Kick-Ass Review

25 04 2010

The movie Roger Ebert calls “morally reprehensible” makes me smile.

Kick-Ass, based on a comic written by Mark Millar (Wanted, Marvel: Civil War) and illustrated by John Romita. Jr (Amazing Spider-Man, The Punisher), is the story of Dave Lizewski, a regular nobody who, after purchasing an ugly green and yellow wetsuit, starts patrolling the streets as “Kick-Ass”. After a video of him beating up a street gang winds up on YouTube, he becomes an internet sensation, inspiring a subculture of homemade heroes, including a father-daughter duo of revenge-fueled vigilantes called Big Daddy and Hit-Girl. While Dave/Kick-Ass is content to just live out the fantasy of being a vigilante superhero, Big Daddy and Hit Girl are the real deal, murderously cutting their way up the criminal food chain to topple Frank D’Amico, the local gang lord and the man who ruined Big Daddy’s life. D’Amico’s son, Chris, is a lonely, privileged young man desperate for his father’s attention and approval. All of these characters live in a world that lies somewhere between reality and a “comic book” world, a world without superpowers but with a mafia straight out of Sopranos casting, all of whom have suspiciously poor aim.

Between action films and Martin Scorcese, you'd think every Italian-American in New York City would be dead by now.

Aaron Johnson plays Dave/Kick-Ass, a “normal” kid who isn’t especially smart or strong, just a guy who likes comic books and is a bit of an outcast. Aaron does a good job of playing Dave’s naiveté and enthusiasm, the only problem being that he’s playing nobody special in a movie with two very good actors playing two very spectacular characters. They are of course, Hit Girl and Big Daddy, played by Chloe Moretz and Nicolas Cage, respectively. Everything you’ve heard about Moretz is true, she is in fact the real deal, and will be quite the actress to watch as she matures. The fact that her turn as the profane, vicious Hit Girl steals the whole movie is a testament to her acting chops and her screen presence, and an example of serendipitous casting where another child actor would not have had the maturity or talent to pull off what could have been an obnoxious character. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of an 11-year-old girl putting on a mask and a wig and then gleefully mutilating and/or shooting various thugs quite messily while uttering a string of profanity that would make a soldier blush, then avoid this movie. It’s not a kid’s movie in the slightest, and there are gallons of blood, mostly drawn by this little girl. I found it hilarious, just because of the sheer ridiculousness of it. My only fear coming out of this movie is the fanboy community sexualizing her.

Mass murder is just ADORABLE.

The director Matthew Vaughn does an admirable job making her one of the most fun action heroines in quite awhile without even a hint of sexiness, even in her costume, which covers her practically from head to toe. It’s sad that I have to point this out and applaud it, but the term “hot” or “sexy” is getting applied to younger and younger girls in the public eye, and with all the countdown to legality hoopla surrounding young women Hollywood lately, it’s a possibility that websites waiting for Moretz to “mature” in a different fashion than as an actor already exist. Those people should be hunted down and shot, and the rest of us can just enjoy a great actress delivering a great performance.  Because of her, I am actually kind of interested Let Me In,  the American remake of Let the Right One In, in which the plays the eternally adolescent vampire.

"Who's Kick-Ass? Is he like, your sidekick?"

There is a list of actors that I dismiss almost out of hand any movie in which they star. It includes such luminaries as John “Battlefield Earth” Travolta, Sean “I Am Sam/any Oscar-baiting film in the last decade” Penn, and Nicolas “Ghost Rider” Cage, the latter of whom plays Hit-Girl’s father and crime-fighting partner/mentor Big Daddy. Cage is absolutely brilliant in this. Big Daddy is a good father and nice guy driven by such anger and hate for Frank D’Amico that he has convinced himself training his daughter to become one of the most brutal, efficient killers alive and equipping the two of them with enough firepower to make the editor of Guns and Ammo spontaneously orgasm is a good idea. By not taking the spotlight, and not trying with every action and word to impress upon the audience that he, Nic Cage, is just soooo fucking cool, Cage can actually slip into a role with a lot of nuance, and ring a lot of character out of a relatively small part. When it’s just him and his daughter out of costume, Big Daddy is a cardigan bedecked dork. Caring, loving, and doofy, not even a single curse word slips from his lips. But there’s a big ball of rage underneath that aw shucks demeanor, and even a goofy speech pattern molded after a classic masked TV hero (just listen, you’ll get it, and it’s great) cannot hide what a badass Big Daddy is. I would love to see Cage go back to smaller, indie films and smaller, supporting roles for awhile; where he can shine as an actor and not just as Nic Cage playing Nic Cage in National Treasure 3: Lincoln’s Wang.

