As the famous saying goes: ‘And now for something completely different.’ Kick-Ass the movie is directly based on a modern cult classic graphic novel (I’m always tempted to just call them comics, but apparently that irks certain folks) of the same name.
There are some films studios love to make and one of those particular genres is the superhero/comic book movie. Another thing studios love to put into their films is plenty of action, with epic battles pitting valiant heroes against nefarious and deadly villains. A slick, polished look as well as a clever editing to heighten the experience, funny dialogue, memorable supporting characters, all of these are equally staples of what Hollywood enjoys churning, especially when producing films based on superheroes. Most, if not all of these elements are ready and present in Matthew Vaughn’s latest endeavour, Kick-Ass. However, the search for financial support within the studio system proved a bit more challenging than usual. The reason? Kick-Ass, for all its strengths and weaknesses is easily different from the many comic book inspired movies we’ve been accustomed to over the past decade.
Things start off quickly, with an immediate hint at the tone the film will adopt for the next 120 minutes or so. A little of irony and self-referential humour mixed with some unabashed violence. The plot, which from what I understand is an amalgamation of the printed miniseries, revolves around teenager Dave, a very average young man with not a lot to show for himself until the day he inexplicably decides to purchase a scuba diving suit online in order to dress up as a hero and protect the innocent at night. His athleticism is limited at best, his planning for such a scheme is a tad leaky, but what he does possess is a lot of courage and heart. To his knowledge no has ever attempted to play the role of real life superhero before, so he has decided to carry this mantle as the aptly named Kick-Ass. Unbeknownst to him however is the existence of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his daughter Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) who are after revenge against the terrible crime lord Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong). Events will force Kick-Ass and the father-daughter duo to band together and take on D’Amico as well as the latter’s son Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) .
Unquestionably one of the principle elements that put fear into studio’s at the thought of financing Kick-Ass was the level of unfiltered violence featured throughout. Witnessing bullets ripping through flesh is nothing knew for anyone who has paid attention to recent action films, and experiencing the slicing and dicing of body limbs with a shiny sword should sound familiar to those who have seen the Kill Bill films, but it is the way the violence is handled at times in Kick-Ass that I believe differentiates it from many other movies. Certainly in the early going of the film there is a brutal realism to the violence depicted on screen which produced a very visceral reaction. Kick-Ass the character is nothing but a little chump who is in far over his head. Ill equipped and ill prepared for the task he has wilfully burdened himself with, Dave’s early outings frequently end in great physical pain, even though his persona is earning popularity via YouTube. The injuries aren’t of the comical variety either. They are serious and life threatening. For all its brutality and the foul mouths of the teenagers (some lines are genuinely funny, but I felt they cussed a bit too frequently), I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the movie. It was certainly going for something different than with other masked crusader efforts. Dave was a young buck with quite literally no powers whatsoever trying to establish himself as a hero for New York. Johnson, while not breaking any new grounds in the acting department, does a fine job portraying this eternally average Joe vying for something really quite extraordinary.
The pacing and tone of the film take a different turn near the halfway mark once Kick-Ass unites with Big Daddy and Hit-Girl. I won’t say that it takes a turn for the worse, because I honestly don’t think that’s true. It’s just...different. I still enjoyed the second half of the film a fair bit despite some criticism I'll share with you shortly. Once Hit-Girl makes her presence known to the audience, the portrayal of the characters and especially of the violence changes. Dave, in an attempt at assisting a girl he has the host for, dresses as Kick-Ass and arrives at a dingy apartment where some goons live. These germs have been causing some trouble for Dave’s would-be girlfriend, and when his half-assed attempt at intimidating the thugs fails him, the ever heroic and deadly Hit-Girl bails our protagonist out by stabbing and cutting the gang members into little packable portions. I had only seen a few television spots for the film and had only read a few articles on the film, so my knowledge of how far Kick-Ass supposedly stretched the limits of acceptable violence was vague at best. I won’t deny that the surprise of Hit-Girl’s abilities and methodology in crime fighting got to me. I had an idea that a little girl partook in some gruesome violence, but I didn’t expect her to completely make sushi out of people. Much has been said about this offbeat character played with nice energy by Chloe-Moretz, and it is true that, in some ways, she does steal the show somewhat. I mean, Kick-Ass is a fun character and I enjoyed seeing him do his best at something he should never have tried in the first place, but there was something uniquely pleasing and plain odd about seeing a 11 or 12 year old just destroy everybody in a room (on multiple occasions).
I wasn’t entirely on board with some script elements however. Without getting into specifics, the Christopher Mintz-Plasse character Red Mist was not terribly well developed. At first he admires Kick-Ass while feeling left out of the family business of drug dealing. Then he accepts to help his father by laying a trap for Kick-Ass, then he pleads his father to spare him, then he and Kick-Ass are mortal enemies... There seemed to be a lot of back and forth character beats with Red Mist, as if the screenwriters and director Vaughn were never entirely sure of what exactly they wanted to do with him. I wouldn’t fault Mintz-Plasse however for I did enjoy his performance. There is a lot of screen time reserved for the flowering romance between Dave and the girl he likes, and while I appreciated the notion of a love interest which starts off in highly comical fashion, she is nowhere to be found in the final 30 minutes of the movie. It felt like a lot of screen time that led to nothing. Finally, there is the issue of the depicted violence in the latter stages of the movie which I briefly mentioned earlier in this review. Kick-Ass seems to, what is that that expression, want its cake and eat it too. It starts off as a story of an ordinary kid who makes a crazy decision to become a masked vigilante without the requisite skills. By the climax, we witness some entertaining (I want to stress this before people start believing I didn’t like the ending) if completely different action sequences. Kick-Ass gets in on the action in a rather ridiculous way and overall tone of the violence is very stylized, dare I say, very ‘comic booky’. The spirit of the early goings essentially left behind once Big Daddy and Hit-Girl gain more prominence in the story. Again, I enjoyed the movie for the most part. I wouldn’t want my criticisms to dissuade anyone from seeing it. It does take some unique turns for a comic book movie and even when I felt the tone had changed, I still thought the overall result was fun to watch.
So there we have it. While Kick-Ass the character is a loser, Kick-Ass the movie isn’t. It gets pretty wild at times, offers a fun spin on the superhero film, showcases some well executed actions scenes and makes it to the finish line in pretty good shape despite some reservations I have with the script. With the onslaught of comic book films being released these days, it was nice to see something a bit different.