Sunday, April 25, 2010

Movie Review: "Kick Ass"

Movie makers know that putting kids in adult situations will provoke controversy. It never fails. We've seen the cursing, adolescent Tatum O'Neil in "The Bad News Bears," the provocative Brooke Shields in "Pretty Baby," and the head spinning Linda Blair of "The Exorcist" and the various reactions they've gotten from critics and the movie-going public. Critics often shrug off the content of these films with talk about "context." But for some reason, the foul language and violence committed by Hit Girl in the new film Kick Ass has drawn some fire-- garnering a one star review from Roger Ebert no less (though he has fewer objections to child rape as depicted in Hounddog featuring Dakota Fanning-- go figure) because he doesn't see any context when it comes to the character of Hit Girl. I couldn't disagree more. I admit I was apprehensive about seeing "Kick Ass." I even voiced my reservations when I posted the red band trailer a few weeks ago. But I'm glad I gave the movie a chance. "Kick Ass" is based on a comic book written by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.. I don't know the source material, so I can't say how well it is translated to the screen-- I can only give my impression of how it holds up as a movie. Kick Ass, the superhero, is conceived by teenager Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) who imagines being a superhero the way only a teenage boy can. Wanting to be something other a than an invisible, milquetoast kid who fantasizes about his English teacher, he wonders out loud why no one has actually ever tried to be a super hero. Acting on his newly conceived idea, he buys a costume, christens himself 'Kick Ass' and promptly finds himself in way over his head. Kick Ass somehow stumbles into a moment of vague heroism, one that just happens to be caught on camera, and he soon becomes an internet sensation. Doing what any teenage boy would do in the situation, Dave sets up a webpage and basks in his glory as Kick Ass. Still unaware of the danger he is putting himself in, even following a near-deadly beating, Dave tries to help his high-school crush (who happens to think he is gay) fend off a violent drug dealer and ends up being rescued by a pint-sized, foul mouthed bad-ass known as Hit Girl (Chloë Moretz). Hit Girl, whose real name is Mindy Macready, is a cold-blooded killer who happens to be 11 years old. Raised by her father Damon (Nicholas Cage), who gives himself the handle of Big Daddy, Mindy has spent almost her whole life being trained to be nothing more than a tool in her father's arsenal to get revenge on local crime boss, Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong), who Damon blames for his wife's death. Unlike Kick Ass, Big Daddy and Hit Girl don't seek out media attention or seem interested in anything other than taking down D'Amico. Kick Ass's idea of crime fighting isn't particularly well thought out (he prefers to do his crime fighting on weekdays between 2 and 9-- or something like that). And getting caught in the trajectory that Hit Girl and Big Daddy are following brings him to the attention of D'Amico and his own socially awkward son (Chrisopher Mintz-Plasse--best known as McLovin' from "Superbad") who puts on his own costume and dubs himself Red Mist in an attempt to get close to Kick Ass. No one dons a costume with any real intentions of fighting crime; in the end it's all about personal gain. Or as Kick Ass attempts to sum it up--"with no power comes absolutely no responsibility." It's probably not coincidence that the most intriguing character is also the most controversial. Chloë Moretz is terrific as Hit Girl. Who knew a young psychopath could be so charismatic? A lot of attention is placed on the language used by Hit Girl and the incredible violence she commits-- with good reason-- but a lot of critics act like this character was just created for shock value and has no underlying story. Well, maybe shock value comes into play here, but there is context to the story as well. It would be simplistic to say Hit Girl has never had a childhood. This is a kid who's been trained in the art of taking a bullet by dear-old-deranged dad. Nicholas Cage brings his special brand of crazy to the role and somehow manages to convey a deep love for his daughter even as he cripples her ability to be a normal kid. We don't know at what age Damon set his mini-maniac loose on the objects of his vengeance, but she's a well established killer. Hit Girl can take down a room full of gun-toting bad guys, slicing and dicing her way through like a miniature Uma Thurman in "Kill Bill." There's a good reason the violence in "Kick Ass" is frequently compared to a Quentin Tarantino film. But we've seen this kind of language and violence before. What shocks us is the fact that it originates from the body of a young girl-- with the blessing and encouragement of her father. So why would I claim this movie has any redeeming qualities? What appealed to me about "Kick Ass" is that it seems to be an ironic statement about comic book heroes in the same vein as "Watchmen." Perhaps it's not as sophisticated as "Watchmen," but "Kick Ass" makes it plain that you probably have to be a little unhinged to put on a costume, give yourself a "cool" name, and start looking for crime to fight. Kick Ass's idea of heroism doesn't go much further than that of a teenager's daydream and he loses his desire as quickly as it appears; especially once he develops a life beyond his web-page. Big Daddy and Hit Girl also don't seem to have a plan beyond taking down D'Amico, so it's unclear whether they aspire to take their crime fighting beyond that point. The movie is violent in the extreme, but it's also funny and strangely endearing. All the actors do a great job but you have to really hand it to Nicholas Cage and Chloë Moretz as Big Daddy and Hit Girl. I love Cage's take on the character and the strange twist he puts on the endearments he uses with his daughter. I don't know how he does it, but he's creepy and touching at the same time. And if Moretz doesn't end up as the next big thing in child actors, I'll be shocked. And no matter how much fire the movie gets because of her foul mouthed vigilante, she makes the movie. Even as I cringed during the more violent sequences, I wanted to see more Hit Girl. "Kick Ass" is one of those movies that shouldn't really shock anyone because you know what you're getting before you go in; and frankly, I've seen video games more disturbing than this movie (one segment even seems to deliberately emulate first-person shooter games). No matter what Roger Ebert says, I think there's some redeeming value here, even if only as entertainment. And at least there is an attempt to put some reason behind the violence-- as opposed to some of the worst offenders in the video game realm. I think I'd rather my kids watch "Kick Ass" (though not anytime soon) than play some of the games I've seen. And, if nothing else, "Kick Ass" is a compelling movie, done well on a small budget. I definitely hope to see a sequel.