Pictured: Nicholas Cage not being a douche.

The supporting cast includes Mark Strong, fresh off Sherlock Holmes and poised be the next Alan Rickman, in that he plays very bad men very well and will be cast as such until he can break the typecasting. In the meantime, his Frank D’Amico breaks the cookie-cutter gang lord mold with a real humanity and sense of humor, and hilariously realistic reactions to the insanity around him. Christopher Mintz-Plasse, playing D’Amico’s son Chris, can play the lonely geek in his sleep by now, but his turn as The Red Mist, with streaks of crimson hair and KISS style domino mask, doesn’t shine as much as the other roles, and comes across a little more limp than I think he intended it to.

New York's very own superheroes. Thank God I don't live there. NYC is doomed.

The movie isn’t as action-packed as the trailers make it out, and though the movie never drags, you are left a few times waiting for Kick-Ass to actually go out and DO something. It’s like watching a movie being hijacked out from under the main character, and I don’t think it’s completely Aaron Johnson’s fault. The script itself seems to realize we just want to see more of Hit Girl and Big Daddy, and tries to both accommodate the audience’s demands while at the same time tries to make us interested in a character that, aside from the tack green and yellow scuba diving suit and desire to be a superhero, isn’t terribly engaging. A sub-plot where his dream girl mistakenly accepts him as a “gay BFF” which he tolerates to be close to her is funny, but ultimately lacks the same punch as the supporting character arcs. It’s a dark, dark comedy, and Vaughn has a masterful touch staging exciting action scenes and paying off both small emotional moments and comedic gags.  One of the best things about the movie is that for the most part, everyone reacts pretty realistically to these masked vigilantes (i.e., they laugh at them and are generally confused as to how things are getting so weird), although as “Weird” Al Yankovic pointed out on Twitter today, it must be a period piece because everyone still uses MySpace.

I don't know what's up with those afros. Is that a thing, now? And since when did comic book stores allow you to just read shit on the long boxes. AND SERIOUSLY, THE JEWFRO TWINS ARE FREAKING ME OUT.

Roger Ebert called this film “morally reprehensible”, and I think that if the film had been a bit more realistic, and aimed at a younger audience, it very well could have been, but it’s so cartoony and preposterous that it ends up being a merrily black comedy. Kick-Ass isn’t a satire of superheroes, but a satire of the fantasy of being a superhero, showing us just why no one (besides a few sad individuals) have set out to be a superhero in the real world. Like the brilliantly funny (and sadly under used in this film) Clark Duke says in the trailers, “Because you’d get your ass kicked. You’d die in like, a day.”  And though the movie does veer off completely into lala land by the end, it does make a good case (for the most part) for not dressing up like a clown and trying to beat up purse snatchers.  That’s just a fan-boy pipe dream that yes, most of us comic readers have had, but like most fantasies, the reality actually sucks pretty hard.

Although, if you can't handle getting your face beaten into a pulp you are a girlie man.

I really recommend this one.  It’s a helluva lot of fun, with enough action, laughs, and high weirdness to satisfy anyone looking to waste two hours.  If your sense of humor runs a little dark like mine, you will thoroughly enjoy Hit Girl. I mean, Kick-Ass.

You want this movie. Trust me.

Follow me on Twitter! @CharlieHamlin

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