Kick-Ass has to be the most violent movie ever to feature kids as heroes, and of course I especially have in mind Hit Girl. This eleven-year old pleases daddy by playing with butterfly knives, letting him use her as target practice wearing a bulletproof vest, and helping him murder his enemies. And Christ, she has a mouth on her. I haven't heard an American actor this young use the four letter f- and c- words since Linda Blair in The Exorcist, and at least Regan could be forgiven on account of the fact that "the devil made her do it". In Hit Girl's case, it's daddy who's made her into a potty-mouthed killing machine, though she seems to take more than enough responsibility for herself.
Unlike the film's lead protagonist, she's actually a successful superhero, having been trained viciously by her father (Big Daddy) to help avenge a dead wife. Kick-Ass, on the other hand, is a nerdy wannabe who ends up getting his own posterior kicked more than the other way around. They complement each other rather well: I could have preferred Hit Girl a bit less invincible (there is a rewarding scene where she gets her face pounded in repeatedly by a mafia man), but the lead character reliably delivers all the satire as an ineffectual hero. Since he is based on Spider-Man, and Big Daddy/Hit Girl on the Batman/Robin duo, I wonder if Vaughn is offering some kind of sly commentary here.
Comparisons have been made to Kill Bill, and while the Tarantino influence is evident, Kick-Ass is about more than just a prepubescent Uma Thurman going on a bad-ass vendetta. It turns superhero conventions on their head -- which is really the only way to make a decent film in this genre. Christopher Nolan did it by destroying our optimism, and suggesting heroes as hopeless liberators who escalate terror as they try fighting it. Vaughn does it through brutal satire, asking us to laugh uproariously as our heroes get smashed and broken before our eyes. One even dies.
The film enjoys a healthy 75% approval rating among critics, though Roger Ebert is far from amused, calling Kick-Ass "morally reprehensible". Ebert continues to puzzle me. He gets high and mighty on films like this and Wolf Creek, yet turns around and praises The Last House on the Left and The Devil's Rejects. That's a fickle moral compass if there ever was one.
Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5.