Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass is an almost pornographically violent superhero satire. I use the word satire charitably, as there is no real evidence as to what the tone, or for whom this movie was intended. The rather high level description of the movie (a high school geeky kid decided that he wants to be a superhero, while elsewhere in town there are real superheroes tooling around) seems to put in the same general universe as an entry from the Spy Kids franchise. However, when we see someone being lit on fire towards the end, we know that we are on a completely different planet of sensibility.
I am usually not a prig for substance – I would like to think I am not one of those people who protest any movie based on purely violence and sexuality. But consider how the movie establishes its hero’s dilemma. Dave, the geeky high school kid already referenced, is an avid comic book reader, and decided he wants to be a super hero. He has no superpowers but wants to just do good. He takes his makeshift costume and goes to the site of a possible carjacking. The fight ensues, and then he gets stabbed, nearly to death. This is such a jarring event that it’s a bit hard to focus. If it is trying to satirize, I am not sure what the point is. The obvious parallel is Quentin Tarantino and his breakneck comedies such as Pulp Fiction. However, Tarantino is able to describe horror through character dialogue and suggestion in such a manner that – well, he controls his effects so much better.
Vaughn misses on tone over and over again in the movie. For example consider the case of Hit Girl, an eleven year old raised by her father (Nicolas Cage, as always one of our best actors, and as always, on his “will act for food” tour). Indeed the scenes with her and dad at home talking about guns and training her to take bullets from close range are cheeky in their way. But when she sets out to bust up a drug ring, the movie lingers on the unusually graphic kills for a longer time than seems necessary. Indeed this is also the case in a later scene when a building is lit on fire. There is a bit too much realism here, but without even a lick of irony.
Really the movie is not poorly made, and the acting is fairly good. Even the character played by McLovin in a sort of Scott Evil vibe works effectively – even if his superhero costume makes him look a bit like Robert Smith from the Cure. But when there are bunch of kids in a cheeky teenage movie comedy sort of plot – and the climax features a couple of kills and torture scenes that would make the Saw franchise blush, one has to wonder what hell was the point.