nicolas Cage giving an inspired performance as both the soft-spoken, hot cocoa-drinking dad with skewed but not unjustified ideas about how to protect his daughter from the big, bad world, and as Big Daddy, rendered as a Batman homage a la Adam West that is both wildly funny, properly oddball, and just creepy enough to convey a psyche in need of its own cup of hot cocoa.
With its sex, violence, and non-traditional parenting paradigms, this is not for kids. Smart, fast-moving, and deadly, this flick makes all the right moves as an adult tale of revenge sparked with black humor that is a hair-trigger removed from tragedy.