16 comments:

Harry Markov said...

I read the comics, but still have to see the movie. According to the Book Smugglers, the comic hasn't made it in its entirety on the screen, but it is good enough.

And, I am not really sure why anyone would be so disturbed. We have seen demonic kids all the time, so a little psycho killer is not that much of a shock.

Sullivan McPig said...

Sounds like something I should watch.

SQT said...

Harry-- yeah, after you see the devil in the body of a child (as in "The Omen") Hit Girl seems a little less intense. But I guess it's kind of a gut reaction we all have to seeing kids behaving so uncharacteristically. I don't even thing my daughter could try to act the part of Hit Girl (for which I'm grateful) so that makes the portrayal a little jarring at first. But you get over that fast as you get into the movie. By the end, I though Hit Girl was best thing about the whole film.

Sullivan-- as long as you're not bothered by Tarrantino-esque violence, you should be good to go. They give you a pretty good head-up on when the ugly parts are coming, to it's easy to turn your head if you need to. That's I how watch the more graphic movies myself anyway. But I still liked it. I laughed and cringed in equal parts and found myself thinking about it after the movie was over. That's always a good sign...right?

Carrie said...

As for me... I was really put off by Hit Girl. It wasn't necessarily the swearing, but more the violence and the fact that she was so completely matter-of-fact about it.

I saw it two weeks ago and I'm still trying to decide how I feel about it. The negative stuff seems to be prevailing, but at the same time, there were quite a few things that I liked about it.

Hubby liked it overall, so much so that we may end up getting it on DVD when it comes out. Perhaps my opinion will improve on a second viewing. :)

SQT said...

Carrie-- I totally get that. In a strange way it was her matter-of-fact nature that kept me interested. It made me wonder what kind of life she had led. What her father did to desensitize her so much.

I want to know what happens to Hit Girl next. Does she realize that she's not normal? If so, will she want to fit in? Will she resent her father?

Up 'til now she hasn't seen anything wrong with her life so she doesn't think she's strange and sees no reason to have anything to whine about. But what happens if she realizes her dad took something away from her?

I just wonder if she'll get there.

Stewart Sternberg said...

