by | Aug 3rd, 2010 | 7:31AM | Filed under: DVD Reviews, Movies

Kick-Ass flaunts ultra-graphic violence (often committed by an 11-year-old); swearing (again, the kid); dark, bloody Tarantino-lite humor; and fascist adolescent power fantasies. Most upsettingly, it renders all that bad stuff so much fun. Of course I loved every four-color, exploitive minute of it.

[The following is a REPRINT of the redblog review of Kick-Ass on its theatrical release this spring. Kick-Ass is now on DVD and available from redbox.]

First a warning. This is a brightly colored, fast-paced film about teen and tween crime fighters. But it is NOT for teens or tweens (or for many adults). As it clearly demonstrates in the first five minutes, it’s a very hard R for extreme violence, filthy language, and dirty thoughts. And it just gets worse from there. Do not let your children watch Kick-Ass no matter how much they beg to see it, or because they’ve seen other superhero movies. End of public-service announcement.

Kick-Ass is the tale of New York teen Dave Lizewski (young Brit actor Aaron Johnson), the typical Stan Lee loser who one day–between inappropriate thoughts about his English teacher, being ignored by the pretty girl at school, and getting mugged by the local toughs–asks himself the question every comic-book geek eventually ponders: Why hasn’t anyone ever tried to be a for-real superhero? Why not me?

[Read my interview with Aaron Johnson here.]

But rather than tying a bath towel around his neck and jumping off the roof like so many of us once did, Dave orders a garish scuba suit and ninja batons and takes to the streets to fight crime. And promptly gets stomped, stabbed, and run over. But as any parent knows, teenagers don’t learn quickly—he’s soon back in costume with slightly better results, and all over the Interwebs as “Kick-Ass.”

Dave isn’t the only one using a costume to work out some issues. However, the father-daughter team of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) have more training and fire-power under their capes—and bigger crime fish to fry than street thugs. They’re after mob boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong with yet another well-played arch villain) who’s teenage son has his own superhero fantasies. (Christopher Mintz-Plasse nicely twists his own McLovin nerd aggression into something a little more messed up.)

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility… and a High Body Count

Unlike the naïve Kick-Ass, Big Daddy and Hit Girl are more than willing to kill the bad guys who get in their way. And kill them. And kill them again. If their outrageous first scene—Dad shoots daughter in the chest to teach her to take a bullet in the vest—deeply upsets you instead of making you laugh-cringe at its shocking ridiculousness, then bail out early. Kick-Ass isn’t going to get any better for you.

Kick-Ass is directed with relentless-but-sure-footed energy by British film maker Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust). He and his co-writer, Goth personality Jane Goldman, began working on the film version of Kick-Ass while Scottish comic-book writer Mark Millar and American artist John Romita, Jr. were still creating and shaping the original graphic novel.

Millar is a maestro of cynical comic-book mayhem—his sharp, subversive (if intellectually shallow) work is a potent mix with Vaughn’s hyper-kinetic, over-the-top verve and (much darker) John-Hughes teen-angst humor. (As Dave’s pals, Clark Duke and Evan Peters bring the Smart-Ass.)

Meanwhile, Nic Cage is doing his thing, goofing it up with a Village-People ‘stache and a hilarious Adam West impersonation. (Cage’s portrayal of loving father comes off more than a little like Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones.) But the film wouldn’t work if young Dave didn’t hold the center for us—Johnson gives the wannabe a solid-dork charisma that’s surprisingly engaging.

Tied with Johnson for Kick-Ass’s top casting find is Chloë Grace Moretz. She aggressively navigates Hit Girl through the excess, creating a pint-sized, ass-kicking heroine and pop-culture icon for the ages while—and this is key to the performance and the film—reminding us there’s still an 11-year-old girl underneath the mask and the mayhem.

Exploitation, Empowerment, or Just Entertainment?

Hit Girl was created to provoke, to push buttons and boundaries, to subvert both the image of the cute little school girl and of the very idea of superheroes taking kid sidekicks into battle. The problem isn’t so much that an 11-year-old girl is slicing and dicing foes like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill—the problem is it’s so dang much fun watching her do it.

Hit Girl is Kick-Ass’s secret weapon and easily the most entertaining, exhilarating part of the film. And that is, understandably, raising questions about how far is too far. (That she’s been conditioned by her own father to enjoy killing bad guys may be disturbing, but ask yourself if you’d feel as uneasy if it were an 11-year-old boy going all ginsu.)

