The story of me and Kick-Ass is an odd one; I heard rumblings of the tongue-lashing Ebert gave to it. I didn’t read the actual piece, and I don’t care to. As much as I respect the man I’ve learned to take his words with a pinch of salt. It wasn’t deliberate, but I’ve not read a single review of Kick Ass. I know I’ve seen them around, but I didn’t – I wasn’t even sure what exactly the film was about. My state of ignorance so was high, I didn’t even realise that Nicolas Cage (someone I am not fond of) was in it. I like to think that ignorance is the perfect state of discovering a film; unhampered views do make for the easiest reviews. The story is simple, painstakingly so even.Dave Lizewski is the most average teenage male in America, it seems, and he decides to turn into a superhero. It’s an idea that is ridiculous, but not unbelievable. The film chronicles the success of his self titled alter ego Kick-Ass and the journey it takes him on. This fairly simple plot is paralleled by another fairly simple one. Nicolas Cage plays Damon Macready, a police officer wrongfully sent to jail for five years. His wife died in childbirth from an overdose, and Damon trains his daughter into some prodigious (wait for it) super girl of sorts. He is intent on taking down kingpin Frank D'Amico who he considers as the reason for his tragedy. Naturally, the two ostensible parallel plots must converge, and therein lays the crux of Kick-Ass.
Amid its ostensible striving for normalcy and even pedestrian monotony Matthew Vaughn is intent on making his hero as nuanced as possible. It lends a smartness to the first third of the film which is unfortunately juxtaposed with some moments of ridiculous. As Dave narrates of his painfully normal life his exacerbated sexual arousal – interestingly enough, something that’s forgotten after the first fifteen minutes – or even his initial overt clumsiness make him atypical even amidst the normalcy he clings to. Moreover, his voice-over narration, a plus to the film, don’t suggest someone shrouded by incessant normality, but this being a film such strange things are wont to happen. As narrative, Kick-Ass rests completely on the shoulders of Aaron Johnson. Obviously with all that screen time and overhead monologues his character easily emerges as the most rounded, but he does not squander his opportunity for the film to exist as some sort of perverse audition piece for him. If he is to continue as a credit to his industry, and even if amid the wave of its apparent “disappointing” box-office run Kick-Ass will exist as a solid showcase for his talents (as young as they are). Johnson creates an exceptionally authentic portrayal of teenage angst even when the script has him leaping from silly (like ogling at his teachers’ breast), to tenacious (Kick-Ass’s first legitimate triumph against the gang), to maudlin (his confession to Katie). Not that his performance doesn’t include the occasional misstep, but whatever fault Kick-Ass may harbour doesn’t fall anywhere in his realm.
Truthfully, I wouldn’t blame Nicolas Cage either. I’m rarely moved by him, and his performance as Big Daddy includes him doing good and him being gratuitously lazy. But overall, he manages to sell that fierce devotion to his daughter even if the very logic of his quest does border on ridiculous. I haven’t read the reviews, but I don’t doubt that it is in this subplot that Kick-Ass loses its audience, but isn’t film an obvious projection of fantasy? Hearing the twelve year old Chloë Moretz say cunt or blow (a definitely misguided) seductive kiss at our hero is nauseating to some extent, but on a base level it also provides for its own amount of hilarity and more importantly it’s completely believable in the realm of ridiculous that Kick-Ass aims at. It’s the sort of tug-of-war between excellent and terrible that Kick-Ass exists in at times. Like how Lyndsy Fonseca manages to seem believable as the object of desire and then immediately after seems absolutely nondescript in her role. Or how the writers feel the need to have our villain (played by Mark Strong) show some silly element of being a boor – despite all the evidence that suggests the man must be brilliant. But in the end, I think it’s the brilliance that wins out.
I can easily see how Kick-Ass could lose its audience. I’m a bit surprised that I liked it, I’m not usually one for the genre. But what makes Kick-Ass the success that it is (of course, I use the word loosely) is the large amount of heart it boasts. Sure, it’s difficult to see sometimes when Vaughn seems intent on burying in a wave of irreverent humour. But Kick-Ass the movie is not very different from Kick-Ass the character. There’s a real-life person beating underneath, but like the usual teenager it’s intent on hiding it beneath a host of silliness. But if you closer, you’ll realise its merits.