"I was an amateur. These two were the real deal". – Kick-Ass
The summer movie season doesn’t officially start until May, with the release of Iron Man 2, but Tony Stark has got some serious competition for best superhero of the year.
Kick-Ass is directed by Matthew Vaughn, who did Stardust, based on the Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. comic. The comic book is a brutal deconstruction of why there aren’t superheroes in "real life." It’s a typical Millar book, with great art by Romita, but that’s another review. So here’s the skinny on the film version.
We start with Dave Lizewsky, your typical high school geek, who goes out of his way to explain how normal he is, for a geek. He’s not even the smartest or funniest in his crew of three nerds, and is invisible to Katie, the girl of his dreams. What he has is some spare time, spare cash, an internet connection and a dad who works nights. This gives him the opportunity to try and escape his pretty empty life and become the world’s first superhero, and the first one in the movies with a MySpace page to advertise himself.
Predictably, his first attempt at derring-do goes about as well as you would expect. He's hurt, but he’s still pretty much a normal teen. The movie plays with this a lot, showing how unskilled and unready he is for the life of a superhero, but he never stops trying.
Once Dave’s out of the hospital, he goes back on patrol and the plot really kicks in. After intervening in a fight that’s caught on a camera phone and uploaded to YouTube, Kick-Ass becomes an instant celebrity, while in true comic book fashion his personal life stays a complete mess.
Meanwhile, vigilantes Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Mortez) have been training for years to wage war on crime, mainly a drug organization run by Frank D’Amico. D’Amico’s son Chris is another comic book geek who becomes torn between the Mob stuff and the hero stuff. This leads to a final, bloody confrontation that takes the movie from the fairly grounded real world-ish to an over the top action scene.
Kick-Ass works on a lot of levels. First, it’s a decent de / reconstruction of superheroes, with a solid emotional core that covers all the reasons people would put on a costume to fight crime: revenge, thrill-seeking, wanting to do the right thing, being a misfit, while at the same time showing why it’s a bad idea for normal people to do so. Mainly, the painful, bloody violence that can happen.
The fights in Kick-Ass are brutal, nearly as much as they were in Watchmen, with blood and broken bones. When Hit Girl lays into drug dealers, body parts fly. The fight scenes are very cool, but the aftermath of the violence is also bluntly on display.
The flick has very serious moments, but it is also laugh out loud funny. Kick-Ass and Red Mist car-dancing in the Mistmobile is a high point. Vaughn keeps that balance between serious and fun from going overboard in either direction, making you laugh and cringe equally, while also making you care about each character.
The acting is top notch. Aaron Johnson does a great job as Dave, making him a likeable nerd high on the thrill of being a hero, then horrified at the blood and results. He makes Dave a real, identifiable kid we feel sorry for and root for at the same time. Mintz-Plasse does a good job as the slightly unbalanced Red Mist, who has a Harry /Norman Osborn relationship with his dad. The rest of the supporting cast is fun, especially Stu Riley as Chris' bodyguard and Michael Rispoli as head goon Big Joe, who has some great lines.
Cage obviously has a ball with the very damaged Big Daddy, and it’s some of his best work. This is probably because Cage has always said he's wanted to do a straight-up superhero flick, and he’s perfect in this quirky role.
I love how he seems to be doing a combo of Adam West and William Shatner when he’s in the Big Daddy suit, then he's a wounded father out of it. The origin of Big Daddy and Hit Girl is one of the best parts: It's an animated sequence using Romita’s art, which looks great on the big screen.
Chloe Moretz's Hit Girl absolutely steals this flick. She’s a bouncy, cheerful, foul-mouthed ball of energy (like most eleven year olds) that has fun as she carves and shoots her way through crooks in ways that would make the Punisher proud. In some scenes we see the innocent little girl around the edges. Then she goes back to shooting crooks in the face.
For comic geeks, there’s a lot to enjoy about Kick-Ass. It’s funny, has great fights, and characters we can relate to. Iron Man’s biggest superhero movie competition is from a flick about heroes with no powers. A little girl who could upstage him. That has to hurt.