I’ve started waking up early for matinee movies on Sundays. It’s fun and all, but I find that I only really enjoy a film if I can tell everyone what I think about it afterwards. Hence, the Sunday Morning Movie Series. Last Sunday, I saw Kick-Ass at the AMC Aventura.
I’m no comic book scholar, but from what I’ve picked up along the nerdy adventure that is my life, I know that the basic superhero formula is this: An Everyman-type character undergoes a life-altering experience that gives him the superpowers he needs to correct the world’s injustices. That’s also the formula that Kick-Ass follows, both in the development of its characters and, in a strangely conceptual way, in its own development. Which is pretty cool sometimes, and frustrating at others.
Dave Lizewski, the boy who would become Kick-Ass, is, by his own admission, not unique or interesting in any way. The same could be said for the first part of the film itself, which serves as a backgrounder to Dave’s dull high-school life, filled with clichés like striking out with girls and getting beaten up for his lunch money. It’s a normal, Everymovie story opener – nothing you haven’t seen before, and kind of a snooze. It’s so bland, in fact, that I came away from it knowing very little about Dave other than the fact that he has two snarky, similarly boring friends, he’s a serial masturbator, and his mom died of an aneurism (a fact mentioned once, apparently to satisfy some comic cliché, and then ignored for the rest of the movie).
Then, one morning, Dave wakes up and decides to become a superhero. Just like that. He has a theoretical conversation with his friends, buys a scuba suit and mask and starts patrolling the streets. Seriously, just like that. There’s no turning point, no creation story. He doesn’t even define himself as a comic book nerd. Dave’s just like, “Hey, this would be cool.” And so he does it. Maybe you’re not the kind of person who likes to understand and relate to the characters you see on screen, but for me, this puts a giant hole in the plot of the story. I mean, come on. You want moviegoers to see themselves in this character? Fine. Give him relatable traits. But give him some traits. These are commonly known as Reasons To Keep Watching.
We don’t see any reason why Dave takes it to the next level. What we do see is an excellent case for rejecting costumed crime fighting and remaining the Everyman. As Kick-Ass, Dave gets worked. Crushed. Owned. Seriously injured, is what I’m saying, and we see pretty much every bit of it. It’s not Tarantino-level violence, but it’s well above the fake-y fantasy violence I’ve come to expect from a traditional action movie. And the dull normality of the context, especially in Kick-Ass’ first outings, makes it all the more shocking. He comes within an inch of his life. And then he goes back. Seriously, dude, why? I need a reason.
Maybe I’m harping on this too much, because I really did enjoy most (the latter part, especially) of the movie. Like its superhero characters, Kick-Ass does eventually morph into a winner—fitfully. By the end scenes, it’s nearly indistinguishable from a traditional superhero movie, in a good way. There’s spectacular action, good guys fighting bad guys, excitement, suspense and all the rest of it. But the road to SuperMovie is complicated by the violence along the way. There’s no clear point where the change happens, so we don’t know when or how much to suspend our disbelief. Maybe this is the reason many reviewers have a problem with the treatment of Hit Girl, the 11-year-old who’s, admittedly, “brutally hammer[ed] … to within an inch of her life.” Are we thinking of her as a real-life 11-year-old girl, or as a superhero? I came down on the superhero side, and loved every single scene featuring Chloe Moretz.
Meanwhile, Nic Cage didn’t make me want to tear out my fingernails for once, and actually got a few laughs out of me as Big Daddy. And who doesn’t love McLovin, playing to his nerdy, whiny strengths in a goofy costume? All these characters were enjoyable to watch, relatable and still surprising. Why? Because I knew where they came from. Because some writer had the presence of mind to let me know why these characters behave they way they do. How do you leave that part out of the story of your title character?
At some point during the film, I harnessed some super brain powers of my own to ignore that massive oversight and just take for granted the things happening on the screen. And it was fun. Honestly, I’m glad I saw it in theaters for some of Hit Girl’s maneuvers alone. But if you’re going to make a movie about a band of superheroes, don’t plan the whole plot around the most boring guy in the group. At the very least, don’t name the thing after him.
I’m not the first to call for this, and I’m sure I won’t be the last:
If there’s a sequel (and—spoiler alert—there’s a 200% chance there will be), it better be titled Hit Girl