What’s Good: I haven’t read the graphic novel but I have a feeling it hasn’t been tampered with by the studio which is always a good thing. The irreverent humor rocks! So do Big Daddy and Hit Girl! Bravo to Nick Cage for finally being in a halfway decent superhero film. While I can see him playing a comic book villain Nick Cage knows he’s too old for tights and thus picked the perfect role. He is forgiven for Ghost Rider.
What’s Not: Roger Ebert. I love the guy but he’s got to shut up about two things: video games and “Kick Ass.” The non-superhero sequences involving Dave/Kick Ass are not particularly interesting. “Spider-Man”-esq scenes dealing with girls, family life and school don’t work even though I can understand why they are included.
“Kick Ass.” It sure does. And does, and does and does some more. This is one of the most unusual “parody” superhero films ever made. With titles like “Sky High,” “Mystery Men,” and “The Incredibles” dominating this sub genre it was, until last week, hard to imagine anything other than kid friendly superhero comedies. After “Kick Ass” it’s now hard to imagine going back to those tepid kid films. “Kick Ass” does not hold its punches in service of the comedy aspect. In fact that only makes it punch harder. It’s the “Fight Club” of superhero movies in that respect. Don’t get me wrong, the violence in this movie is funny but it is also mean and jarring. The tone is all over the place as well. It’s a funny teen comedy where kids slip and fall on the bad guy when trying to save lost cats. It is a half baked critique on hero worship in the Internet era where, for instance, Kick Ass’s kitten saving/bad guy stomping antics end up on My Space (people still use that?). On the other hand it’s also a lame and corny “Spider-Man” type of “will the hot popular girl like the nerd” High School film. And finally, how do I put this, the kind of movie where someone is thrown into a giant microwave and cooked. The effect of all of the above is overwhelming at times but in a way that I have to admire because while real Superhero movies only go so far with action and moral conduct “Kick Ass” found a way to go farther while still somewhat keeping you in the movie and, most importantly, liking its characters.
The hero kicks the story off by telling the viewer about his average teen life. “With no power comes no responsibility” he tells us, riffing on Spidey’s bombastic style. The kid is played by a soft spoken, easily bruiseabe Aaron Johnson who goes on to illustrate his lack of talents, skills and strength. Inspired by the comic books he reads he becomes a not quite super hero called Kick Ass for the hell of it and after very little time “crime fighting” his self aware heroics inspires others. But not necessarley in a good way because he inspires people who are far from well adjusted. The film might be saying that the superheros, if looked at objectively, are actually pretty off balance. That’s when/why the film gets interesting. “Real” superhero Big Daddy, played by Nick Cage (Adam West era Batman meets The Punisher meets, um, Nick Cage), and his daughter Mindy aka Hit-Girl are the movie’s real crime fighters. We are introduced to the two memorable anti-heroes on a father daughter weekend activity that involves Big Daddy testing out a new bulletproof vest on his daughter. Standing on opposite sides of the screen he shoots her right in the chest. Being only 11 she practically flies off the screen, landing with an emphatic oomph. If you’re not laughing at the act of a grown man shooting his daughter then you WILL NOT like “Kick Ass” because that’s one of the lighter scenes. This film is hardcore but I really have to say that it is not without heart.
While the non-hero hero is doing his own thing (which mostly consists of having people laugh at how stupid he looks before beating him up) Big Daddy and Hit Girl exist in their own separate superhero movie. A much darker one and a much better one. Kick Ass just wants to play around on the streets of New York while the other two are serious about their hobby. Dead serious. Seriously, they’re sadistic and their quest to stop and punish a drug king pin (Mark Strong in that rare bad guy role–yeah right) is a long and bloody one that’s more “Kill Bill” pot boiler than “Spider-Man” foot cozie. The murderous father-daughter duo don’t so much fight crime as they torture it and I really have to say that Hit Girl, played by the young actress Chloe Moretz, steals the show then proceeds to rip it to shreds. This tiny psychopath is a great movie character because she runs counter to almost every side-kick-kid trope ever. There’s a deeply ironic undercurrent to Hit Girl but there’s also a genuine and emotionally engaging character here that is equal parts lovable and scary. Seeing this tiny purple blur fly around the screen, impaling drug dealers leaves you, and the out of his element Kick Ass, speechless. I can’t speak for Kick Ass but the lack of speech on my side of things relates to my usual dislike of child actors/characters in movies. I’m going on record by saying that this is one of those cases where a precocious child actually makes an action movie better! Not only that but the same precocious child that made “(500) Days of Summer” worse! I don’t think that has ever happened before. Okay so maybe it has, but it’s not often and Moretz is in the same league as Newt from “Aliens” and Natalie Portman in “Leon/The Professional.”
“Kick Ass” is directed by Brit Mathew Vaughn who has managed to combine the no-nonsense grittiness of his breakout “Layer Cake” with the subversive fantasy of his underrated “Stardust.” This project is a good step forward for the director who wisely balances the film’s style so that it never takes away from the story or calls attention to itself which it could have easily done given the hip and geeky subject matter. Just look at the Edgar Wright’s “Scot Pilgrim Vs. the World” trailer for an example of an opposite but hopefully equally enjoyable approach. You might remember that Vaughn was initially slated to directed “X-Men 3” (the one Brett Ratner ruined) and I’m glad he knew enough about his comic book sensibilities to stay away from mainstream conventions. At the same time though this movie adaptation tends to be very conventional at times. Many scenes involving the teenagers don’t quite work as intended (they’re not always very funny and not always as interesting as they should be) and the animated cell comic narrative device within the movie falls a bit flat. I’m not going to let those minor flaws that affect my overall enjoyment of “Kick Ass” however because in a way it needs to have a conventional backbone for the very reason that when it breaks those conventions it comes as a shock. And if this film proves anything it’s that it knows how to shock.