Kick-Ass: A High-Octane Superhero Romp with a Big Dose of Dark Humor
by John Harvey
As I stood there in line, I had no idea that within the next couple of minutes, three ten(ish) year-old boys would want me to die a horrible death.
“Why is KICK-ASS rated ‘R’?” the father asked the ticket counter cashier at the movie theater. He seemed more than a bit surprised.
“Dad, just buy the tickets!” whined one of the boys, desperate and perceiving flaws in his finely-honed plot.
“I don’t know, sir,” answered the cashier.
Now, I don’t relish ruining a kid’s fun. At the same time, I knew two things. 1. This dad was getting conned. 2. More often than not, ten year-old boys rat out their dads to their mom. Not intentionally most of the time … but still.
“It’s an incredibly violent movie,” I said, feeling my skin get microwaved by three angry, pre-adolescent brains from roughly 1.5 feet below my eye line. The father stared questioningly.
“And there’s a lot of cursing. At least one C-bomb … from a 10 year-old girl.”
“Really?” he said, eyes wide.
“Really?” repeated the ticket cashier.
“Really really,” said I.
Long story made short. Those three boys did not get to see KICK-ASS, and I was reminded that the film industry still likes to generate a portion of their profits by putting out film trailers and previews that amount to big gooey lies when compared to the actual film. Based on the previews I saw both in the theaters and on TV, you would think KICK-ASS is a goofy spoof on comic book heroes featuring mostly kid-safe violence. I’m pretty sure this dad saw the same previews.
Wow. That is not this movie.
Directed by Matthew Vaughn, KICK-ASS is a truly fun, action-packed ride that does a great job at balancing out humor with ponderous amounts of graphic bloodshed. But this movie will only strike that note for an audience that knows what to expect when they plant their posteriors in movie theater seats.
Based on the Icon comic book series created by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. in 2008, KICK-ASS tells the story of Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), an average teenage comic book fanboy and serial masturbator. Lizewski wonders out loud “Why does everybody want to be Paris Hilton and nobody wants to be Spider-Man?” Eventually, in a fit of curiosity, angst, and a dash of depression, he dons a freakishly dorky wetsuit and takes on the superhero persona of ‘Kick-Ass’. The problem, and the central conceit of the film, is that he has no superpowers or street smarts.
As a result, Lizewski fails more often that he succeeds, but this does not stop him from becoming a hit on YouTube. Also, he lands in the direct path of lunatic vigilantes/superheroes Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her father, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), as well as another geek-turned-superhero, Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Filling the role of super villain is local mobster Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), and his heavily-armed band of goons.
While both fans and detractors all focus on the ruthless violence and crass language, what really makes KICK ASS work is that in between the bloodshed and gore, Vaughn and the actors convince you to care about the characters and their fates. Films this violent usually fall apart when it comes to character and relationships, as it does in the ultimately tedious torture porn franchises including SAW and HOSTEL.
But enough about character and relationships…
Holy God, the action sequences in this movie are some of the best you’ve ever seen! Most of the heavy lifting in this area is done by Moretz as part of her scene-stealing role as Hit Girl. Yes, she’s a ten year-old sociopath, but her spot-on mix of bravado and comedy somehow makes it okay. Also, her performance has forever changed my childhood memories of the BANANA SPLITS theme song (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Banana_Splits).
Also, you also have to give Nicolas Cage some props in his role as Big Daddy. In this movie, Big Daddy is a near-exact copy of Batman and Cage plays up that similarity by mimicking Adam West’s style of dialogue delivery from the 1960s BATMAN TV series. It’s an interesting choice and it works here. Honestly, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen Cage in a role that did not disappoint. It’s nice to see him doing good work again.
But what about Aaron Johnson as Kick-Ass? He is the star of the movie, right? Well, yes and no. Johnson does a great job in this role, but his role is not that of star. While it’s his name on the movie, the character of Lizewski/Kick-Ass is more of a guide and narrator leading the audience through the main storyline involving Big Daddy, Hit Girl, and their arch-nemesis Frank D’Amico. In this role, Johnson’s acting and delivery of humor is understated and tight, even if he doesn’t get to eat as much scenery as most of the other performers.
For fans of the comic book, I would say that this movie stays about 70% faithful to the original material put out by Millar and Romita. In some cases, changes and edits occurred to keep the film under two hours. Some of the other major changes (particularly in character back stories) occurred because what works for a niche comic book audience sometimes just won’t fly with mainstream movie audiences.
The good news is that none of these changes to the source material amount to a “sin” and it’s actually good for fans of the comic book because it keeps you guessing. In short, if you loved the comic book, you should also love this movie.
Ultimately, is KICK-ASS a movies that will win a lot of critical awards?
But that’s okay because this movie was not released for that purpose. This film’s intended audience is comic book and action-adventure lovers who have a particularly thick skin and a taste for dark humor. If you fall within that demographic, you’ll have a great time at KICK-ASS.
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Check out the trailer at:
© Copyright 2010 by John D. Harvey