Movie Review: Kick-Ass
By Shalimar Sahota
April 1, 2010

Shockingly, this is a Saturday night and none of them has a date.

Look mummy and daddy, it's an independent film doing an impression of Watchmen! Do you love me now?

As a self-aware comic book film, Kick-Ass knows the genre conventions, even highlighting them via narration, and works within them. Adapted from Mark Millar's comic book, which hadn't even finished its run while the film was in production; the roots and the characters are the same, though they both go off in slightly different tangents (the film has a slightly more upbeat ending). On comic book paper, it looks like one of the best films ever. As an actual film, it's a rare gem of complete and utter lunacy that comes out of nowhere and screws the competition without a rubber.

As seen in Mark Miller's previous adaptation Wanted, we witness the lead character, a nobody, here typical teenager, Dave Lizewski (Johnson), suddenly turn into a somebody. He asks, "Why hasn't anyone tried to become a superhero?" Costuming himself with a wetsuit bought online, his question is answered during his first crime-fighting attempt, where he is beaten, stabbed and hit by a car. Weeks of hospital treatment involve Dave requiring metal plates in his bones (can you say Wol-ver-ine boys and girls?), and the nerve damage means that he can withstand pain.

Undeterred, his second attempt has him intervening in a gang fight outside a diner. Not only is it a success, it's filmed by onlookers and uploaded online, turning Dave into a star overnight. Naming himself Kick-Ass, his activities attract the attention of costumed vigilantes Big Daddy (Cage) and his 11-year-old daughter Hit-Girl (Moretz), both working to bring down the local crime lord, Frank D'Amico (Strong). However D'Amico's son, Chris (Mintz-Plasse), becomes a superhero himself, Red Mist, except he has an ulterior motive.

There have already been films that play on the superhero motif with Mystery Men and The Incredibles. Kick-Ass, on the other hand, is quite the sophisticated smart-ass - a truly postmodern spin on the comic book genre. With a multitude of references and in-jokes, this is the Scream of comic book films. There's a Batman nod every few minutes, Watchmen just so happens to be one of the comics Dave is reading when in hospital, and it even name drops Scott Pilgrim.

Frighteningly, director Matthew Vaughn shot the film without a confirmed distributor, because the blind pimps running the studios turned him down. Essentially a blessing in disguise, it spurred him on, having the meteoric balls to make the film he wanted without any interference, raising the budget independently. Vaughn revealed that had he relented to their demands, the character Hit-Girl might have been played by an older actress, or cut altogether.

Aaron Johnson and Chloé Moretz both excel, and will likely be remembered for Kick-Ass for a very long time. So strong are the characters Hit Girl and Big Daddy (played wildly by Nicolas Cage) that they could survive with their own spin-offs, largely because they are so well written. With the male characters, once the costumes come on, a completely different persona surrounds them. Moretz as Hit-Girl, though, is quite the unpredictable authority figure for an 11-year-old girl, having undergone two months of combat training for the role. In keeping with the realistic tone, unlike other superheroes with their inherent martial arts ability, Dave's fighting style is that of a frenzied amateur. Mark Strong is having a lot of fun playing the bad guys, but his character, Frank D'Amico, is just a stereotypical gangster, with little that stands out about him. Even his wife, Angie (Butler) bizarrely disappears from the film altogether.

The film has touched a nerve amongst the mass of moral parent groups, because of the mix of extreme violence and swearing exhibited by the pre-teen Hit-Girl. Are we supposed to believe that there's an age where smiling as you stab a bad guy in the head is acceptable? The focus may be on what she does, but the effect is obviously comical rather than offensive. On the other end, the film doesn't let us forget that she is still just a child, given that she takes quite a hefty beating during a moment of child violence which would surely have been cut from a studio film. As for the language, although a certain C-word was in Miller's comic book, Vaughn revealed that he and co-writer Jane Goldman had actually scripted it out. It was Moretz's chaperone, her own mother, who suggested that they film a take with it in. Wish I had a mum like that.

Is there a limit to what children are requested to do on screen? On the strength of this, maybe it won't be long till we're watching infants shoot heroin and justify it by calling it art... imitating your child's life. One could argue as to what kind of example the film is setting to young girls the same age, but given the 15 / R – rating, they shouldn't really be watching this in the first place. However, if it does miraculously cause a young girl to save your life by chopping a thug's leg off, wouldn't you at least be grateful?

More than any other comic book film, it asks what you would do in a situation if you saw someone in trouble. Would you just stand and watch, waiting for someone to pass you the popcorn? Or would you go out of your way to help a stranger? The message appears to be that we should help people, yet it also shows what can go wrong. "Fantasizing just doesn't do it for you anymore," says Dave, before his first attempt at fighting crime. Despite saying what every 40-year-old virgin is thinking, his effort gets him brutally stabbed. However, his post-hospital attempt, as a lone savior protecting a stranger from a trio of thugs, is one of the most rewarding scenes in the film, and you feel genuinely thrilled for him.

Rarely shying away from any of the violence, it does go into really dark territory; at times it does feel hurt-poundingly real, notably during an extended scene of torture. Some of the action set-pieces do veer towards the absurdly cartoonish, not that there's anything wrong with that, though during a few instances, the special effects aren't always as convincing as the budget would have allowed.

What could have ended up as just another Superhero Movie in skanky hands turns out to be exciting and strangely caring; largely due to the lack of extraordinary powers or unrestricted R&D into far-fetched gadgets. Instead, these normal-heroes are driven by a shared desire of wanting to do something right. Kick-Ass hasn't exactly raised the bar, but set a time bomb for future comic book adaptations. If it happens, I would rather sit through a sequel to this than see more gifted mutants, another Web-Slinger, or Caped Crusader..

Directed by – Matthew Vaughn

Written by – Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, (based on Mark Millar's comic book)

Starring – Aaron Johnson (Dave Lizewski / Kick-Ass), Chloé Grace Moretz (Mindy Macready / Hit-Girl), Nicolas Cage (Damon Macready / Big Daddy), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Chris D'Amico / Red Mist), Mark Strong (Frank D'Amico), Lyndsy Fonseca (Katie Deauxma), Angie D'Amico (Yancy Butler)

Length - 117 minutes

Cert – 15 / R