“Kick-Ass”

“Kick-Ass” is a movie of excess. Its permeating excess hinders it, but it also works in its favor. I’ll start with the pros. The cons, refuting the pros, will follow in the same order.

PROS:

1. There are a lot of characters. Very few of the characters are genuinely compelling, but the sheer number of characters keeps the story from lagging. Most are two-dimensional, but some of them inhabit roles not usually seen in cinema.

Examples: A father training his daughter to be an especially ruthless superhero. The eager son of a vicious drug lord. Nothing substantial is made of these characters, but they are interesting enough to inhabit the background of an action-comedy while adding to the proceedings.

2. It is extremely well-edited. There are many visual flourishes. There is comic book animation, and the colors are bright and deep.

3. The perspective of the film is loose. The camera moves fluidly throughout the room as the action takes place. There are shots from every angle, and it is a loosely wound and visceral experience. This, coupled with the constant shifting between characters, makes it hard not to be entertained. The overall experience is rather more full than usual for a movie of its ilk.

4. The action scenes are thrilling. When it resists graphic violence, it enthralls. Even when the movie is overly violent, it never ventures too far. It is restrained enough to merely show splattering blood, instead of realistically depicting bullet to the head or a knife to the throat.

CONS

1. Only one character comes to mind who was genuinely compelling. This is the character of the little girl superhero. The actress, Chloe Moretz, has a verve that none of the other characters have. Perhaps it’s her youth; while the other actors have settled into the expectations in place for their performances, she, at age thirteen, hasn’t even dealt with the humbling experience of puberty. Her face is expressive, her lines are witty, and she has the most charisma of anyone in the movie.

Aside from her, it’s all just a parade of characters who, although sometime funny and well-costumed, operate in fewer dimensions than the rest of us. This sad fact is hard to ignore.

2. The violence is graphic. It’s not too brutal, but the director puts spurting blood on the screen every chance he gets. It’s all very chaste, strangely enough. There is an exploding body, a severed leg, and assorted other mortal wounds, and yet it’s mostly played for aesthetic effect.

When the protagonist is the one getting stabbed and maimed, the film wants us to feel for him. And it’s hard not to. But there is a fissure between how it presents violence against the good guys (wrenching, righteous anger-inducing) and violence against the bad guys (gleeful, aesthetically striking). The gleeful attitude wins out, especially as the film progresses and the violence becomes more directed towards the bad guys. Thus, I wonder what reason there was, to show the protagonist get beaten to a pulp in the early-going. Is it supposed to be ironic that our ostensibly impervious superhero is merely a noodle-limbed high-schooler? If so, the irony is lost in the second half when “Kick-Ass” inhabits the traditional action movie territory. Are we supposed to sympathize? Because it’s hard to care too much about such a delusional kid.

3. When a movie dazzles me, and yet doesn’t engage my emotions or intellect, I blame its visual style for suckering me in. This is what happened with “Kick-Ass.” There’s nothing wrong with this type of entertainment, but let’s be frank: “Kick-Ass” is not a great film, and I will probably not see it again. Part of me wishes I’d popped on something more productive, but entertainment is one of the shiniest apples the serpent delivered us. Curses!

4. Excess. The movie is too long. As is the case with many comedies, “Kick-Ass” overestimates how good it is. If it had been 90 minutes, it might have been great. Usually I can tell what I would have trimmed from a movie. Certain weak characters, or protracted love montages, stand out. In “Boogie Nights,” for example, the inconsequential subplot involving William H. Macy and his promiscuous wife could have been removed entirely. The movie would have been slightly shorter, but far tighter. The End-of-the-Decade party scene didn’t need  an explicit foreshadowing mechanism, and Macy’s murder/suicide at the stroke of midnight was unnecessary. The fact that “Boogie Nights” is still one of my favorite films makes me wonder what could have been.

“Kick-Ass” is sneakily excessive. No one scene or subplot or character stood out as superfluous. Yet the movie was at least twenty minutes too long.

Don’t let the movie’s excess sneak up on you. If you’re giggling at the violence and laughing at the upturned stereotypes, it’s all well and good. Attempting to analyze (as I just did, I guess…damn!) will get you nowhere. In the end, the joke’s on the movie, which falls into the category of so many other movies that could have been great. Scissors are a director’s best friend, especially a director who’s operating within the confines of Hollywood formula. (Even a formula turned on its head, as is the case with Kick-Ass).

The glints of greatness, however, show that a far better movie was aching to break through the excess.

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