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KICK-ASS (2010) review

April 16, 2010

written by: Jane Goldmam, Mark Millar & Matthew Vaughn

produced by: Brad Pitt, Kris Thykier, Adam Bohling, Tarquin Pack, David Reid & Matthew Vaughn

directed by: Matthew Vaughn

Rated R (for strong brutal violence throughout, pervasive language, sexual content, nudity and some drug use – some involving children)

117 min.

U.S. release date: April 16, 2010

 

Back in high school, I had this friend who would always proclaim, “Let’s be superheroes!” with great exuberance. We got a laugh out of that, but he did have that look in his eye. Like, you wouldn’t be too surprised if he had a super suit at home. I’m not sure what he had in mind but I think I understood the idea behind it all. I interpreted as wanting to be recognized and known for something more than who or what we were. So, when three teens are hanging out at their local comic shop (or LCS, since I might as well show my geekness early on in this review) in Matthew Vaughn’s new film and one of them asks, “How come nobody’s ever tried to be a superhero?”, I had a knowing grin on my face.

In “Kick-Ass”, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) asks the same question I had often wondered. His fellow geek friends, Todd (Evan Peters) and Marty (Clark Duke), are quick to come up with the type of logical, common sense answers that anyone would come up with….you’ll get in trouble with the cops, get killed, or even worse, people will think you’re an even bigger joke!

Up until this point, Dave has felt like the only super power he’s had is not being noticed in the halls of his New York City high school. Still, he’s bright, funny and observant but just can’t seem to get the attention of that Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca) babe near his locker. It doesn’t help that his mom dropped dead suddenly when he was young and he’s being raised by his supportive-yet-workaholic father. Dave can’t help but notice that the streets around him are going to crap and no one is doing anything about it. Partly inspired by what he sees and also out of pure boredom, he decides to do something. He purchases a green wet suit online, makes a mask and dons a couple of night sticks. His plan is to fight crime yet he has zero fighting skills and no resources.

After numerous poses in his bedroom mirror, Dave is ready. At least he thinks he is. His first crime-fighting move is to bust some car thieves which leaves him severely beaten, stabbed and left for dead. Then he’s run over by a car only to be left for dead again. Epic Failure. Now, one would think this would be a moment of sobriety for Dave. But after doctors align much of his skeleton with steel plating and his nerves are shot, leaving him mostly impervious to pain, he feels empowered, “How cool is this? I look like Wolverine,” to give it another go.

Dave stumbles upon three street thugs pummeling some poor guy in front of a quickie mart and musters up the adrenaline to get in the melee as his defender. But remember, Dave has zero fighting skills. What he lacks in that department, he makes up for in high energy, fear and rage. It is here, that Dave proclaims himself as Kick-Ass! A moment I’m sure he was waiting for. Their bloody brawl is captured on camera by some teenage onlookers and the footage becomes a YouTube sensation with skyrocketing hits.

No, I’m not giving the whole movie away. This is merely set up.

Indeed, writers Jane Goldman(“Stardust”) and  Mark Millar (“Wanted”), have just that in mind as they use Dave as a gateway character to a world that is about to open up in a most bloody way (yes, even bloodier) for viewers. It’s a world that is established in the 2008 violent comic book from Millar and legendary artist, John Romita, Jr., as a gritty take on the teenager-becomes-superhero formula that started with Marvel’s Spider-Man. Both creators have worked on Spider-Man and know him well but what they’re doing here is turning the idea into quasi-realism. Dave wasn’t bitten by a radioactive arachnid or accidentally blasted by gamma rays giving him incredible powers. He’s a comic fan, a high school student and a guy with no clue what he’s getting into.

As Dave answers his fan mail on his Kick-Ass myspace page, his web-popularity catches the interest of characters he was bound to encounter. Like a typical teen, he has taken little thought into who in the World Wide Web will be looking at his activity, especially once it hits the local news. Local Mafioso, Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) sees Kick-Ass as a joke and a possible threat to his operations. While Big Daddy and Hit Girl, a father/daughter dynamic duo find him to be a joke and kind of cool, respectively.

