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