April 15, 2010 / by Blake Fehl
“I’m surprised no one had tried it before,” says Aaron Johnson’s character Dave Lizewski towards the beginning of Kick-Ass. He is of course talking about superheroes, and despite their popularity, they’ve never been attempted by regular people. You might be surprised that no one has had this idea before, but the idea of a comic book satire film has been done before, and lately it has been done with surprising regularity (for examples see Defendor and Special). Fortunately, for us Kick-Ass stands above them all in a hyper-violent, slightly offensive, no holds barred comic book satire.
Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is your run of the mill comic book nerd. He meets up with his even geekier friends at the comic book store to discuss the latest issues, he has a crush on the most popular girl in school,but he is the social leper of the school. Dave thinks things can be different. Those superheroes he is always reading about? Why couldn’t he be one? Dave orders a scuba suit, wraps some electrical tape around some steel bars, and quickly transforms himself into the least effective superhero of all time. His first outing doesn’t end well, and soon he is enhanced for crime fighting with the help of metal plating placed in his body after serious injuries sustained in his quest for justice. His second outing goes a little better, and due to the nature of social media and the internet, Kick-Ass, his chosen name, becomes an international sensation. His new found celebrity brings him an inordinate amount of MySpace friends, and even spawns a few copycats.
Meanwhile, there are real superheroes on the loose. Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and 11-year old Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) are the real deal trying to take down the mob. Hit-Girl has been being trained by her father for many years with the sole purpose of being the ultimate killing machine. She slices and dices, while her father backs her up from another building with a sniper rifle. They might be the real deal, but they also may need the help of an inexperienced do-gooder superhero like Kick-Ass.
Aaron Johnson has his charms as the main character with delusions of grandeur. His character basically amounts to Peter Parker if he had never been bitten by a spider, yet still had an urge to fight crime. Johnson plays Lizewski with equal parts excitement, fear, insecurity, and even adds a bit a swagger once things kick in. He is a more than serviceable lead, but the real meal ticket of the movie is the young Chloe Moretz. Moretz is becoming a hot commodity in Hollywood, and seems to be setting herself up as the next Dakota Fanning. (500) Days of Summer put her on the map last summer, but this movie will make her career skyrocket. Her performance as the ass kicking Hit-Girl will offend those with modest sensibilities, and understandably you can’t help but be a little put off by some of the four letter words she peppers her dialogue with, along with the force and violence she is able to project. Moretz balances the role quite well. She actually makes you believe that if you brought up an eleven year old with the intent to annihilate bad guys, that it would be an amazing idea. She is all at once naive, and at the same time self-assured of the fact she is a bad ass.
I’ve made it quite clear in the past that I am not a fan of Nicolas Cage, but this is a role he was bound to play. Cage who took his stage name from Luke Cage a second-tier Marvel character, is obviously a comic book fan. (The actor even named his son after Superman’s Kryptonian birth name, Kal-el.) When he suits up as Big Daddy he talks noticeably different, and if you are a true superhero fan you’ll see he is modeling his performance after Adam West. You can’t go wrong with an actor who switches from being hilarious, slightly goofy, and goes right into intimidating.
Mark Strong is quickly setting himself up as the go to villain in Hollywood these days. He was the main villain in Matthew Vaughn’s last film, Stardust, and he recently appeared as the villain, Lord Blackwood, in Sherlock Holmes. One of his next major roles is as the villain, Sinestro, in the new film based on the comic book Green Lantern. There is an obvious reason why he is being cast as a villain in all these films, he is great at it. Strong may be a great guy in real life, but on film he easily becomes the person you love to hate.
Rising stars Lyndsy Fonseca, Clark Duke, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse all give great comedic performances. Fonseca who to this point might be best known as the daughter in CBS’s hit sitcom, How I Met Your Mother, is absolutely stunning. There is no reason to deny why Dave might desire her. Clark Duke gives his second great comedic performance, after his turn in Hot Tub Time Machine last month. Mintz-Plasse might be another actor who is doomed to being typecasted the rest of his life, but you got to love what he adds to his characters.
Matthew Vaughn continues to prove why I believe he is one of Hollywood’s most capable directors. He has proven a deft hand at every genre he has tried, and hits another one out of the park here. The action moves swiftly, and it consistently hits the beats it needs to keep the story moving. He really coaxes some great performances from a very young cast. There are few people who have the kind of flair that Vaughn does, and I will continue watching his career with great interest.
