More thought provoking than Watchmen,
More subversive than a Lady GaGa Video,
Able to create visceral discomfort in a single shot.
It's a gangster movie, it's a comedy... No, it's Kick-Ass!
It's funny at times, but by no stretch of the imagination a comedy. However, the laughter is not completely from discomfort, either. You should see this movie if you're interested in fantasy. You should see this movie if you are interested in superheroes. You should see this movie if you are interested in how far parents will go for their children (or vice versa). But, you should probably not see this movie if you have problems with people hitting each other.
The marketing for Kick-Ass paints it it as something in the ilk of Superhero Movie, or, if not self conscious parody, at the very least a comedic sendup, ala Mystery Men, perhaps. What with the simultaneously realistically designed and impractically showy costumes, Nicolas Cage's ineptly donned bravado as Bat-- I mean Big Daddy, and the Stephanie-From-Lazy-Town Look-Alike Hit Girl, this isn't supposed to be funny?
Well... not exactly. There are certainly funny moments, laugh lines, and yes, a comic book nerd named Dave turning into superhero named Kick-Ass with the "power" of minor nerve damage is funny, but this is... heavier. It's action and drama, with a comedic shell, but I wouldn't say that it helps it "go down easy."
Kick-Ass manages to pull off, very distinctively, a blend of comic book action and realistic grit -- not to be confused with comic book grit (see: V for Vendetta or Sin City, to which Kick-Ass offers a respectful nod at a tense moment). The primary antagonist is not a supervillain. He's a drug dealer, but first and foremost, a businessman. Nonetheless, he's willing to do extremely outlandish things to further his goals. Our protagonist is really a Joe Average -- even as a "hero" he's pretty average. We meet better ones. The most compelling, competent and interesting characters, are all in the supporting cast. Even when he's decked out in full costume, Dave never ceases to be the lanky comic book nerd. The changes in his character come about more often out of costume than in costume; through the human, banal side of his growth and development as an adolescent rather than his masked adventures, he learns the answers to his initial question. "Why hasn't anybody tried being a super hero?"
Kick-Ass is also subversive in a way that few pieces of media really pull off. The foul-mouthed-as-she-is-deadly 11 year-old Hit Girl played brilliantly by Chloe Moretz is a truly subversive creation. The body count in this film is pretty high, and Hit Girl has by far the most notches on her utility belt. It would be one thing if this character was pure shock value -- all sizzle and no steak, but, she's neither superfluous nor one dimensional. Her backstory and upbringing are crucial to the plot, and... in this strange world, her character is possibly the most believable of them all.
It is perhaps because we see someone who is unambiguously a child, a symbol of fantasy and imagination, as the most competent and REAL hero of the bunch that helps Kick-Ass achieve the blend surreal blend of tone I earlier discussed. Because there is a level on which Hit Girl/Mindy does not draw the distinction between the fantastic and the realistic, she is able to excel in this liminal space, occupied by a movie that manages both. This is also why, though Hit Girl is a far more interesting character, it would not make so much sense to tell the story from primarily her perspective. Kick-Ass/Dave is a visitor in the fantastic universe, and, as Red Mist, another "hero" who follows in Kick-Ass' footsteps points out, he "opened the door" to that world where becoming a hero is as possible as setting up a MySpace page. So too does he open the door for the audience that we might understand that world through the eyes of someone where we share a little more. Hit Girl/Mindy, however is a natural born citizen of that world. As Kick-Ass never ceases to be Dave, Mindy never ceases to be Hit Girl. She doesn't alternate between being an 11 year old and a battle hardened killing machine. She is always genuinely both -- a duality of essence captured in a line late in the film which I will NOT spoil, but you'll know it when you hear it.
On a technical level, the filmmaking is quite enjoyable, and as narrative elements encourage the blending of comic fantasy and realistic grit, so does the style. As I said, owing something to Tarantino, but I think manages to transcend that aesthetic. It's a product of it's time, referencing live streaming video over the internet, and having a sequence that is (while not impossible to understand otherwise) infinitely more comprehensible with an understanding of recently high tech first person shooter or "FPS" games.
It took a while for me to come to the conclusion that I liked this film as much as I did, in part because of the amount of discussion it sparked.
Look forward to your thoughts.