Okay, so I actually saw Kick-Ass almost two weeks ago, and have really just been way too busy to write anything about it.
This will be brief, but I wanted to get something down to distract myself from writing my three remaining papers.
"Kick-Ass" is the lynchpin to the superhero genre. It is a bold, audacious, disturbingly violent look into the cult of the hero and its social implications for young and old alike. Much has been written about how the movie involves children, how its language and gore are over-the-top past the point of satire, but of course those who cry foul are those not willing to ask why.
The film wants to provoke us, to make us uneasy about the superhero in a way I feel is actually kind of similar to "Watchmen" and yet wholly different - for Kick-Ass is camp and Watchmen is dread-ridden noir. Its cavalcade of heroes are not super, not powerful; they aren't fighting a diabolical madman, but a mafia kingpin. Their costumes are not elaborate, but stolen goods - Kick-Ass wears a scuba suit; Big Daddy wears a Batman outfit.
Its assortment of intertextual references to popular culture - to other superhero films, to spaghetti westerns, to Quentin Tarantino (which is of course a wormhole of intertextuality), makes it a film concerned with films. Matthew Vaugn is a director clearly in tune with how representation can be configured and thought about, and how the superhero is supposedly a beacon of mythic proportion. It's a giant deconstructing act that, somewhere in its third act, actually goes in reverse and starts letting the superhero, well, kick ass. Everything comes out squeaky clean, give or take a few horribly mangled and disfigured corpses, and the film's ideology ends up seeming pretty okay with superheroes despite all the horrific humor the narrative spits in the spectator's face.
Is this an ultimate negativity, or does it make us feel even worse about what we've just watched? To make these characters so, in a word, cool, so campy, so fun, so identifiable, Vaugn understands that we want to project ourselves into the superhero - that we all wish we could be a guardian and a protector. But a protector of what and for what? Kick-Ass is remarkably ambivalent about all of this - even as we enjoy it, there are little-to-no stakes, just individuals so run amok with their egos they forget why a superhero mask matters in the first place - or perhaps they do, and they've just willingly manipulated it.
I'll say this though, "Kick-Ass" will be a cornerstone of my thesis. If "The Dark Knight" represented the apex of the genre, its artistic and discursive high point that so fluidly articulated the superhero in our post-9/11 world, "Kick-Ass" seems to represent the next cyclical step in the genre - self-knowing, deconstruction, an opening of inconsistencies and a shift towards the parodic to understand the follies of associating with people who get a kick out of dressing up in costumes.
It's a wild, relentless ride, and one that nobody should feel totally okay about. But that's what makes it great.