VIOLENT, HOSTILE, SAVAGE, AND THAT'S JUST THE LANGUAGE
There's been a fair old amount of controversy swirling around Matthew Vaughn's gleeful new movie that has the appropriately irreverent title, “Kick Ass.”
Partly the controversy is about the violence, for this film is outrageously violent, from impalings to limb-loppings to death by bazooka, with an excruciating riff on the old “poodle in the microwave” story that you can see coming and wish you couldn't.
Partly it's about the language, which is probably the saltiest you will hear at the movies this week, including the tumbling of the C-word barrier, if there ever was one.
This movie is a deconstruction of the superhero gestalt, told from the point of view of a teenage boy, so naturally it's going to be violent and profane. Aaron Johnson, who has worked mostly on TV, plays Dave Lizewski, an amiable doofus with the usual obsessions of comic books and girls, who decides one day that the world would be a better place if ordinary people got involved in fighting crime by dressing up as superheroes. So without thinking through the implications of vigilante justice he orders up a ludicrous-looking wetsuit online, dons it and the matching hood (for disguising yourself from flounders?) and sets off to save the world. Naturally nothing goes as planned, because he has no superpowers, no training and no talent, so he's almost killed in the first ten minutes. Recovering from a knife in the gut in record time, because this is a movie, he sets out again with untarnished optimism, acquitting himself honorably enough against a gang of thugs that bystanders film the action on their phones (it's New York, after all), and his fame, as the superhero Kick Ass, goes viral.
At this point we cut to a tender scene between a father and daughter, where Dad promises the moppet bowling and ice cream as a reward for testing her new bullet-proof vest. He fires his automatic point blank at the kid, knocking her flat, and so we meet Big Daddy and Hit Girl, the real superheroes, with all the chops and all the weapons, and the convincing – sort of – vigilante motivation We learn Big Daddy's back-story in a comic-book flashback: he was framed by a big drug kingpin, his wife died while he was in prison, so he's trained himself and daughter as weapons of vengeance. Naturally Kick Ass becomes involved, on the flimsiest of coincidences, and we're set up for more blood and mayhem than a good production of “Titus Andronicus.”
Fortunately for connoisseurs, this whole grisly phantasmagoria is put together with the light touch of a comedian with a real feel for satire on a comic-book level. It doesn't take long for you to realize that this is not to be taken seriously, any more than the Old Lady in Voltaire's “Candide,” who has one buttock cut off and eaten by the Turks.
The carnage in the final scene of Akira Kurosawa's “Yojimbo” is appalling. In fact the carnage of the opening scene is pretty horrific, and it continues right on through to the Big Bloody Finish. Yet “Yojimbo” stands as a laugh-out-loud comedy, and as one of the great films of all time. Kurosawa achieves this by going completely over the top and daring us to follow, which is what Shakespeare does in “Titus Andronicus” (which should be played as a black comedy), what Tarantino does in everything, and what Matthew Vaughn tries to do in “Kick Ass.” Vaughn doesn't work on Kurosawa's or even Tarantino's level, but you can see him trying.
Vaughn directed “Stardust” from the Neil Gaiman graphic novel, and showed a talent for comic violence. Here has some strong performers to support his vision, including Nicholas Cage, whom I'd grown massively tired of, back on form as a quirky, obsessed, unpredictable lunatic and loving father.
Most of the controversy centers on his daughter, the pre-pubescent Hit Girl, played with fine flair by the adorable Chloe Moretz. Do you have problems with a sweetly foul-mouthed 11-year-old who can dispatch a dozen hit-men without raising a sweat? Perhaps you have one in your family? Then you want to keep her from seeing this movie at all costs. It would give her Ideas. But if you're a mature, sophisticated fan of screaming irony, with a refined taste for homicidal havoc, this is the shop for it.