The celebrated shock tactics of Kick-Ass – superhero bloodbaths, a foul-mouthed child assassin, the title – are more dismaying than alarming, like hearing a fourth-grader proudly detonate his first F-bomb in front of a teacher while his friends are watching.
Kick-Ass isn’t dangerous, it’s juvenile. Not because it features teen characters or is based on a comic book, but because of the glib attitude it has toward, say, a man being sliced in half or a little girl spewing a misogynistic insult (not to mention the giddy pride the movie takes in its own glibness). It’s not the content that’s at issue in Kick-Ass, but the attitude.
This sort of ninny nihilism was the driving force of the 2008 comic, which followed a regular teen who decides to become a masked crime fighter, with comically dire results (he gets beat up a lot). While a self-referential graphic novel such as Watchmen used R-rated material to intricately deconstruct the superhero myth, Kick-Ass simply douses that myth in blood and four-letter words and then giggles at its own outrageousness.
Aaron Johnson plays the title teen, an average, comics-devouring kid who wonders why no one has ever tried to become a superhero in real life. So he orders a green wet suit and hits the crime-ridden streets to find out. His first mission – an attempt to disrupt a car jacking – promptly lands him in the hospital.
These early scenes express a certain amount of satirical wit, while Johnson has a charming goofiness in the lead role (when he issues threats to criminals, his voice cracks). But then Kick-Ass ups the ante with the arrival of actual crime fighters Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and the pre-teen, sword-swinging Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz, 11 when she played the tyke who talks like a trucker with Tourette’s).
The director here, Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake), is so pleased with his movie’s provocative content that this is ultimately the only thing Kick-Ass is about. The picture’s reason for being is to provoke the moral police. Don’t take the bait.