Monday, April 19, 2010


Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Starring Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Nicholas Cage

There's some controversy surrounding Matthew Vaughn's new film Kick-Ass. Most of the chatter centers on a word 11 year old superhero Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) utters that begins with the letter "c" and rhymes with what a football team does when they're 4 and 15 and not in field goal range. Critics of the film are also enraged that Hit Girl is involved in the film's violent set-pieces and performs the most disturbing, unnerving, and surgically precise kills in the movie's two-hour running time. It's a shame that the focus has been on Kick-Ass's more controversial aspects. People should be celebrating this unique and interesting take on the superhero genre, with as much drama and heart as Sam Raimi's Spiderman and better staged action sequences than Christopher Nolan's Batman reboot.

Kick-Ass begins as a deconstruction of the superhero when high-schooler David Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), sick of being just another invisible, dorky loser, decides that he wants to fashion himself into a savior of the weak. Creating a costume out of scuba gear and calling himself Kick Ass, David throws himself into his superhero role and quickly finds out what happens to skinny teenagers with no formal fight training who confront violent thugs: they get their asses kicked. After sustaining life-threatening injuries more than once, Kick Ass nonetheless becomes an internet sensation and a New York City celebrity. Although this new-found fame increases David's confidence (even though he keeps his secret identity hidden from those closest to him), he's reluctant to keep up the charade, as he finds that dressing up like a superhero to fight crime has real-world consequences (mainly: broken limbs and the possible loss of life) and isn't as fun as he thought it would be.

Meanwhile, across town, Damon Macready (Nicholas Cage) and his daughter Mindy (Chloe Moretz) fight crime as Big Daddy and the aforementioned Hit Girl in a B plot that represents everything Kick Ass himself doesn't. Big Daddy and Hit Girl are part of a story that contains the film's stereotypical superhero genre tropes: a dark origin, a lust to bring justice to the world driven by vengeance, and the ability to perform insane stunts and acrobatics while decimating a room full of bad guys.

While both of these stories (Kick Ass and Big Daddy/Hit Girl) contain enough plot and character to sustain their own individual films, Kick-Ass (based on a comic of the same name by Mark Millar) becomes most interesting when the filmmakers force these two worlds to come crashing together mid-way through its running time. When he goes to confront a drug dealer who's been harassing a classmate he has a crush on, Kick Ass is rescued by Hit Girl who, along with her father, is looking to take down local drug king-pin Frank D'amico (a hilarious and menacing Mark Strong, in a performance at least as memorable as Heath Ledger's Joker). While juggling school, a relationship, his friends, and Kick Ass's Myspace page, David is unwittingly drawn into the world of Big Daddy and Hit Girl.

There is more to Kick-Ass than what I've just described, but I'm hesitant to spill more than what I've written in the previous paragraphs, lest I ruin any of the many surprises the film contains. I myself wish that I had gone into the theater knowing less than I did (avoid the red band trailer at all costs). I do recommend seeing it in as full a theater as possible.

The star of the film is director Matthew Vaughn, who deftly handles the film's ever-changing tone. While it took me a moment to warm to the film when it changed gears, once I realized where it was going I was on-board. This is thanks to Vaughn's expertly crafted action scenes and delicate attention to the film's emotional beats. While the action is stylized for the most part, the set-pieces get larger (the first full-blown action scene is inside a small apartment while the last takes place in a gigantic penthouse apartment) and more intense as the film progresses. And, as I mentioned previously, the film has a surprising amount of heart. I went into Kick-Ass assuming it was going to be either a cynical satire or straight Watchmen style deconstruction of the superhero genre. I was surprised to find that not only does the film establish its own superhero mythos and fully-develop its characters, it is also in deep love with the genre, and respects these oddballs enough to give each character moments that are genuinely moving.

While Vaughn holds the show together with his direction, he's certainly helped out by a stellar cast. Aaron Johnson (a Brit who knows how to mimic a perfect Yankee accent) plays David as a pathetic and naive yet love-able and well-intentioned teenager. Chloe Moretz (soon to be seen in Matt Reeves' Let Me In, a remake of 2007 Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In) has an "older than her years" quality about her and, if she tones that down (she played Joseph Gorden-Levitt's smart-alecky know-it-all annoying younger sister in 500 Days of Summer), has an amazing career ahead of her. And I previously mentioned Mark Strong, who practically steals the film as foul-mouthed and ultra-violent baddy Frank D'Amico. He undoubtedly has the funniest and most quotable role in the film yet, despite all the laughs his character generates, never ever stops oozing menace. Nicholas Cage reminds us why he was once held in such high-regard, bringing much needed pathos to Damon Macready, a horrible parent but a loving father.

My favorite acting job in the film, though, came as a surprise to me. Christopher Mintz-Plasse - working ever so hard to shed his pop-culture association with McLovin', the character he played (and the one everyone knows him as) in the film Superbad - turns in a stand-out performance as the conflicted superhero Red Mist. It's a role that is surprisingly multi-dimensional and, dare I say it, Shakespearean in content, and Mintz-Plasse owns it. He obliterated my expectations, and can be assured that there's not just one role in his repertoire that he'll be remembered for.

As a matter of fact, Kick-Ass as a film itself destroyed my expectations. Had I gone into the film with less knowledge of it than I had, I'm sure I would've walked out stunned and wanted to watch it immediately again. It's an electric and fun experience that matches copious amounts of blood with lots of heart.

Trailer (NSFW - vulgar language):

1 comment:

  1. Agree. 100%

    I'm hoping this one goes sleeper status and stays at the box office for months, collecting $$...