Warning: Kick-Ass spoilers follow. If you haven't seen the film, you may want to avoid reading further.
There were only three things that truly shocked me about Kick-Ass. Only one of those pearl-clutching moments was due to the film's violence. The other was the way it dealt with sex. Shocked may be the wrong word for it -- disappointed would be more accurate.
Kick-Ass introduces us to a very typical 16 year-old boy, Dave Lizewski. There's already been a bit of digital ink spilled about the wadded-up Kleenex the film (and its making of book) proudly dwells on. It was a deliberate toilet humor moment that might have been a little more effective if the same joke hadn't been made in the Adam Sandler trailer that preceded my showing. Lizewski's hormones are rampant. He has no outlet. We're shown and told.
Lizewski also reads comic books. Obviously, this is no surprise. The main conceit of Kick-Ass, the one voiced over the trailer, is that Dave wonders why no one else has actually pursued being a superhero. He's a fan of comics, he's disgusted by the petty crime of the neighborhood, and he sees a natural course of action. He'll become a superhero. As he points out to his friends, you don't need superpowers, you just need a suit and a weapon. Batman does it without superpowers, so why couldn't an ordinary mortal? Again, this is the main marketing thrust of the film, and what is supposedly so innovative about Mark Millar's story.
But the thing is, Dave never really becomes a hero. There's no real Batman moment until the end (a weaker ending which differs from the comics, having been written before Millar had actually hit that point of his series), but Dave spends much of the film just wandering around in his costume. He never does much in the way of superheroics, and his half-baked dream of being Kick-Ass ends as soon as one important thing happens: he loses his virginity to his dream girl. He no longer wants to be Kick-Ass, and he flees the comic store to have sex with his girlfriend behind it.
The metaphor is appallingly clear, and as old as the pulp Detective Comics is printed on. Comic readers only enjoy comics because they can't get laid, and once they finally leave their basements and meet a girl (or boy, though it doesn't extend as nastily to women or gay men), they aren't interested in DC or Marvel anymore. They sell their precious, preserved collection in order to move in with their female companion, and all proceeds go right into the suburbs. Comics and geek trappings are the stuff of childhood, and no normal, healthy adult enjoys them even ironically.
It was a weird jab at the Kick-Ass audience, particularly since the film is asking you to buy into the conceit that Dave is simply doing what we all want to do. Throughout the film, it's stressed that Dave was moved into action because too many good men do nothing -- at one point, he and his friend are mugged while an older man watches from a window -- and you're supposed to cheer for him the way you would Spider-Man. Dave has no great power, but he chooses to take on a great responsibility. This is, after all, the definition of heroism. Until, of course, you have sex. Then being a hero flies out the window, and all your friends are trying to get girls into comics because they, too, want to get laid.
Look, I get that one of the angles of Kick-Ass is that Dave is about the fantasy and that he's hideously unprepared for the reality. The marketing played on his bruised and bloody face while stressing he could kick your ass, an approach that now seems as schizophrenic as the film itself. Of course, many heroes meet a girl and decide to give up crime-fighting (until she's kidnapped, or his partner is killed, or the entire city is held hostage by a bomb ...) but Kick-Ass took the conceit and turned it around until it became something vaguely insulting. And while that may be the mark of deconstruction -- and I could definitely entertain the thought -- I don't think it's a very solid one. It's hard to believe that Millar or Vaughn, enamored as they are with the notion of their teenagers actually kicking ass, are trying to tear apart the action hero's journey in any way.
There are shades of Nite Owl -- only while dressed as Kick-Ass does Dave have the gumption to talk to his dream girl -- but without any of the guts or understanding. Nite Owl was impotent outside of his costume, but in it, he could be a hero. He didn't drop the idea of springing Rorschach because he had finally gotten lucky with Silk Spectre. If Alan Moore can acknowledge that a woman doesn't sap the fighting spirit, than I think Millar and Vaughn could have too. Perhaps it's just me, but I think it's awfully hard to buy into a Kick-Ass franchise when you're simultaneously suggesting to your audience they will stop watching this superhero stuff as soon as they're getting laid on a more regular basis.