There are a lot of ways to think about Matthew Vaughn’s film Kick-Ass. It’s a complicated construction, because its intentions are not simple and self-evident. Part of its ostensible importance is in how it actively turns and looks back at itself, representing and subverting its own intellectual, emotional, and visceral content.
Kick-Ass is the story of Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a comic book fanboy who decides to become a real superhero, patrolling New York City. As Kick-Ass, Dave starts out less than successful, but eventually, he catches on as an Internet meme, and his presence raises awareness of superheroes around New York City. However, as crime fighting becomes a more serious profession, Kick-Ass gains the attention of a local kingpin, and becomes a target for the criminal underworld. Only his association with other members of the vigilante community he's inspired can save him from their vengeance.
The expectations for Kick-Ass come from a lot of different places, and the more you think about it, the more you’ll find it second-guessing itself. Some of them come from the comic book, which is apparently similar, but not exactly the same. Some of them come from the broader world of comic book culture, which is where most of the rabid enthusiasm for the film originates. Some of the film’s expectations come from the way it’s been positioned as a genre-ending, ruthlessly deconstructive piece of film. All of these angles are coded right into the movie, so none of them can be ignored. So here we go...
I. The Self-Evident Action Movie
Okay, so Kick-Ass, on the surface, is an action movie about people who decide to become superheroes and who, with training and determination, endeavor to bring down the city’s kingpin. It’s a movie filled with bursts of brutal violence, and it has the essentials of an action film: sudden twists and turns, dramatic reversals, and protagonists written and cast for their screen presence. Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) has enormous charisma, and Kick-Ass is an endearing emotional centerpiece, acting as our proxy to the insane shit that happens in this version of New York City.
The kills are satisfying, and there’s drama to be enjoyed. However, the execution is all in the choreography and the gimmicks – animated footage, slow motion, dismemberments and splashes of blood, and a scene designed to look like a video game. Considered on the surface, the vision of a murderous 11-year old is pretty unnecessary, another trick to shock and engage the audience. All this fulfills its function, causing vocal reaction and enthusiasm from a pretty jaded audience.