Saturday, April 17, 2010

Kick Ass Satirizes Violence, Society's Obsession with the Digital, Online World

I watched the latest Hollywood comic book adaptation Kick Ass today at the Scotiabank Theatre in downtown Toronto. It's more than deserving of the praise being heaped on it by mainstream media outlets. The Globe and Mail's Rick Groen gave it three stars, The Toronto Star's Peter Howell gave it four stars, and so on...

First, the 411 on Kick Ass's plot: Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is your typical high school geek (invisible to women, comic book fan - you know the shorthand) who decides to become a superhero. In case you don't already know, Lizewski's superhero moniker and the movie's title are one and the same. Going out to fight injustice without any training or proper weapons, well, flip the words of Lizewski's superhero name to find out what happens to him.

Lucky for Kick Ass a couple real superheros complete with the tragic past, weaponry and dogmatic mindset save his behind. They would be Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his gun-toting, knife throwing daughter who has yet to reach puberty. She's Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz). Hit Girl has generated plenty of publicity for Kick Ass because her prepubescent character curses like a sailor and kills with abandon. Kick Ass was filmed in Toronto; I mention this because the only beef I have with the movie is how poor a job the producers did of camouflaging Hogtown to make it a convincing double for NYC.

Kick Ass takes off when it satirizes the genre and, in the movie's climax, throws a horrific scene at the viewer that nearly made me cry. Kick Ass throws to the curb North America's obsession with the Internet and all things electronic. Lizewski isn't elevated to superhero status until a video of him getting beaten by three thugs in a diner parking lot goes viral on YouTube. When looking for something to do as his alter ego, Lizewski checks Kick Ass's e-mail account. And in a darkly funny scene, a stuffed teddy bear spy camera records the mass slaughter of the villain's thugs.

The villain's son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is often left to clue in his less technologically apt father (a grim Mark Strong)

Many of the characters' 'real' experiences are filtered through the online mediums of e-mail and MySpace. I found this kind of curious since MySpace's popularity has declined with the ascent of Facebook. Maybe Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wouldn't cough up enough cash to advertise his 'baby doll.'


A warning to anyone interested in watching Kick Ass. When the violence isn't cartoonish, it's sadistic enough to make you recoil. The scene I mentioned earlier that nearly brought me to tears is worth noting. Big Daddy is burned to death while Hit Girl attempts a rescue. This scene, and a couple others, really brings home the reality of dying, of being in agony, of being tortured. In these moments Kick Ass becomes a potent anti-violence film and the viewer is left to despair at the idea that two wrongs (ex. killing a person who killed someone close to you) can ever make a right.

It's scenes like Big Daddy's death sequence that I'm sure played through Roger Ebert's head when he described Kick Ass in his review as, "morally reprehensible." And it is. Anyone watching this movie with their brain engaged will be amused at the satire of contemporary society and saddened by all the violence, cruelty and general stupidity on display. Kick Ass doesn't just skewer the juvenile fantasy of being a 'superhero', it bulldozes it. If you're like me, you will leave the theatre impressed by the quality of what you've just watched, but also despairing for society. For all the ideas Kick Ass satirizes, it never once misses the mark.

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