Kick-Ass professes to show the “real-world” results of playing superhero dress up, but it’s all highly stylized carny thrills. It pretends to satirize comic book escapism, but serves up a giant platter of candy-colored, blood-soaked fantasy that plays best with viewers who once lost themselves in such daydreams. It’s like taking your kid to a strip club to teach him not to objectify women. Or to Wonkaland to learn about the dangers of diabetes.

I like action films, but over the years I’ve had less use for action scenes—for example, The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and Sherlock Holmes all work for me because of the actors and their characters, not their stunts. I may marvel at the special effects or nod approvingly at wild set-ups, but I rarely feel plugged into the action anymore. I felt plugged into Kick-Ass’s action. Plugged in, swept up, carried along, and spit out the other end howling with glee, not giving a damn ‘bout my bad reputation, and singing glory, glory hallelujah.

Is that a bad thing? Has Kick-Ass has gone too far? Is Hit Girl is a symbol of empowerment or exploitation? Those are valid questions I’ll be happy to discuss. As soon as I stop grinning.

Kick-Ass is on DVD and available for rental from redbox.

47 Responses to “Kick-Ass

  1. millar74
    Posted on August 3, 2010 at 9:23 am

    did i miss something??? who won the freeze frame?

  2. Erika Olson

    Posted on August 3, 2010 at 9:27 am

    No, I just had an awful day yesterday (my poor dog got four fatty tumors removed and couldn’t walk afterward…) so I am posting them this morning… they’re scheduled to go live at 10:30 AM central time. Sorry for the delay!

    - e

  3. millar74
    Posted on August 3, 2010 at 10:19 am

    Holy cow. A day like that definitely trumps freeze frame. Hope he’s ok. Sending warm and fuzzies your way.

  4. moviegoer123
    Posted on August 3, 2010 at 11:24 am

    Erika, I hope your dog is alright. I’ll pray for him tonight.

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Jeremy F.
    Posted on August 3, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Sorry about your pup E.

    But back to the movie…Kick-Ass is Kick-Ass. Nuff said…

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Giles Wells
    Posted on August 4, 2010 at 10:19 am

    I think Jeremy said it best.

    “Kick-Ass is Kick-Ass.”

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Shawna Fitzgerald
    Posted on August 5, 2010 at 9:48 am

    I watch far too many movies, and all too often they aren’t what I was hoping for… But Kick-Ass went above and beyond. LOVED it.

    • Currently 4/5 Stars
    Posted on August 5, 2010 at 10:00 am

    Great movie. I remain seated at all time.

    • Currently 4/5 Stars
    Posted on August 10, 2010 at 2:15 am

    I won’t go into all the psychological BS of this movie; Locke has addressed those concerns more than enough.

    I rented it, I watched it, I liked it. If you’re looking for a Comic book movie with Comic book FEEL, this has it all over the place.

    Bottom line : it’s sortof like Summer Camp – a bit immature, but a whole lot of fun.

  5. Belson
    Posted on August 10, 2010 at 6:10 am

    What a stupid movie…for STUPID people!!!!
    Fanboys can kiss my ass!

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Paul Worlton
    Posted on August 10, 2010 at 6:48 am

    I was skeptical when I rented this movie. I’d heard lukewarm reviews, at best. It’s a good thing I don’t trust reviews because this movie was awesome! I was very pleasantly surprised.

    As stated, this movie is not for kids. Some other good advice would be not to get too negative over a beginning that seems to be going nowhere. It builds and the end is a blast!

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Posted on August 10, 2010 at 6:51 am

    I’m going to watch it again… that 11 year old kid really MADE the movie. I only wish I would have had a father like hers.

  6. Norm
    Posted on August 10, 2010 at 7:08 am

    I loved this movie. My whole family watched it. I thought it was a great family fun movie. We wanted something different than the same old Disney movies and I found this to be a great alternative. My 8 year old loved it! Great Pick, fun for the whole family A++

    • Currently 4/5 Stars
    Bigger Daddy
    Posted on August 10, 2010 at 7:12 am

    I loved Hit Girl.. She made the movie.

  7. Eddie
    Posted on August 10, 2010 at 7:15 am

    First of all, Locke Peterseim, you are a dumbass. I see no reason to try to push your views upon anyone who wants to rent this. Second, it was a GREAT MOVIE, don’t listen to Locke. This movie is brilliant and its too bad I had to wait to watch it on DVD because the dumbass movie theater where I live is run by a bunch of bible thumpers and they pick and choose what movies we get, soo I agree with Norm in saying A++!

