Before his “superhero” film, Nigel gave us a nice little lecture on the history of the superhero in comic books and films, discussing how characters like Superman evolved from circus-strongman to flying alien with x-ray vision. Then, he showed us a couple of clips of martial arts and martial arts training to prepare us for the next breed of superhero – what I’ll call the neorealism school of heroism. No longer does the comic book feel that its hero needs to be bitten by a radioactive spider so that he can shoot webs out of his wrists in order to fight crime. And I think it’s a good move, because while I typically don’t have a very soft spot for superhero movies, I thoroughly enjoyed Nigel’s film Kick-Ass (directed by Matthew Vaughn).
Dave Lizewski is your typical, dorky, mild-mannered high-school student, ignored by the girls (especially the hottie of his dreams, Katie) and wasting too much of his time jerking off to National Geographic pictures of shirtless women on the internet. (This, it turns out, may be the most unrealistic element of the entire film – it is FAR too easy to find free porn on the internet that a high-school kid would resort to pleasuring himself at nationalgeographic.com.) But clearly Dave fits the profile for the nerdy kid about to be turned into a superhero.
Except it doesn’t really happen in the established way.
Dave asks his friends rhetorically (and by extension, himself) why people don’t become superheroes? What’s stopping everybody? Well, his friends justifiably blow him off but after yet another lunch-money mugging by the local thugs, through the magic of the internet and a credit card Dave soon becomes the proud owner of one super-retarded form-fitting suit. And a couple of sticks. And he calls himself…Kick-Ass.
He has no martial arts training whatsoever.
So when he comes across the very same mugging local thugs breaking into a car one day after school, he jumps into an alley, puts on the suit he was carrying around in his backpack, and confronts the criminals.
Naturally, they kick his ass. And they manage to shiv him. Then he gets blindsided by a car. Ouch.
He comes to in the ambulance just enough to beg the EMTs to not tell anybody about the superhero suit. Several months of rehab later, he’s back to school, with enough metal in his body to prevent him from ever flying commercial again, and a pretty destroyed nociceptive system, which gives him the “superpower” of having an unusually high tolerance to pain. (It doesn’t really play into the plot of the film, which is, for once, a relief.)
Undeterred, Kick-Ass returns to the crime-fighting scene, starting with the little things like finding lost cats while wearing a brand new copy of the same suit. But he gets his chance to be a “real” hero when he accidentally knocks down a lone gang member fleeing from three rivals, who begin beating him mercilessly. Kick-Ass, with his dual billy clubs, stands up for the lone pummellee while onlookers watch from the safety of a well-lit restaurant. Kick-Ass actually takes a good beating, but manages to hold the gang off long enough for 1) the police to show up and 2) for somebody to pull out a cell phone and record video of the superhero in action.
Things are beginning to look up for Dave. His alter ego is now an internet sensation, spawning comic books and imitators, and Katie has decided to take him on as her token “gay” friend, a role he is all too happy to play. But as it turns out, Dave isn’t the only non-super superhero in town.
Damon McCready (hereafter known as “Big Daddy”) is a former cop with a vendetta. Yeah, that’s pretty formulaic, too. As a narc, he was set up by the corrupt powers that be to protect the drug ‘n’ thug empire of our antagonist, Frank D’Amico. He was locked up on a long sentence while his wife was roundly pregnant. To magnify his desire for vengeance, said pregnant wife O.D.ed out of shame just late enough for her viable daughter to survive. Mindy was raised by Big Daddy’s former partner while B.D. was in the clink, and when he got out he set about training her as a death machine (Hit Girl) to help him in his quest for revenge.
We first meet Big Daddy and Hit Girl when he is shooting her at close range to show her what it’s like when your bulletproof vest absorbs a round. While Kick-Ass is milking his internet fame, Big Daddy and Hit Girl are out causing serious problems with the drug empire of Frank D’Amico. When one of D’Amico’s henchmen pulls out the lame excuse of having had his coke stolen by a guy in a costume he goes unbelieved (and, well, executed) until Kick-Ass becomes a phenomenon, at which point D’Amico believes there may be something to it. (The henchman finally becomes believed, but he doesn’t become un-dead.)
It’s right about that Kick-Ass does something stupid. Or, more stupid, really. It turns out that Katie, who volunteers at a needle exchange program, has gotten a bit too close to one of her “clients” and she wants him to leave her alone but can’t convince him to do so. Dave, with a clear conflict of interest, advises her to contact Kick-Ass via his superhero-for-
hirefree Myspace site., then dresses up and goes to tell his rival to back off. Yeah, so Kick-Ass ends up alone, in a retarded suit, verbally confronting a heavily-armed drug lord in a drug den. But you know, the kid has moxie.
Luckily for Kick-Ass, he has selected the very night that Big Daddy and Hit Girl have chosen to take this drug lord out, and he gets his butt bailed out of what otherwise would have been certain death.
Big Daddy and Hit Girl lose Kick-Ass during their rooftop exit, but they later track him down and give him a visit to make sure he stays quiet about the whole thing. They realize that he’s just a loser in a jumpsuit, but since he’s got a heart of gold, they tell him that if he ever needs any help, he can contact them, leading to one of the best exchanges in recent memory:
Dave: How do I get a hold of you?
Hit Girl: You just contact the mayor’s office. He has a special signal he shines in the sky; it’s in the shape of a giant cock.
Actually, he’s supposed to signal them with his MySpace account.
Anyway, Frank D’Amico, who has recovered a blurry cell-phone picture of Kick-Ass from the ruined drug den, is now out to get Kick-Ass out of the game. But how? His son, trying to break into his father’s business, has an idea – create his own superhero alter ego (Red Mist) and use that to get buddy-buddy. It works, and Red Mist is in the process of bringing Kick-Ass to his father’s torture warehouse when Big Daddy and Hit Girl coincidentally take out the warehouse, burning it down. This obviously ends the attempt on Kick-Asses life for now, and Red Mist recovers a hidden camera which squarely puts the blame on Big Daddy and Hit Girl – now everybody knows that Kick-Ass is a fraud.
Still, Kick-Ass becomes critical for D’Amico’s plan to eliminate the real threat to his business – Red Mist contacts him again looking for “real” help, and Kick-Ass leads him right to the duo. Bad move. At the safehouse, Hit Girl is shot in the chest and Big Daddy and Kick-Ass (who has finally come out of the closet, both in the alter ego and heterosexual sense, to his new girlfriend Katie) are captured and tortured on live internet feed.
Hit Girl, of course,was wearing her bulletproof vest, so she finds her way to where they are and summarily destroys them all. Unfortunately, she’s too late to save Big Daddy, but she enlists the rightfully reluctant Kick-Ass to help her on a final assault of Frank D’Amico’s stronghold. The jet pack with howitzers attached plays a role in Kick-Ass accepting the charge. (See, you don’t have to have superpowers, just really expensive toys! It’s more like James Bond, but not old enough for a martini.)
Can you guess how the assault turns out? If you said that after some dramatic tension it succeeds, and all the bad guys are left dead except for Red Mist, who is seen at the end of the film furiously planning a sequel, you’d be right.
So it is a formulaic film, but at the same time it has a lot of style, a lot of humor (including a foul-mouthed 11-year-old girl, which is one reason that some critics roundly panned the movie), and so superpowers necessary. Good martial arts skills? Sure. Better weapons? Sure. But nobody has an invisible jet or turns green and develops superhuman strength when they get mad. It’s refreshing.