Kick-Ass: Art Over Politics

Because the trailers for the comic-inspired movie Kick-Ass didn’t interest me, I didn’t see the film and because I didn’t see the film, I didn’t read most of the reviews and commentary and because I didn’t read most of the reviews and commentary I generally missed the lively and interesting controversy that followed on the movie’s April release.  Thus I had a surprise waiting for me when the new DVD arrived via Netflix, where I had put it on the queue because…  well, because I’ve seen just about everything else.

Yes, they did.

The movie began as what I thought it was:  a sort of Spiderman-to-the-hip-degree, wherein a more realistic wimp than Peter Parker becomes a more realistic masked crime fighter than the web-spinner.  But it changed at first gradually and then very suddenly into something far different, more original and more disturbing.  The almost suicidally inept high- school-kid-slash-not-very-superhero Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson) is over-shadowed by the real crime-fighting deal, Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz), a 12-year-old trained to murderous mayhem by her wronged cop father (Nicholas Cage in one of the performances of his career).

Hit-Girl is the center of the controversy.  The child speaks in the foulest possible language and dispatches mobster henchmen in savage acts of hyper-violence that splatter the screen with blood.

Pompous lefty critic Roger Ebert found the picture, “morally reprehensible.”  Big Hollywood‘s libertarian Leigh Scott – in the one commentary I actually did read at the time – lauded the film as libertarian because it glorifies individual moral choice.  But BH’s editor John Nolte said no, despite the language, Hit-Girl is a conservative heroine:

“She’s dignified, heroic, selfless, completely self-reliant, and lives by a simple code that says evil loses. No angst, no handwringing, and no moral equivalency.”

Other critics, like Leonard Maltin and  the LA Times’s Kenneth Turan, treated the hyper-violence and language as if it were a stylistic rather than artistic choice–as if it were more about visceral flash than meaning.  Both, like Ebert, seem to have spent some time worrying about whether they’d be deemed uncool for raising moral objections.  Which speaks rather sadly of their inner concerns, but never mind.

As for me, I liked the film a lot.  Thought it original, exciting, emotional and well done–one of the best movies of the year so far.  I had moral qualms about paying a pre-teen actress to speak filth, but no qualms whatsoever about the pre-teen character she played speaking filth.  The film’s rated R, after all, so if that sort of thing offends you, you’ve been warned.

Moreover, I thought attempts to claim the film politically were misplaced.  Politics and art grow out of the same soil of eternal human truths, but their tasks are different.  Politics is, or should be, about governing best to reach the best ends–which to my mind always involve individual liberty.  Art, on the other hand, is visionary:  it’s a record of the artist’s inner experience of the world and, at best, of mankind’s inner experience.

Kick-Ass remains an honest vision whether you’re liberal, libertarian or conservative.  It’s an exploration of the place where our fine fantasies of battling evil meet the dreadful reality of blood and corruption.  Like a war for a just cause, it’s at once uplifting in its heroism and horrifying in its consequences.  The psychotic-but-righteous father and the twisted-but-brave little girl are both the reality and shadow-side of Kick-Ass’s yearnings to do good, part of the inner landscape of the wannabe superman.

Conservatives are sometimes bellicose about the necessity of fighting evil while liberals quail and fret at the nastiness of it all.  But in art, as in life, the necessity and nastiness are one.  Kick-Ass is an engaging and challenging reflection on what Winston Churchill called, “horrible war, amazing medley of the glorious and squalid, the pitiful and sublime.”

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  • richb313

    I did not see “Kickass” when it was first released I do however have the BluRay version. I found the movie to be both engaging and entertaining. What is even more important yoou find yourself wondering what the continuing story might be. What I really liked about it was that it brought a dose of hyper-reality to the Super-Hero Genre.

  • Danielle

    Sadly, the character of HIT-GIRL would have been much more effective if they HADN’T made her spout that dialogue. Not because I’m a prude but because it seemed totally unnatural and forced. Having a little girl say ‘c**t’ was nothing but a nerd fantasy that contradicted the character’s personality in her other scenes. Keeping her a good-hearted, sweet little kid who slaughters bad guy would have been far more effective.
    Cage, as usual, was harsh and unbelievable and though I enjoyed it quite a bit, I was surprised at how quickly this ‘edgy’ film vanished down the memory hole.

  • Greg Palmer

    I saw it when it first came out and loved it. I rented it 2 weekends ago hoping to convince my wife to watch it (No luck)
    The most interesting aspect was in the commentary, they indicated that everything in the movie exists and can be bought on line including the jet pack ($200,000). Big Daddys mask was from french riot police.
    Now if I can just get these retractable wings to work when I jump off that 30 story building…….

  • Cheesehoven

    I seem to be in a minority here, but this movie appears to have affected an extraordinary moral inversion of normal modes of behaviour. On one hand, “conservative” critics are beguiled by this nihilist adolescent fantasy, in which decency and honour do not exist, in which mothers are non existent and normal family values do not apply, in which brutalty is untempered by any drop of Christian compassion. On the other hand, “liberal” critics, usually the first to rally to such subversive themes, are calling it “morally reprehensible”. What’s going on?
    For perhaps the only time in my life, I agree with Roger Ebert.

  • opus

    I loved the film but I have to disagree about the motives and actions of Kick Ass and Hit Girl. Kick Ass was out to fight evil while Hit Girl, through and a long with her father, Big Daddy are motivated purely by vengence against one particular person.

  • mark

    I watched the movie in the theater, mostly because everything else in the theater I wanted to see LESS. I don’t like gore movies and the girl’s foul mouth was turnoff… But having said that, I left the theater with one thought that has never gone away… What kind of world would it be, if the last three people willing to risk life and limb to do in the evil ones, are a wronged, vengeful man, his little girl trained as an assassin, and a poor schmuck who was in it for glory at first, not for the right and wrong? And more and more I’m thinking, that’s actually the world we’re in. We’re there. Not all of us live in that close of proximity to the bad guys, but certainly, that world portrayed is real enough. And the question is: Are the only people left willing to fight for good just the idealistic children and wronged and vindictive old men? Where’s our neighborhood? Would we all turn out in front of our homes to stand defiantly daring evil to take us on, and every neighbor come running in any one’s defense?

    I have lost many hours of sleep over this. And more to come. Maybe you all should, too.

  • Rei

    I did like the movie very much. I can see the reasoning behind almost all the reactions to it, across the political spectrum. However, I believe that politics, like morality and love, are choices that one is eventually compelled to make.
    The breadth of the discussions on this film make me believe that; good or bad, it is art.
    To have this topped off by a truly astute and insightful critique by Andrew Klavan …well, once again, I’m glad to be alive to experience it all.

    Thank you,Andrew

  • Richard

    I liked the movie a lot and had no issues with the violence or the language, mostly because it was a video comic book. And in that context, where good and evil are starkly contrasted, violence is overdone for the visual effect, not the gore value. That is the genre in which this story is told. If you don’t get the premise you won’t get the story.

    In case you are wondering, I’m a 55 year old conservative male who raised 5 kids who are all straight arrows.

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