Once the potty-mouthed Hit Girl (Chloe Grace-Moretz) saves his life, Dave is blown away and overwhelmed that there are other costumed crusaders already out there. And they are much better at it than he is. He meets Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and finds out that he and Hit Girl have a very personal vendetta to take down Frank D’Amico and every last one of his goons. The two of them take Dave under their wing and let him know that he can count on them if he needs help.

Things get complicated when Frank’s teenage son, Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is added to the mix. Chris is also a comic fan and attends the same high school as Dave, where he’s relegated as the snobby rich kid. Knowing his dad is into shady dealings and craving his acceptance, he offers his assistance. He becomes Red Mist (complete with a Mistmobile!) in an effort to win the friendship of Kick-Ass and the acceptance of his father. Once Kick-Ass and Red Mist team-up, it brings us two clueless teen “superheroes” that are in over their heads.

This is basically a modern update of a timeless tale about a boy longing for more which turns into the perennial hero’s journey. He meets up with others who help him find his way and goes up against an antagonist. The basic idea isn’t really groundbreaking but what Millar is doing with it and how Vaughn is delivering it, is! As much as this is a bombastic comic book action movie and an excellently executed one at that, what grounds the film and draws us in is the writing and the superb cast.

Goldman and Millar know the voice of teens and therefore are able to write how they think and feel. The profanity they use and subjects they discuss is dead-on accurate. Walk by any random gathering of teens or tweens and you will hear language that would shock a sailor. Knowing that right there may tell you whether or not this is for you, but I appreciated the accurate depiction of who these people are.

But the writing would be pointless and moot if it weren’t for a capable cast. As Dave, Johnson hides his British accent well and is both relatable and charming. You wind up feeling for the guy, especially when he pretends to be Katie’s gay BFF, in order to get close to her. He’s likeable, you want him to win, at least survive. The heart of the film is Hit Girl or Mindy McCready, and her relationship with her father Damon McCready, or Big Daddy. The way they are introduced is one second alarming and the next disarming, yet both characters become quite engaging. Moretz is the first true find of the year. Her acting chops are well beyond her years and I will certainly be interested in where her career goes. It’s common knowledge how hit or miss Cage’s work is but rest assured, this is a hit. In costume he does a fantastic homage to a classic caped crusader and the unsettling quirks he brings to the role is perfect for the character.

For anyone already familiar with the comic, you will have a blast. Yes, some changes were made but keep in mind how necessary that can be with any film adaptation. Also remember that Millar is involved, so it doesn’t stray as off-track as “Wanted” did.  the coolest thing is seeing Romita, Jr’s artwork up there on the screen. It’s used during Big Daddy’s origin and in the apartment he shares with his daughter, in a very suitable and character-building way.

The fanboy in me had a blast watching this but the film enthusiast reveled in a good time at the movies. It’s the first time this year where I wanted to watch it all over again immediately after it was over. As for the violence, it is violent. Along the lines of “Sin City” or “Kill Bill” For certain, there will be much controversy over a bloodied 11 year-old getting beaten, shot at, thrown out a window and killing a hallway full of goons with a variety of weapons. Considering how she is being raised, I didn’t find it at all disturbing. The thing is, this is a violent movie based on a violent comic book. It’s not that hard to figure out. The film lives up to its title and the title tells it all.

 RATING: ****

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. April 16, 2010 12:32 pm

    We’re miles apart on this one David: http://www.larsenonfilm.com/
    I read the comics, but do you think you have to have an in-depth appreciation of the back stories of its creators to fully appreciate Kick-Ass?

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      April 16, 2010 9:37 pm

      Not really, Josh. I didn’t read the entire comic but I know those who have and all of them felt the movie was better while the comic was good/great. Which characters are you referring to, though? We see basically the origin of Dave unfold. I felt like I had enough back story for Big Daddy and Hit Girl to appreciate them. I wasn’t left wanting any kind of further backstory for any of them.

  2. Diane permalink
    April 17, 2010 12:13 am

    I think this movie looks entertaining. And for that reason alone I want to see it. It’s not “deep”. It’s not “thought provoking”. It’s just pure on, shoot em up, super hero & bad guy entertainment. Not enough movies these days that are like that, in my opinion. 🙂 thanks for the review David!

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