Costumed vigilantes face off against local New York mobsters in Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass”. High school geek Dave Lizewski asks the question that most kids his age would ask: “Why hasn’t anyone tried to actually become a superhero? Like, in real life.” Dave dons an appropriately comic book-ish wetsuit, sheaths a couple of taped up batons, and goes out into the world to look for his cause. Predictably, Dave gets his pubescent ass handed to him in his first time out, putting him in the hospital. After that, he learns that some of his nerve endings are damaged, which left him a (slightly) higher tolerance for pain. His new “power” allows him to gain moderate success against petty criminals, and his internet buzz skyrockets as a result. Soon, Kick-Ass becomes a cultural phenomenon, which leads Dave to father-daughter crime fighter team Big Daddy and Hit Girl. Big Daddy’s the loony ex-cop-turned-ex-con with all the weapons, while Hit Girl is the tween who’s deadly with all things sharp and explosive. Of course, the mob isn’t too happy with these new developments, especially boss Frank D’Amico, who throws every goomba he has at the superheroes, and they still just keep coming. Throw in another superhero wannabe named Red Mist, who may or may not have a secret of his own that could threaten the lives of the entire team if not uncovered in time, and you’ve got yourself a “Kick-Ass” superhero film. Right?
As Dave, Aaron Johnson has the sort of anti-charisma that this film needs, as his character is more of an iPhone-generation reboot of Peter Parker (he makes several references to Spider-Man throughout the film, in case you miss the metaphor). He fails, however, to craft a multi-layered character worth caring about. His attitude towards his superhero experiences always feels slightly aloof and his character never has a real arc. Does Dave have remorse for any of the things he’s done? Does Dave truly care about helping the common citizen? I guess we’ll have to wait for the sequel. Like Kick-Ass, Red Mist (played by Christopher “McLovin” Mintz-Plasse) doesn’t have much to do but just look nerdy cool and wait for the trouble to come to him. Not much more than a spectator who helps move the plot forward until the very end, Mintz-Plasse does what he can with the role.
The Nicolas Cage twisted renaissance continues with his Big Daddy performance. Cage plays it goofy and mostly reigns in his Castor Troy-isms until a very pivotal scene, where Cage just lets it all hang out. His Batman-meets-Ned-Flanders take on Big Daddy almost redeems his Ghost Rider performance, but not quite. Cage’s performance is not, however, the standout of the film. That title goes to the youngest (and deadliest) of the costumed vigilantes played by Chloe Grace Moretz, better known as Hit Girl. She may look like a Disney Channel childlike automaton, but the steely precocious bloodlust in her eyes tells a different story. In all of this post-modern brouhaha, Moretz crafts a character who is simultaneously a well trained killer and very much 11 years old. Hit Girl is a character who the audience must believe can dish out punishment as well as take it in mass quantities, all while remaining engaged in her emotional story. Along with Cage, these two characters represent the film’s emotional crux, and they both deliver.
Mark Strong is one of the hottest actors on the scene today, and this on-screen baddie is just another gold star on an already fine career. Not much more can be said of his character Frank D’Amico. He’s bad, he wants the superheroes dead, and he wants to be a zen Scarface while he does it (I guess you had to be there). Like most of the other actors, Strong does what he can, but he gave a better villain performance in Guy Richie’s “Sherlock Holmes”.
Matthew Vaughn is a director with a specific vision who has the talent to stage Hollywood-sized action while wielding a sword of satire. “Kick-Ass” takes its cue from films like “Watchmen”, but more like from Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” franchise. The action scenes are well executed and the cinematography is rich with graphic novel imagery, New York grit, and iconic superhero shots. Why then, did I only sort-of enjoy this film? It was so busy trying to subvert all of the so-called “old school” superhero films that it forgot to give me characters that I cared about. All of the characters have their purpose, they have their superhero references, they curse, and they have their hip post-modernist accidental coolness. All I have to say is: who cares? Their stakes never feel real, and their lives never truly feel threatened. The kids will enjoy the action and the humor, as it seems that this is the path that comic book films are headed (Edgar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” will no doubt hit similar notes). The violence is abundant, but not gory. The writers set up the characters well enough that they could realistically withstand all of the punishment, so much so that seeing an 11 year old Hit Girl getting pummeled by the film’s main bad guy failed to arouse my offense. I still advise against parents letting their kids watch this one. If they must see it, put it on the shelf next to “Watchmen” and wait until they’re in high school.
Overall, “Kick-Ass” moderately lived up to its name. If you like comic book films, if you liked “Watchmen”, and if you like seeing things get blown up followed by a wink and a scoff, I recommend this film. I give it a 2.5 out of 4 stars.
Quick sidebar: Every superhero in “Kick-Ass” gets to be part of a big action sequence. Kick-Ass and Red Mist mostly need rescuing. Hit Girl gets to be the cool one, laying waste to most of the henchmen on screen, and I thoroughly enjoyed her character. Big Daddy, the only adult of the group, gets to be part of the action the least, but is allowed a single fight scene against a warehouse of bad guys. In my opinion, this is the scene where “Kick-Ass” has the most kinetic energy, and it’s only moderately important to the plot itself. For all of the high concepts and young it-actors that dominate the spotlight, you still can’t fake true presence. Cage’s character was the only one who looked heroic, even if his character is bat scat crazy. It made me wish that Cage hadn’t taken the role of Ghost Rider, because he would have made such a formidable looking superhero in a greater franchise. I still wonder what it would have been like if Cage had ended up playing Superman.
Filed under: Movie Wire | Tagged: Aaron Johnson, action, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, comic book, geek, Guy Ritchie, Hit Girl, Kick-Ass, Kickass, Mark Strong, Matthew Vaughn, movies, post-modern, Red Mist, summer | 2 Comments »