Kick-Ass | Action/Comedy | rated R | starring Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloe Grace Moretz, Mark Strong, Nicholas Cage | directed by Matthew Vaughn | 1:57 mins
Comic book fan Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) wonders why nobody has ever tried to become a superhero in real life. But instead of dismissing the idea like his friends (Clark Duke, Evan Peters), he orders a goofy costume and hits the streets to fight crime – which lands him in the line of fire of real life mobster Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) and in between a father (Nicholas Cage) who has raised his daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz) to help him carry out blood-thirsty revenge on D’Amico.
Kick-Ass is the boundry-pushing piece of cinematic anarchy the YouTube generation deserves. A superhero movie about superhero movies, based on a comic book about comic books, Kick is a small film with a lot of punch. It shocks and rocks and pushes buttons iconoclastic in movies, consistently bloody and profane. Mostly hated by critics and loved by cheering fans – I’m going to have to side with the fanboys on this one. Like The Dark Knight it transplants comic book motifs into the real world, but Kick bounces them off each other for some dark laughs.
Director, co-writer Matthew Vaughn follows the source material to dive deep into the comic book world, riffing superhero motifs and homaging others. The movie is bright and colorful while being grim and bloody. Vaughn keeps it all visually thrilling while pushing the audience into believing that just about anything can happen, from possibly killing the main character to having Nicholas Cage shoot an 11-year-old girl in the chest. The movie has fun with Kick-Ass himself and the premise of comic book nerds trying to become superheroes, but it evolves from this single joke very quickly. Johnson is good as Kick-Ass but he and Vaughn also do a good job of keeping Dave unremarkable – he’s more boring then a nerd. Kick-Ass becomes the objective center that a vigilante story blossoms around.
It is here where young Chloe Moretz steals the show giving the best child performance since Orphan as a girl who curses a blue streak and has an encyclopedic knowledge of fire arms. Kick-Ass works because it doesn’t stop there. While occasionally going for shock value for the sake of it (Moretz using TV’s favorite D-word after a villains car is crushed into a cube is groan-inducing), Vaughn develops Hit Girl and Big Daddy’s back story relationship well, presenting Hit Girl as completely brainwashed by her father and opening the possibility that the movie may have more than one arch bad guy. It’s here where shock for the sake of it goes out the window and the story is given complexity. The entire cast is good here, with Christopher Mintz-Plasse making a case against being immortally branded McLovin and Mark Strong kicking it to the rafters as our perfeclty psychotic villian.
You could make the case that Kick-Ass becomes the very movie that it is parodying in the third act. That it contradicts it’s own premise by having our heroes step up and actually kick some ass instead of continuing to be knifed for trying to good deeds. I say it evolves. The tone changes drastically in the third act, going from Superbad in tights to a darker, crueler revenge movie that traffics in some real world fear. Vaughn has absolutely no shame about putting our heroes in harms way, but he also effectively gets the blood boiling. Maybe that level of shameless boundry pushing is what’s needed to get the jaded movie watcher’s blood boiling. It worked for me. The movie’s climax explodes in a thrilling cheer-the-heroes, hiss-the-villains extravaganza of bullets, thugs and a variety of weapons. It’s awesome.
Vaughn is equally without shame in the music department. The movie has a great, wildly versitile soundtrack that only accentuates it’s wild shifts in tone. Many of those music riffs are taken from other movies all together. Vaughn goes from a pumping, driving thriller beat right into a cover of Joan Jett’s “Bad Repuation” and against every rule, it works.
Some critics, namely Roger Ebert in a crazy review (that gives away the end of the film), argue that the movie almost amounts to child abuse in it’s portrayal of a child in action scenes in which she is brutally beaten. I couldn’t disagree with that more. Kick-Ass and Hit Girl aren’t about children being abused, but just the opposite: children being empowered. Facing down mobsters the way they faced down monsters in Grim Fairy tales, nimbly running circles around them as only a child can and resiliantly came back tragedy. It makes for a hell of an underdog movie.
On a level I wonder if Kick-Ass has opened Pandora’s Box. I may never be able to look at comic book movies the same way again. It comments on them and proves to be a superior one in it’s own right, transcending the genre and raising the bar for superhero movies by force. You can argue that it shouldn’t do this or that. That an 11-year old shouldn’t be on screen blowing someone’s head off or using the C-word or that you can’t just straight up use the theme from 28 Weeks Later, but Kick-Ass has done it. It breaks the rules and, at least this time, comes out the better for it. Vaughn has done it all to make the most viciously entertaining underdog movie he possibly can. A profane, bloody, clever gift by cinaphile geeks for cinaphile geeks that just must be seen.
And, seriously, why hasn’t some nut or highly resourceful millionaire donned a costume and tried to fight crime?