So once again I find myself watching movies in genres I know I have a problematic past with. After reviewing Thor, you’d think that I’d leave the super-hero genre alone for a while. Such was not the case when I noticed Kick-Ass was available to view in my Netflix. I had heard a lot about Kick-Ass around the time it came out, most relating to its violence and inclusion of minors. Controversy, warranted or not, must surely follow a film that is worth watching. Right?

Aside from the title, it seems innocuous enough…

 

The plot of Kick-Ass is a mashup of your typical superhero film with a coming of age story. A teenage comic-nerd, Dave, wonders why, in the millions of people who love and read comics, no one has yet tried to be a superhero. Fed up with no one doing anything about crime in his neighborhood he orders and dons a costume to become the titular hero. He quickly becomes an internet celebrity and gets to be friends with Katie, the girl he likes (though she thinks he is gay). However, after Katie mentions she wishes Kick-Ass would do something about a guy bothering her at work, Dave, as his persona, finds himself cornered by a bunch of gangbangers. He is saved by a murderous little girl and her father, both masquerading as heroes as well. It turns out the dead gangbangers were part of a criminal organization header by the father of one of Dave’s classmates, who becomes a hero as well to lure Kick-Ass, the perceived assailant, out to be dealt with. Events then begin to spiral out of control for Dave and he must face the consequences, good and bad, for wearing his mask.

As a movie, Kick-Ass is really well put together. I never felt bored while watching it. There were very few times when I felt the immersion of the film break, which is always a good thing. It was definitely a fun film to watch with a lot of action, some suspense, and quite a bit of self-parody. That last bit I enjoyed the most. I like it when movies poke fun at or lampshade the problems of the genre they inhabit. Kick-Ass did so with a lot of gusto and a lot of blood.

However, as a story, Kick-Ass felt more like a let down. Don’t get me wrong, I think for the movie they were trying to make, the “what if someone normal tried to be a superhero” movie, they picked the right story to go with it, but the characterization and point of the movie seemed, at the end, to fall apart. While I could spend a lot of time and effort going through the number of secondary characters who are completely un-utilized (like Dave’s two buddies), I feel it would be better to take issue with the most major flaw of the movie, that of Dave himself.

 

Just some normal guys, well the bookends anyway.

 

At its core, Kick-Ass is a coming of age movie that is wrapped in the guise of a superhero film. Dave begins the movie as a whiney, smooth-faced, and innocent boy who cannot even get girls to notice him, and by the end he, of course, has the girl and has beaten the bad guys. This is to be expected. It follows from other stories of its type, most notably Spiderman, which is referenced directly in the movie. In the first act, Dave has to come to grips with his own manhood. He starts the movie by telling us about how he spends his time, in idle pursuits and self-gratification. He can’t get any girls. He is at the bottom of the totem-pole socially, physically, and emotionally. Dave then uses the mask of his hero to hide his true self while undergoing the growth to manhood. He lets Kick-Ass do the growing for him, while he remains his old, cowardly self, not even being able to tell the girl he likes that he is not, in fact, gay. We have two Daves: one a Don Quixote and the other a completely emasculated loser.

Enter in Hit-Girl, the prepubescent girl who was brought up and trained by her vengeance-filled father as an actual warrior. She saves Kick-Ass on several occasions and out classes him in every way. Dave’s warrior persona is juxtaposed against this, what should be, innocent, feminine character. Where as Dave would be fine just beating up a bad guy, Hit-Girl takes almost perverse pleasure in killing them. Hit-Girl is everything Kick-Ass cannot be and Dave soon realizes this. He unmasks himself in front of Katie and they sleep together. Thus, Dave loses his innocence and becomes a man. There is a lot of emotional build up to this moment as it comes at the climax of the second act. It’s important to remember that.

The problem is, Kick-Ass ended its character developement of Dave at that moment. He has become a man, according to his own standards, and has left the problematic life of being a hero behind. However, he is drawn back in and through the course of events is betrayed and inadvertently causes the death of one of his allies. When this is pointed out to him, he becomes visually distraught, in line with his character at the time. The third act, though, consists of his participation in the take down of the criminal organization responsible. It’s here that I take issue with the movie. Kick-Ass kills people. It’s not so much that Hit-Girl killed anyone, like ┬áthe controversy was all about, but this guy who just conquered his own inhibitions and has shown pain at causing someone’s death via proxy is now actively killing, violently, and in a way such that he can see it clearly. And afterward? Nothing. The movie ends with him with the girl and all is well. How is he not affected by that? His first loss of innocence changes him into a self-sufficient man. This second, and I assert more powerful, loss of innocence has no effect on him at all. Surely, if sex can cause a change in character so too can brutally killing several men.

 

She’s just such a bad role model for him.

 

Perhaps this hints at the bigger question the movie brings up, but never really answers: given the existence of Hit-Girl, who is good and who is evil? We have evil people doing evil things for evil reasons, good people doing good for good reasons, and good people doing evil things for good reasons. Hit-girl remains a static character, someone we can gauge Kick-Ass’s progress through the moral spectrum. Despite what we’re told at the end of the movie, I get the feeling that Kick-Ass has become more like Hit-Girl, and thus more evil, through his lack of emotion after battle than he has become his own man. He, Hit-Girl, and the criminals all share an apathy towards killing. I feel like if he had shown just a bit of remorse, just a little, he could have kept his “hero” title, but as it stands, I’m not so sure. ┬áThen again, it is explicitly stated that there is only one character in the whole movie who is getting any kind of moral and ethical tutelage from a parent, and that is Hit-Girl. So there’s that.

Kick-Ass is a movie which pretty well sums up the life of a teenager today. Hiding behind masks, wanting to change things but feeling powerless to do so, coming of age, and the loss of innocence. It is a pretty fun and entertaining ride. However, it is marred by a worrisome conclusion which can either point towards a bleak future for Dave or an animalistic embrace for teens. I’m not really sure which. In either case, it’s definitely worth seeing.

Rating: ★★★½☆

 

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