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KICK-ASS (2010) ***** movie review by COOP

Posted on April 20th, 2010
Posted on April 20th, 2010


We’ve all heard the urban legend about the kid who put on a red cape and jumped out of his bedroom window after watching “Superman” back in 1978. While that story may or may not be true – and I’m honestly afraid to look it up to find out – it presents us with a cautionary tale that we are all merely human. Trying to live out foolish fantasies of superheroism could easily shorten our already limited lifespan. This is also the basic premise of the Mark Millar/John Romita comic book “Kick-Ass”, criticized for its portrayal of youth engaged in graphic violence and it’s cavalier approach to the subject. The film adaptation shares in the controversy, but also triumphs as a narrative, cinematic achievement. While I might consider it a stroke of genius, if you can’t handle the sight of an 11 year-old girl slicing up mobsters while swearing like a sailor, this film is not for you.

Meet Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), your typical high school comic geek. He’s anonymous at school, the girl of his dreams assumes he’s gay and his only two friends are cooler than him. His life changes the day he asks the question, “How come nobody has ever tried to be a superhero?” As an experiment he buys an obnoxiously-colored scuba suit, a mask, a couple of batons, calls himself “Kick-Ass” and patrols the streets of New York to see if he can take a bite out of crime. His first encounter with a pair of petty thugs nearly kills him, leaving him reconstructed with metal plates and nerve endings so damaged, he no longer feels pain.

Knowing now that he can more easily take a beating, he tries again and manages to heroically save someone in front of witnesses who catch the event on video. The footage goes viral on the internet and Dave’s alter ego becomes an overnight celebrity. Unfortunately for Dave, a pair of lethal costume vigilantes named Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and the pre-teen Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) have been terminating Italian mobsters and Kick-Ass gets the blame. With Dave in over his head, a new costumed hero named Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) offers Dave help but the new alliance may prove even more hazardous to his health.

My favorite part of the suspense in the film is directly related to Dave’s health, or lack thereof. When seven thugs with knives and guns surround him, you know he’s dead meat. Dave knows it too and you can see it in his eyes, especially when he is cowering and whimpering on the floor as bullets fly over his head. But he can’t back down. Oh no. That would violate the superhero’s code and that is the quality that makes Dave exceptionally different from his peers. He is willing to sacrifice his life for a complete stranger, even if it means death. This foolhardy yet inspirational attitude gets a worldwide audience, creating a plethora of Kick-Ass copycats. Aaron Johnson completely nails the burden of his role as a hero in a fragile nerd’s body, but he totally gets upstaged by a potty-mouthed kid with an itchy trigger finger.

Chloe Moretz as Mindy Macready, aka “Hit Girl” shares a large part of the film’s acclaim and also most of its controversy. Mindy curses. A lot. And she gleefully slaughters her way to the highest body count in the film. According to the Internet Movie Database, Chloe is now 13, which makes her 11 or 12 during the production of “Kick-Ass”. Funny since she slings insults like a jaded 35 year-old. Chloe is obviously one of those weird, ultra-mature child actors like Abigail Breslin or Natalie Portman in her time. Those tiny thespians pulled off adult-like performances at that age so the moral concern for this young actress (or her influence) hardly holds up in court due to artistic precedence. Besides, like her aformentioned predecessors, she will probably receive an Oscar nomination the near future.

What’s most fascinating about the Hit Girl character is that she’s a two dimensional plot device. Her father, aka “Big Daddy” (aka Nicholas Cage) basically brainwashed her into becoming a killing machine to serve his own vengeful purposes. Don’t judge him too harshly though, he genuinely loves her and their revenge is more or less mutual. In fact, he created the whole costumed superhero fantasy in order to help sugarcoat the motives behind her imminent death-dealing. Plus he’s something of a twisted cornball around her, promising to take her for bowling and ice cream after making her wear a bulletproof vest and taking a couple of 9mm slugs to the chest to toughen her up. Other than that, he’s an endearing and goofy guy who eventually buys into dressing like the 1990 version of Batman to bond with his daughter while wiping out a mob syndicate lead by Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong).

Speaking of Frank, his son Chris is exactly like Dave. He’s a loner comic book geek who longs for friends, but happens to be a rich kid with a surly body guard who lets no one get within ten feet. Despite his wimpy demeanor, his dad loves him but sees no potential in him to take over the family business. When Chris becomes the Red Mist, the changes to his character make it obvious that his role in potential future sequels will might eventually make him the most interesting character in the series.

Director Matthew Vaughn, director of “Stardust” and the superb British gangster thriller “Layer Cake”, pulled off a spectacular feat by allowing “Kick-Ass” to retain the audacity of the comic without making it too off-putting for the general public. Additionally, it treads some interesting ground as a satire while pulling off a bold move near the end. Something critics are already giving it a lot of static for… At some point, “Kick-Ass” ceases to be a satire and becomes the type of story it originally made fun of. Once it drops the parody of the superhero storyline, it becomes an actual superhero story. Because of this, some critics have called the film out, labeling it as hypocritical.

Personally, I feel it’s a clever twist on the superhero origin cliché. Dave/Kick-Ass was just a kid living a fantasy and he suffered a lot more pain than he dished out. However, as a reluctant trailblazer he actually created the world he fantasized about. Because of all the copycats following in his footsteps, you could argue that Dave as Kick-Ass birthed a new reality where superheroes can rise up and defeat the villains of the world… Precisely the kind of fantasy world you find in comic books. If the film had ended as realistically as it began, “Kick-Ass” would be the same depressing and pitiful tragedy as the kid who jumped out of his window wearing a Superman cape. No one wants to see that. Instead, “Kick Ass” is a brutal, yet fun film that turns the comic book film upside down for most of the ride. Cynical critics and cinema prudes might hate it, but that’s their loss. This movie was made for hardened comic book fans like me and I can’t wait to see it again.

One other interesting note:  I noticed that just about the ENTIRE musical score of “Kick-Ass” is lifted from other movies.  Fans might recognize music from Danny Boyle’s movies “28 Days Later” and “Sunshine” and others.  Director Vaughn probably used this borrowed music as a temp track when he released it on the festival circuit, but eventually became enamored with it so he paid for the rights and kept it.  While I think this is an odd choice, it still works well in a strange way. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Here’s the R-rated “Red Band” trailer, complete with Hit Girl a-cursin’!…

-Coop

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