Kick-Ass is a movie that will be polarizing for most people. Many people will not get the satire of the film if they haven’t read a comic book, and thus won’t understand why the severe crudeness works on many occasions. If you aren’t easily offended, love great action, and fantastic humor you’ll really get a kick out of Kick-Ass. It has been the film I’ve been predicting to be the breakout hit of the year, and now after seeing it I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t end up making some good cash at the box office.
Another Take By Zac:
Kick-Ass is a lot of fun and does a nice job at poking fun at the comic book conventions but I can’t help but wonder if this film would have been better off being called Hit Girl.
Kick-Ass is a wannabe super-hero that doesn’t really have any super powers; he is more of a really ambitious Good Samaritan teenage loser named Dave. Dave is a loser, a big spot of nothing in society that reads comics, masturbates, and hangs out with his only two friends. But after getting fed up with being pushed around he decides to suit up and fight crime and the results don’t go as planned. Though when Dave bounces back he is a bit better suited for the role even if he isn’t quite ready for primetime. Dave tries to discover himself as a man and a crime fighter and his follies will be a plenty as he gets mixed up in a plot involving a couple of fellow rouge vigilante fighters Hit Girl and Big Daddy. A father/daughter team, they are well trained, well equipped, and have a motive of revenge.
But that’s enough for the plot as there are some twists and turns to be had throughout when the film isn’t plodding as it can from time to time. And that is one of my few complaints about the film, pacing and possibly unnecessary characters? Now, the film is called Kick-Ass, named after Dave and his super hero persona, but the film is definitely not his. Sure Dave has a full coming of age arc, provides some laughs, and allows the story to play with the super hero genre but his tale isn’t that original or nearly as compelling as Hit Girl and Big Daddy. Their story is a tad clichéd as well, but it makes itself original and flips the familiar story on its head by having the most unlikely duo trying to take down the elusive mob boss. Hit Girl is the reason to see this film though as you will be shocked, taken aback, and in awe at the deeds she does.
Now the film does show its smaller budget a bit in the beginning but by the second half of the film you can see that Matthew Vaughn was saving his bank for the best bits. Not that the modest budget ever hurts the film, it just makes one wonder what Vaughn could have done with a moderate studio film budget. The action still looks great, the effects are solid, I just feel like we could have probably “seen” a couple more things if the money was there. The films humor also works when ever it tries to be funny and equally resonant when it gets serious in a couple of moments. The third act pretty much doesn’t miss a beat and it makes up for a lot of the issues I had with pacing when we were with the less engaging Kick-Ass. Also I liked how they instituted animation into the picture; it was a nice touch even if I would have liked to see the flashback in live action as well.
Also, for the squeamish, this film is full of blood, gore, and cursing, a lot of it carried out by a child, and while it is definitely over the top and ridiculous, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The cast really helps the film work as well as it does and they all play to absurdity and fun of the picture. Nic Cage is fantastic as the overzealous and slightly loony Big Daddy as he runs his daughter Hit Girl through her training paces. Cage can be great when playing camp, especially in a fun campy film like this, and he hits all of the right beats as the vengeful father. Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Mark Strong are both solid as the villains of the film, and it was nice to see Mintz-Plasse deliver another solid performance without just rehashing McLovin. Aaron Johnson plays the geeky and bumbling Dave/Kick-Ass just right, and while I wish the character was a tad deeper and interesting, Johnson convincingly gives Dave and Kick-Ass unique voices. Lastly we get to Chloe Moretz who steals the show as the dirty mouthed and bad ass Hit Girl. Slicing up and cussing out every bad guy in her way she hands out death like Yoda flying through fights taking on all comers. She is hilarious, is completely believable as she reigns down death, and will without a doubt be the highlight of the film for you. Can’t wait to see how she does in the Let the Right One In remake this fall; keep an eye on her.
In the end, Kick-Ass has a couple of questionable moments and weak spots but nothing that comes close to spoiling the fun. The third act is flat out awesome, exciting, and action packed and worth the price of admission alone add in a nice score and an excellent accompanying soundtrack and you will leave the theater giddy. Though I think once you get over that high you will find that the film could have been a tad better in its wonky middle. While not as subversive to the genre as Watchmen I couldn’t help but get caught up in a few of the awesome action sequences that would feel right at home in that universe. Hit Girl’s scenes will stick with you for a while and Moretz is a star in the making and some major kudos to Matthew Vaughn for going out on a limb to finance this tale to bring it to the silver screen. Though I can’t help but wonder what this story would be like if it was solely Hit Girl and Big Daddy’s as the main plot and dilemma of the film is solely theirs and they were far and away the most interesting/coolest parts of the film.
Kick-Ass is a B+