We learn everything we need to know about Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), soon to be known as Kick-Ass, in his opening monologue: he is a teenager remarkable only in how unremarkable he is; a bit on the nerdy side, he's got two friends funner than he is (though even more forgettable) and an unrequited crush on a girl named Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca). To put it in his words, "I just existed." Unfortunately, I tend to agree: Dave does little over the next two hours to distinguish himself, the end result being a movie whose unanchored violence leaves us at sea in terms of whether what we're watching is meant to be taken with an open mind or a grain of salt. Such is the world of Kick-Ass.
One of the film's most glaring flaws is that it isn't consistent with its own logic. The first 15 minutes of the movie are devoted almost entirely to subverting the superhero myth by establishing how painfully normal both its world and its protagonist are, only to abandon that angle half an hour later. What makes Dave unique, we're led to believe, is that he has no superpowers of any kind; he isn't bitten by a spider, privy to a vast fortune, or even out for revenge; he's just a skinny kid who wants to help people. Problem is, Dave gets stabbed and run over the first time he puts his plan to action (note: this is one of the most realistic scenes in the movie), which necessitates that a series of metal plates be infused with his bones.
Needless to say, this heightens his pain threshold considerably. This hiccup in logic would be less of an issue if it ended up affecting the plot much, but it doesn't. Instead, it invites an immediate comparison to Wolverine (something Dave himself happily acknowledges) and contradicts the movie's own premise that Dave is fundamentally different from other superheroes when, in truth, there's little setting him apart from someone like Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne. Like them, his heroism lies in his moral fiber and the choices he makes. Everything else—their costumes, abilities, and catchphrases—is just an embellishment. That Kick-Ass attempts to reinvent the superhero genre while misunderstanding one of its central tenets is a bit troubling.
Newfound endurance aside, Dave is still a bit of a lightweight. Most of the legwork is done by the far more capable (not to mention charismatic and interesting) Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloë Moretz), a father-daughter team who are independently wealthy and out for revenge. The two are easily the most captivating characters in the film, sometimes to the point of making us wonder why it isn't named after them instead. Both are throwbacks in a way—Cage channels Adam West's portrayal of Batman in the '60s, while Moretz brings Natalie Portman in The Professional to mind—and, by the time we meet them, we've all but abandoned the notion that the world in which the film takes place is anywhere as real as we're told it is.