Comic-book carnage

2010-04-26 00:00

COMIC books seem to be the default resource pool for producers today, but Kick-Ass is not your average superhero movie.

As creator Mark Millar writes in the making-of book, the movies could “redefine superhero movies in the same way Pulp Fiction redefined crime movies”. It provokes and asks questions in much the same way as Quentin Tarantino did. That is to say — he didn’t.

A film like this takes violence and coarseness to the extreme, and revels in its own notion of violence. When it’s good, it’s very, very good — which is the bait — and before you know it you’re in it, and there’s no getting out.

The Marvel comic book version of Kick-Ass began publication only two years ago, but the cover line of its second issue, Sickening Violence: Just the Way You Like It, says it all.

The same sense of provocation comes through in this film by director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) and co-writer Jane Goldman.

The hero is Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a high-school nobody who aspires to some kind of bigger existence. His notion of donning a cheap wetsuit and taking to the streets gives birth to his alter ego Kick-Ass. Needless to say, with no superpowers or streetwise savvy, he gets nowhere until one of his pathetic attempts at justice is posted on YouTube, which exalts him to the strato­sphere of popular culture.

From here, the plot is taken further with the introduction of a pair of real crime fighters, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloë Moretz), who are in real life a father and daughter — and it is with the introduction of this 11-year-old that the film surges into the realm of the uncomfortable.

The issue of children’s vulnerability around the world is surely something that Vaughn is aware of. His answer is to flip things around, making the adults the target of a junior’s frenetic sword-wielding and trigger-pulling glee.

By the end of Hit Girl’s first mass murder, I was left pondering whether this was a formidable exercise in cynicism or whether, like Pulp Fiction, it is a silly mismatch of ideas which makes it compulsively watchable. Admittedly, I’d rather watch this than a romcom.

But once it all calms down, it’s worth asking what purpose it all serves. Entertainment? The film borrows from everything in the superhero genre — from The Matrix to The Dark Knight — so we’re being fed a large helping that has simply been reheated.

The filmmakers will call it satire or commentary, but what is it really saying? One commentator calls it “violence’s answer to kiddie porn”, where Hit Girl provides fodder for the dreams of paedophiles. He may not be wrong, given the general flavour of the film.

The film might attract a cult following for its flipping of the status quo. On that score, it’s clever. However, given its message, if you get a kick out of this, you probably need psychological help.


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