God, I loved this movie, although the first part seemed a bit slow. As for Hit Girl,when I first saw the trailers, I remember thinking.."Dear God...yes!" When I finally saw this movie, and heard the "Banana Splits Theme" playing over the ultraviolence, I wanted to stand and cheer. It was a bit of genius film making.

The violence that is HitGirl is a strong statement about what we are doing to our children, about what the affect both the exploitation of the children and the massive assault of violence through media is having on them.

Hit Girl is a metaphor, she is a personification. I know, I know, most people won't pause to analyze it in that manner, and most people will have a hard time getting over the violent images, but once they stop and give consideration to thematic content, there is a tremendous amount of depth to this film, and to the comic (which I read).

I think this is a classic.

Charles Gramlich said...

I haven't seen it but may watch it on PPV. I winced a bit when they showed the girl in what appears to be a pretty sexualized costume. It troubled me.

SQT said...

Stu-- I really liked it too. I think I see where you're going by saying she's a personification. I think that scene where we see her shoot-up the room from a video-game perspective really drives the point home. It's as if the director is saying this is how kids are being exposed to violence, and the audiences reaction to live, on-air horror, only drives it home. People are seeing the whole thing in real time, but no one seems connected or concerned about the series of events.

Very interesting.

Carrie said...

You make a good point, SQT. I hadn't really thought about it much beyond the gut reaction. In fact, a lot of my experience with that movie was gut reactions, mostly of the "Oh my God, what just happened there?" I even let loose a "WTF?" at the end of the bazooka scene.

This is part of the reason why I think a second viewing might improve my overall opinion. Time to think about what I saw will probably put some new light on the movie for me.

As far as what happens next, the movie did show her going to school, and I imagine her guardian would do his best to make up for what she may have lost due to her violent childhood. Still, she doesn't seem to feel the lack very much, considering the conversation she had with her dad about her birthday. I am curious though about what might happen with Red Mist in the future, and if she'll feel the need to get involved.

And as to the TV scene, I think that the people watching it thought it was probably staged. The only person who really knew that it wasn't was Katie, who was truly concerned. I think the scene that speaks more to what you're talking about is Kick Ass' first big fight, the one that gets on YouTube. There were so many people on the other side of that window, and all they did was watch. I don't remember hearing any one of them say anything about "maybe we should try to help him", which is part of the reason he put the costume on in the first place. Because our society is so consumed with "mind your own business".

CouponWebz | UPrinting Coupons said...

The movie might be too "strong" and I think if a friend is curious then just let him watch it and decide for himself, although I know film critics are just doing their job, it would be best if we just check out these type of movies. Who knows this could be the next Godfather 10-20 years from now.

Individualist said...

I saw the movie and it was good. I did not really pick up on the bad language coming from Hit Girl but then again when you put her in the mask she had a "little person" quality like a munchkin in the Wizard of Oz.

It's funny there was only one scene that made me cringe and that was the indisciminant killing of everyone in the Drug Dealer's lair. It seemed cruel as I took at least half to be lost drug addicts, sad people but not deserving of death.

All in all it was a good flick but very unrealistic. I guess I like grittier action. The ending however was good.

SQT said...

Carrie-- I felt like the witnesses in both scenes were detached from the violence, very much like a video game, which kind of gives Stewart's theory that Hit Girl is violence personified some credibility. Overall I like that the movie makes me think.

Individualist-- I felt like Hit Girl was oblivious to the carnage all the way through. I'm not a big fan of gratuitous violence, but I actually think that was the point the movie was trying to make. The more I think about it, the more I think Stewart was right. This movie is saying look at what we're doing to our kids. Hit Girl has been so brainwashed by her father that she doesn't think twice about what she's doing. I'm really interested to see if she ever develops a conscience.

weenie said...

I loved the film and yes, when Hit Girl was fighting, I too wanted to cheer! Yes, it was a young girl being incredibly violent and foul-mouthed but there was a reason/story behind why she was like that. Would love to know how life goes on for Hit Girl among the 'normal' people.

SQT said...

Weenie-- you get me ;)

Time4u Book Review said...

An incredibly funny film, made cry with laughter! if you have'nt seen it yet, its well worth watching.

Karen said...

I liked this movie, a lot! Good review.