Note: This review should be basically spoiler-free. You’ll get the usual spoilers you would get from any average movie review, but you’re basically safe, so read away!.
Screw 2008’s Dark Knight-Hellboy 2-Iron Man triumvirate of great comic book films; THIS year is truly the year of great comic adaptations. Between Kick-Ass, and the upcoming films The Losers, Iron Man 2, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Jonah Hex, and (maybe) Green Hornet, this is one amazing year to be a movie-going comic fan. Kick-Ass is the first comic book film of the year, and if every other one released is as good, we’ve got a mighty fine year of entertainment ahead of us.
Kick-Ass, directed by Matthew Vaughn and adapted from the comic of the same name by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., follows the exploits of Dave Lizewski, a comic book geek and chronic masturbator. After being mugged numerous times, Dave begins to ponder why no one in the real world has ever tried to be a superhero before, and decides to take on the mantel himself, ordering a scuba suit online and naming himself Kick-Ass. After a Youtube video of him beating up some thugs is seen on the news, Kick-Ass grows in fame, soon becoming an absolute craze. What follows is an action-packed adventure as Kick-Ass and his companions, Big Daddy, Hit Girl, and Red Mist, attempt to take down the mafia.
What makes Kick-Ass unique is its degree of somewhat-realism, at least within the “origin” part of the tale. Basically, on Kick-Ass’s first patrol through town, he gets beaten, stabbed, and run over by a car, which is totally what would happen to a naive, comic-obsessed teenager with no training who attempts to fight crime. This is not a movie to take kids to, in case the R rating didn't give you enough warning. It's rife with foul language, and some REALLY brutally violent scenes - heads explode, limbs are cut off, and people are tortured and beaten. If this kind of stuff isn't exactly your bag, don't see this movie.
Among other things, Kick-Ass has a seriously stupendous cast. Aaron Johnson does a great job as Kick-Ass – it’s a pretty demanding role, as the character has to be likable, despite being, well, kind of an idiot, and Johnson does the job extremely well. Christopher Mintz-Plasse is given a lot more to do here with Red Mist than his “eccentric loser” roles in the past. It helps that Red Mist is a better-developed character here than in the comic (and that his motivations are clear from the beginning, as opposed to the comic where Red Mist working for the mafia is a big reveal moment), but Mintz-Plasse still carries an emotional subtlety to a character who could have otherwise become an unlikable asshole.
I’ve had a pretty anti-Nicholas Cage stance for the past few years, but recently I’ve begun to think that it’s just because I haven’t seen any of his good movies – I mean, the guy’s gotta be such a sought-after actor for a reason, right? After Kick-Ass I can say that this assumption was correct, because Cage is great in this movie. Out of costume, he’s a pretty typical dad character (well, as typical as a dad who’s trained his 11 year old daughter to be a proficient killing machine can be, but ya know…), but in costume, he (in reference to the old Batman TV show) speaks in short, disjointed, Adam West-like sentences. It had me in stitches every time, and if you catch what he’s doing, you will be too. I actually came from the movie wishing that there were more scenes with Big Daddy in them.
Of course, the star of the show here is Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit Girl. If you’ve seen any promotional material for the film, you know the character’s shtick. She’s a foul-mouthed 11-year-old girl who has been trained to be a stone-cold killer. She is where much of the movie’s controversy comes from, and the character who is bound to make audiences who aren’t into this sort of thing the most uncomfortable. She’s also fucking awesome. Her action scenes are pulse pounding, brilliantly shot affairs, and Moretz is extremely confident in the role. Some could see her character as controversy for controversy’s sake, but she’s a very unique creation, and one that could really only come from Mark Millar’s twisted mind. There’s a real undercurrent of creepiness in Big Daddy and Hit Girl’s relationship, and it helps give the movie a more sinister tone.
Matthew Vaughn makes the movie work because he truly makes the source material his own. The film reminded me of the Fight Club movie - it remains very faithful to the original comic, while also deviating quite a bit from it, especially within the last half. This really gives the movie it’s own identity and allows it to stand up as its own self-contained work, as opposed to some other, more direct comic book adaptations (coughWatchmencough). What ends up happening is that the movie is lighter, dumber, and more Hollywood than the comic, but has a more consistent tone. While the comic attempted to balance social commentary with adolescent violence (with varying levels of success), the film pretty much just stresses the adolescent violence – Hit Girl and Big Daddy’s relationship is noticeably toned down (with Big Daddy’s motivations being changed pretty drastically), and some of the moral issues raised by the character’s actions in the comic aren’t addressed at all in the film. Again though, it works. It also helps that Vaughn’s direction is fantastic – the action is extremely intense, and stylistically the movie is quite stunning, especially during Big Daddy’s origin story, which mixes traditional animation with cel-shading to create the illusion of a moving comic book. Really neat stuff here.
Quite frankly, you should know if you’re the kind of person who would enjoy Kick-Ass. All you have to do is ask yourself one simple question: is an R-rated movie titled Kick-Ass going to tickle your fancy? If you turned away in disgust at the movie’s title, then you should move right along, because there really isn’t anything for you here. But if you’re the sort of person who has read and enjoyed the comic, or feel like you WOULD enjoy a film with such an abrasive title, then sit back, relax, and revel in the gratuitous violence, fantastic cast, and fast-paced, witty dialogue of Kick-Ass; I know I did.
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