Image used under a Creative Commons license courtesy of popculturegeek.com.
So, I went to see Kick-Ass last night. It’s about as violent and exaggerated as you’d expect. Roger Ebert’s basically right about the extent to which the movie lacks a moral compass. As my friend Alex Remington pointed out to me when we walked out of the theater, it’s not clear how pain works in the world, much less the extent to which it’s okay, rather than simply aesthetic, to kill bad guys. Aaron Johnson is a bit of a blank spot in the midst of the movie, which is okay since he’s at least a likable blank.And in spite of those considerable flaws, I enjoyed it. Kick-Ass may be the best father-daughter movie I’ve seen in years. In most movies with strong father-daughter relationships, the father is a protector, the daughter an alien but loveable creature. The conflict comes about when her father needs to let go of her, frequently in the form of giving her away, either formally in marriage, or simply by granting her independence. Kick-Ass is not that kind of movie. Instead, it’s a movie about a father and daughter working in tandem, finding that their minds work the same way. Maybe Nicolas Cage is brainwashing Chloe Moretz, and the lack of discussions about the mayhem they commit is troubling, but it didn’t feel like she was a dupe — rather, he brought out something in her that was already there. I think it’s rare in the movies, if not in real life, for fathers and daughters to look at each other and recognize themselves, but Cage and Moretz make it feel entirely natural. From the first moment, when he’s teaching her how to take a bullet in a vest in the abandoned foundation of an office building, they have tremendous chemistry together. The dialogue’s unforced, the profanity (about which much has been made) actually feels like an authentic expression of intimacy, an unfiltered way that people who are very comfortable around each other speak to each other. In fact, I was a little annoyed when Mark Strong’s villian remarks to Moretz’s Hit-Girl “I wish I had a son like you,” as if she’s playing some kind of male substitute, when throughout the movie, despite her fondness for sophisticated weaponry, she’s very much a little girl.It’s another fine entry in Cage’s string of idiosyncratic father- or big-brother roles. I loved him in Matchstick Men, where he plays a phobic con man who begins to get his life together when his daughter, played by Alison Lohman, appears in his life. And he’s also very good as the arms-dealing older brother of Jared Leto in Lord of War. He’s very good at playing someone who is providing horribly warped guidance, while clearly doing it entirely out of love and a sense that it’s the right thing. It’s a weird expertise for an actor to have, I suppose. But it provides a compelling mirror for the real challenges of parenting.