Based on Mark Millar's popular comic series, Kick-Ass begins as a PG-13 delight before eventually turning into an R-rated ordeal. Adaptations of this sort often squarely fit into the more restrictive rating (e.g. Watchmen, Sin City), and Millar's illustrated series certainly isn't for the kiddies. But despite this fact, here's one graphic (in all senses of the word) retelling that would have benefited from a more family-friendly rendition.
The title refers to Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a geeky teenager who loves comic books and wonders why no one has ever mimicked the caped crusaders seen battling evildoers in print. Even though he concedes that his only superpower is being "invisible to girls," Dave decides to don a slick scuba suit and mask and take to the streets to fight crime under the moniker of Kick-Ass. His first encounter with a couple of street punks ends with him receiving a shiv in his stomach before getting slammed by a speeding car, two incidents that land him in the hospital. Released with damaged nerve endings and a semi-steel body that basically turns him into a Wolverine-with-training-wheels, he again tries his hand at crime-fighting -- this time, his skirmish is captured on film and broadcast all over the Internet, turning him into a media sensation.
As long as Kick-Ass remains focused on Dave and his exploits in and out of costume, it remains a clever modern riff on the classic Marvel tale, like watching Peter Parker's travails re-imagined for Napoleon Dynamite. But this is only half the movie. The rest involves the efforts of two far more accomplished superheroes, Big Daddy (a woefully miscast Nicolas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), to take down a ruthless criminal named Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong, fresh from playing the ruthless criminal in Sherlock Holmes). Big Daddy and Hit-Girl are the secret identities of ex-cop Damon Macready and his 11-year-old daughter Mindy, and they're both bent on revenge. Make that bloody revenge.
A glaring streak of sadism proves to be Kick-Ass's undoing, as the can-do pluck and spirit exhibited in, say, Spider-Man is ignored in favor of unrelenting violence at every turn. Writer-director Matthew Vaughn (who previously helmed the memorable Layer Cake) and co-writer Jane Goldman might believe it's fair game for the bad guys to get offed in jokey, gruesome ways (most notably the goon who explodes in an oversized microwave), but how funny is it when D'Amico fatally shoots a costumed kid in the head after mistaking him for the real Kick-Ass? Equally troubling is the handling of the character of Hit-Girl, who, taught by her father, proceeds to kill scores of men (and one woman) by any means necessary (guns, knives, you name it). One character chastises Damon Macready for turning Mindy into a pint-size killer, correctly asserting that this little girl deserves a normal childhood. Yet Kick-Ass then completely ignores this line of thought, allowing Macready to steadfastly remain a good guy and never once questioning the fact that he's turned his daughter into a soulless killing machine. And those who are already celebrating Hit-Girl as the new face of female empowerment are completely missing the point that she's been brainwashed by her father (i.e. the patriarchy) into carrying out his desires.
As to the controversial matter of whether the movie turns this 11-year-old girl into a sexual object of desire, I'll let others hash that one out. I personally don't think so, but try telling that to the pedophilic fanboys who are already posting lewd comments about what they'd like to do to her underage body.
DIRECTED BY Matthew Vaughn
STARS Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage