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Suck-Ass

The flashy nihilism of ‘Kick-Ass’ hides just another empty action movie

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Superhero movies deserve a punch in the face. In the space of the last decade, they’ve gone from exciting embodiments of the gleeful spirit of comic books to bloated Hollywood cash cows, and there seems to be no end in sight to the stream of bigger and bigger spectacles, which are more like marketing campaigns than films.

Kick-Ass, based on a popular comic-book series written by Mark Millar and illustrated by John Romita Jr., promises to deliver just that needed blow (or perhaps kick in the ass), stripping away the bombast of superhero stories and depicting what would really happen if an ordinary citizen decided one day to put on a silly costume and fight crime.

That average guy is Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a high-school loser and comic-book geek who takes it upon himself to become the world’s first actual superhero, even though he has no superpowers. He puts on an outfit he bought on the Internet and heads out to the mean streets of New York City, only to get the life nearly pummeled out of him and end up in the hospital. That, of course, is exactly what would happen if a scrawny, untrained teenager tried to fight off a pair of muscled-up thugs. But initial appearances aside, Kick-Ass is only pretending to be interested in exploring the real-life ramifications of vigilantism.

The Details

Kick-Ass
Two stars
Aaron Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nicolas Cage.
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Rated R
Beyond the Weekly
Kick-Ass
IMDb: Kick-Ass
Rotten Tomatoes: Kick-Ass

Because despite the title, Kick-Ass (the code name Dave invents for himself) isn’t really the movie’s main character or biggest draw. That distinction belongs to a couple of other superheroes who happen to start working around the same time as Dave, and who are much more in line with the typical heroes of comic books. They’re known as Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), and they’re every bit as implausibly invincible as Batman, although they’re not superhuman either. Once Big Daddy and Hit Girl show up, the movie goes from semi-obnoxious piss-take on superhero conventions to full-on self-parody, a bloated, self-important action movie that has nothing valuable to say about superheroes or comic books.

In its own hyperviolent, controversy-baiting way, Kick-Ass is as empty and superficial as the biggest studio production, which is no surprise coming from Millar, a writer known as much for his self-promotion as for his actual work—which tends to be condescending, flashy and exhausting. At least Kick-Ass the movie is a less dispiriting experience than Kick-Ass the comic book, thanks mostly to director Matthew Vaughn’s ability to bring out the humor in the material. On the page, preadolescent Hit Girl slicing through bad guys and uttering horrific swear words is just ugly and mean, while Vaughn and Moretz (who utterly steals the movie) make it at least a bit of wink-and-smile fun.

Still, by the time the movie gets around to Big Daddy’s clichéd origin story and the gigantic, staggeringly violent set pieces that close out its orgy of excess, there’s no humor or cleverness left. Vaughn’s visual style is colorful and energetic but ultimately as pointless as the story, and even Moretz’s foulmouthed charm eventually wears out its welcome. Kick-Ass is a movie so concerned with flattering its fanboy audience, so in love with itself and its own supposed transgressions, that it loses sight of the fact that it’s become the very thing it’s supposed to be taking down.

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