  8. wes
    Posted on August 10, 2010 at 8:05 am

    greatest line in the movie..? “Just call the mayor’s office and he shines a light in the sky in the shape of a giant —-!” ….or something along those lines. I nearly passed out laughing so hard!!

  9. Greg
    Posted on August 10, 2010 at 9:08 am

    The fact that you let your 8 year old watch this movie and didn’t see anything wrong with it is disturbing. If you want to know what has happened and is happening with this country all you need to do is read the actions of irresponsible adults like the ones I have read here. Is there nothing sacred in this country anymore? It has nothing to do with being a Bible thumper or not. It is about personal responsibility and simple morals.

  10. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on August 10, 2010 at 9:20 am

    Greg, I fully agree with you about parents’ lack of responsibility in letting young kids see films like this–it’s an issue that really infuriates me.

    However, in THIS particular case you can ignore Norm’s obvious trolling–he also posted a few minutes later as “Eddie,” so he’s clearly making stuff up to provoke a response.

    Norm/Eddie’s childish make-em-ups aside, I’ve seen parents take young children to really violent R-rated films in theaters, and other parents HAVE let their kids watch Kick-Ass. It’s sickening and sad.

    (Though, I want to repeat that I personally LOVE Kick-Ass…. for ADULTS.)

  11. pushin G's
    Posted on August 10, 2010 at 9:35 am

    And this is why our country is going to hell in a hand basket….irresponsible parents allowing their children to see this and other R-rated flicks! Its a real shame. Personally I think people should be required to take a parenting class or get some type of license before they’re allowed to procreate! There are way too many people in this world that should NOT be allowed to have children!

    • Currently 2/5 Stars
    Posted on August 10, 2010 at 10:12 am

    I love a good superhero movie as much as the next guy, but because the violence was so over-the-top, excessive (especially that torture scene near the end)I personally did not take to this film. I felt it was morally reprehensible that a film like this is so shamelessly promoted as a film aimed squarely at a youth audience. I am a parent of two boys and one is 16, and though he liked the film, he agreed that violence was
    the point driven into the ground. The film would have been better served if it had held back some of its punches, quite literally.

    • Currently 4/5 Stars
    Posted on August 10, 2010 at 10:22 am

    It fully exceeded my expectations (which were to turn it off within the first five to ten minutes) and I actually found myself enjoying the plot, characters and *dare I say* the violence. Surely NOT for minors, hence the R rating. And who honestly posts comments about their personal life on movie review sites? Weird…

  12. Ticojon
    Posted on August 10, 2010 at 10:39 am

    False advertising at it’s best! I expected a dumb comedy…not even close. Crewel humor…extreme graphic violence. This movie was a huge surprise; totally unexpected. It was pretty good though…if you can get past your sensitive ‘censoring’ mindset you’ll love this movie.

    • Currently 4/5 Stars
    Posted on August 10, 2010 at 10:41 am

    Great Movie! The girl was THE reason for watching this flick.
    Parents have every right to let their kids watch whatever they want! That’s why we are their parents and you are not. Stop preaching to us how to raise our kids. At least mine will not be living in a G rated Fantasy-Land.
    FYI, my kids will walk out the room if they don’t like it, and they have.

    • Currently 4/5 Stars
    Posted on August 10, 2010 at 10:52 am

    For all those moralistic parents who forget playing war games as children: I saw Jaws at age 3 in a drive-in and loved it. I read full-length novels from age 4 on including some exceedingly violent ones (parents could keep me from watching R-rated films but they thought books were safe – WHOOPS books actually have more violence and sex because they unlock the imagination!) Speaking of imagination, when children play with toys they are often depicting some characters killing other characters, again with their unlimited imagination. What is more idyllic than picturing children playing genocide (cowboys & indians) in a bygone era?

    Anyways, I am curious how many of those parents allow their children to read that horrid book with all the rape, incest, slavery and murder in it: the Bible. Because I was allowed to read that as well as Lord of the Flies. Considering I’m not one of the many murderers out there (many of which are religiously motivated) I don’t see how expanding my mind did any harm.

  13. Brian H.
    Posted on August 10, 2010 at 11:26 am

    This movie could of been alot better without all the adult language in it when i read about it I didn’t see anywhere it was not approved for children to watch otherwise it was good and stupid at the same time……