For most comic book fans, their desire to bring villains to justice is relegated to math class fantasies. Then there are those like Dave Lizewski, played by Aaron Johnson, who put their daydreams into action. Kick-Ass (2010), directed by Matthew Vaughn, is the realized daydream of superhero comic book nerds around the world.
Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. Lizewski, someone not great at all, imagines becoming a masked crusader. A self-aware individual, he realizes that he is severely lacking in the superhero department. He has no dark past with a score to settle and no super power besides “being invisible to girls.”
Regardless, as a naïve, bored teenaged boy, he decides to become a superhero in a world of apathetic bystanders. He creates a homemade superhero costume out of a wet suit that looks like a combination of a pajama onesie and a Power Ranger costume. His weapon of choice: two night sticks wielded ninja-turtle style. His alter-ego name: Kick-Ass.
His first fight against crime is with two car-jackers. Attempting to lower his voice to a threatening octave, he hides a stick behind his back and tells the two thugs (twice his size), “If you leave now, I’ll let this go.” The car-jackers are caught between laughing at him and beating him. They opt for the latter, and Lizewski ends up both knifed in the stomach and run over by a car. Upon returning from the hospital he has damaged nerves and a metal-reinforced skeleton – ironically giving him the ability to tolerate greater pain.
Not to be discouraged by his dismal failure, Lizewski continues to run around New York City in his onesie costume, eventually fighting a gang outside of a convenience store. The event, filmed by a young boy with a camera, soon becomes the most watched video on YouTube and a cultural phenomenon. Kick-Ass later meets up with a father-daughter duo of crime fighters, Big Daddy and Hit Girl, much more accomplished and much more deadly than the adolescent boy. From there he becomes unintentionally sucked into a world of crime mobs and violence.
Hit Girl, played by 12-year old actress Chloe Mortez, has been trained her entire life to kill a local crime boss. Shockingly callous and mature, she serves as a foil for the awkwardly wimpy Lizewski. Critics have compared the action scenes later on in the film to those of Watchmen or Quentin Tarantino’s films as the tiny Hit Girl flips through the air, gunning down henchmen with the ease of a killing machine.
The tagline “I can’t read your mind, but I can kick your ass!” originally led me to think that the movie would be a lighthearted comedy despite its R-rating. But I found myself somewhat disappointed with the film. What began as a hilarious account of an average teenage boy atop the world of vigilante justice took an unfittingly dark turn. The humor of having a self-imagined superhero in a realistic environment disappears when the movie itself succumbs to surreal superhero stereotypes. In the beginning, we can see Liezewski’s green Kick-Ass costume peeking out underneath his button-up shirt. We laugh at how his voice cracks when he threatens villians, and at how people on the street treat him like a crazy man when he wears his superhero uniform. Yet towards the end, with pitifully little transition, Liezewski joins in a bloody battle that feels too out of character.
Perhaps Vaughn is asking his viewers to suspend their disbelief at the amazing acrobatics and ruthlessness of Hit Girl and Big Daddy, but it’s difficult to do so after the movie provides such a realistically portrayed character like Kick-Ass, who only fights crime after school on weekdays. I can’t seem to imagine these two kinds of superheroes sharing the same universe, and the shaky transition from harsh realism to surrealism makes it difficult to fully enjoy Kick-Ass as either “another superhero movie” or a parody of the genre.