Kick-Ass comes to us with a little bit of built-in controversy. Its title alone—at once an adjective, an imperative verb and a proper name—might strike some joyless fussbudgets as a touch too syntactically cavalier, or at least just plain impolite. Well, as a matter of fact, it’s not just ass. It’s chest, and face, and groin, and extremities. And it’s not just kicking. It’s shooting, and slicing open, and blowing to bits, and popping like a grape. So, you could say that by comparison to the movie itself the title deserves thanks for its good manners and restraint.
The movie itself is vividly silly and self-debauching. Adapted from Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s comic by Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn, Kick-Ass concerns a teenaged comics geek and wannabe superhero (Aaron Johnson) who decides to become an actual superhero, called Kick-Ass, but becomes a viral-video curiosity instead, which in its insidious way is close enough.
I hate to reveal all the pulpy, plotty details, but yes, an Adam West-referencing Nic Cage gets involved, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse in a part potentially even more enduring than his own turn as McLovin in Superbad. Johnson, for his central part, delivers a fine and hearty performance. And there is another very memorable character, about which more momentarily. There is also some murky, blackly comedic commentary about that special brand of social isolation that results from all the shallow posturing of online life. But mostly Kick-Ass concerns itself with the kicking of ass, and aforementioned related actions.
It’s hard to know—or care, really—whether all of this is innocently cynical or cynically innocent. Kick-Ass does have a peculiar transgressive appeal, at least for those viewers who might say to themselves, “Ah, excellent—I’ve been waiting so long for a film about dorks and superheroes in which one of the characters is an 11-year-old girl who calls people cunts and then kills them very violently!” Others will be glad these viewers aren’t likely to rear children of their own anytime soon, on account of probably not having much access to mates.
Anyway, that would be the other memorable character. She’s called Hit Girl, and is at least partly responsible for any Kick-Ass controversy. It should be pointed out, levelly if not approvingly, that movies have seemed to enjoy requiring un-little-girl-like behavior of little girls for many years now; indeed, there is at least one other lass of about the same age using similar language on screens right now, in Fish Tank. But she is of the English working class, with fewer advantages generally, and no privilege of cartoonishly stylized serial homicide in wide release. So perhaps that’s different.
As for young Chloe Grace Moretz, the scene-stealing co-star of Kick-Ass, it’s hard to know what her post-Hit Girl life, which of course is almost entirely ahead of her, will be like. Maybe she could play Anne Frank on Broadway. It worked for Natalie Portman.
What else might be helpful to know going in? Here’s something. Those viewers who might have liked to reclaim the troublemaking thrill of Joan Jett’s song “Bad Reputation,” heretofore rendered perhaps too innocuous by its use in the opening credits of, Freaks and Geeks (and also, for that matter, by its use in the closing credits of The Runaways), probably will be made to feel too old by its use in Kick-Ass. Yes, this is a movie that will make some people feel old. But it will make others feel young.
As I watched Kick-Ass, I noticed that a young guy behind me in the audience kept saying “What the fuck?!” The Hit Girl scenes in particular really seemed to set him off. And he had so many different inflections: delighted, astonished, maybe even occasionally mortified. What? The? Fuck?! He kept on saying it, and the film kept on provoking him. If Kick-Ass has a target audience, I figure, this guy probably must be it. It’s fun to imagine him telling his friends about what he saw that night. Maybe even more fun than the movie itself.