Has our society failed? Have the institutions that have been designed to protect the humble, weak, lower and middle classes fallen apart and are thus irrelevant? As cinema usually is a good meter of the zeitgeist, judging from the vigilante films like Death Sentence, The Brave One, the upcoming Harry Brown, and even The Dark Knight that have flooded the multiplexes in the last five years it would seem to point to a complete lack of confidence in the regular old police force. Starting off with Death Wish this sub-genre was made huge in the waning days of the Vietnam War by a seemingly pandemic miasma of fear that had spread from the inner cities out to the suburbs where a belief was gaining ground that the so-called “good guys” no longer cared. Today with endless wars on two fronts, billionaire bankers’ golden parachutes casting eclipses on the ethical quicksand that is free market capitalism, jobless numbers and economic worries not really receding as the experts suggest, it would appear that there really are no more “good guys.” Enter Matthew Vaughn’s new film, Kick-Ass, which with its flashy editing, quirky lines, and poppy action, puts up a veneer of superhero silliness, but in the torso of this film beats a cynical heart yearning for vengeance.
That heart is Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage), who yearns to pull down the fabric of crime in a comic book version of New York City. Though if he wanted to put an end to crime all together he would have to take out his prodigy and daughter, Hit Girl, played by Chloe Moretz, who steals so many scenes in the film it should be illegal. In fact with her multi-colored wig and foul mouth Moretz’s character is so much more interesting than the titular hero that the film should have been called “Hit Girl.”
In the beginning Dave Lisewski (Aaron Johnson), a high school nerd with absolutely nothing super going for him, decides he’s had enough of the constant muggings he is subjected to. Instead of going to the cops he buys a costume and tries to fight back appropriating the nom de guerre Kick-Ass. His initial attempts to clean up the streets come to disastrous results, but still catch the attention of YouTube denizens and Crime Bosses alike. The only problem is that despite the public nature of his exploits Big Daddy and Hit Girl are the real deal, and Kick-Ass is little more than a Quixote with delusions of grandeur.
Why do Big Daddy and his little Hit Girl succeed where Kick-Ass initially fails? Because they are working off of a fiery rage and need for revenge. In some ways the Kick-Ass character is an allegory for the police force who feel compelled to do a job, but aren’t necessarily addicted to the cause. In the Kick-Ass world, one where Mob Boss Frank D’Amico (2009/2010 go-to bad guy Mark Strong) can shoot down two people in broad daylight, the police are almost non-existent. They only appear in the form of Big Daddy’s former partner Marcus, who takes on the obligatory role requisite of the this genre; the cop who says he doesn’t approve, but inside knows that all that violence is in the name of a higher “Justice.” Kick-Ass can’t succeed because the stakes are never all that high for him.
That is the failing of an otherwise fun picture; the lead character, the one for which the movie is named, is much less interesting than those surrounding him. Kick-Ass’ purpose in life is much less drastic than that of Big Daddy and Hit Girl so the audience finds itself yearning for more time with the crazy little girl and her nuts-o pops, than the awkward teen in the diving suit.
A lot of that could be due to the exemplary performances of Nicholas Cage and Chloe Moretz. Almost looking like Bernard Goetz, with his sad-sack garb and hangdog face Damon Macready, Big Daddy’s alter ego, was a cop way back when, but was framed and sent to jail by Frank D’Amico. When he got out of the clink he resumed a father role in little Mindy Macready’s life forging her into the pint size killing machine that is Hit Girl. Cage’s weirder instincts are firing on all cylinders in this picture especially in one scene in which he tries to educate Kick-Ass on some of the finer points of being a super-hero, and seems to be channeling Adam West for the 1960’s Batman TV show. Moretz herself holds her own with Cage displaying a natural predisposition for profanity and blinding violence. Her character spills so much blood on screen it is a wonder that the parents of what is in reality a thirteen-year-old girl would allow her to participate. But for their retirement’s sake it is good they did because little Chloe Moretz’s performance in Kick-Ass will be busting down the doors to casting directors’ offices for years to come.
It is that violence, the unrelenting gratuitous violence, which makes this picture a fun ride. Vaughn’s directorial panache and brutal visual wit flourish during the action sequences, but when there aren’t legs being severed or brainpans being ventilated the film starts to drag. The middle section is uneven as Kick-Ass befriends Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a super hero who isn’t really what he seems to be, and the romance B-Story between Dave and the high school hottie, Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca), is a little bland.
Most of that is due to Matthew Vaughn & Jane Goldman’s script, which strives to hue very closely to the graphic novel source material by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr. However the inclusion of so many characters and subplots bog the film down at times, and you watch wishing someone would get murdered again.
Which is kind of a scary, telling realization to have about a film. In the end, for Kick-Ass the moral complexity of vigilante justice is pretty much just thrown out the window. The cops don’t really seem to care, the blood flows like a river, Big Daddy corrupts an innocent little girl into an amoral butcher, and the audience is expected to cheer for them. And cheer they should. After all it is just a movie. But if cinema really is a snapshot of the zeitgeist then is Western society really falling into such a cynical abyss where true justice can only be dolled out by those that take the law into their own hands? The film’s bad guy, Frank D’Amico is a gangster yes, but he lives in a swanky uptown penthouse that suspiciously looks more like the product of a banker’s bonus than time put in on the streets. Maybe someone should ask Goldman Sach CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, what he thinks about the public taking matters into their own hands.
El Luchador Rating: 4 out of 5
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)
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