Review: Kick-Ass

The Stardust writer-director team of Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughan get the “band” back together to bring John Romita, Jr. and Mark Millar’s foul-mouthed comic to the big screen.

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Dave Lizewski is your stereotypical American teenage loser. Attractive girls don’t acknowledge his existence and he steers clear of the jocks whose sporty pleasures disinterest him. He admits to spending much of his time reading comic books and masturbating. Oh, and he also wears glasses.

Now Dave loves superheroes. He muses with his gang of spectacled geeks on the idea that no one has tried to become a superhero. That’s because real people don’t have superpowers, they tell him. But his retort is one of defiance: why do people dress like pop stars and movie heroes but not superheroes. That’s probably because wearing Y-fronts on the outside of blue tights with bright red plastic boots on your feet is likely to get the fashionably challenged arrested under the mental health act. But Dave persists, deciding that the town needs someone to be its hero. Even though he has no special powers (apart from an ability to see quite clearly without his glasses or an inhumane talent to put contact lenses in his eyes in super(hero)-quick time), Dave knows in his heart that it is the right thing to do. So he orders a green scuba diving kit off the internet and heads out to fight crime. But on his first brush with criminality he ends up in hospital having being assaulted and stabbed by two car thieves and then run over by a passing car.

But it isn’t all bad. Patching together his broken bones the doctors have to use metal plates. It is never fully explained, but this allows him to withstand a certain amount of pain and makes his bones almost impervious to breaking. The character (and the writers) don’t shy away from the obvious reference to X-man Wolverine as Dave duly notes in his voiceover.

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Now the stage is set for the town’s new superhero to fight crime. He starts off small, unsuccessfully setting out to find a missing cat before accidentally becoming involved in a gang fight which catapults him into the public domain after a passing pedestrian’s video phone turns Dave’s alter-ego Kick-Ass into a YouTube sensation. What will the town’s real superheroes (Nicholas Cage and Chloe Moretz) think of Kick-Ass? What will the town’s mafia-like mad man (Mark Strong) think of his new nemesis? And will Dave finally get kissed…by a girl?

Matthew Vaughan and Jane Goldman (the writer-director team who masterminded 2007’s Stardust) reunite for this adaptation of Mark Miller’s comic Kick-Ass. Their oddball eccentricities and modern interpretations of generic fantasy make a welcome return. Miller’s violent, foul-mouthed story of a hero with no superpowers becoming embroiled in a battle between good and evil proves to be the perfect playground. Vaughan and Goldman take extra pleasure in the social media aspect of their ‘hero’ – how his rise to prominence is made possible by YouTube, how he interacts with his fans via his MySpace page.

But despite the inspired hard edge of characters Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his eleven-year old daughter Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) there is something decidedly uninspired about the whole thing. Ultimately, the film treads the same ground as Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, its plot plodding along to the same conclusions, without ever truly deciding if it’s a homage or a parody. I get the feeling it wants to be both but ends up being neither. Kick-Ass therefore only differentiates itself from the host of superhero films it takes inspiration from by virtue of its added violence and cuss-ridden vocabulary of an eleven-year old child.

Kick-Ass’s big problem is that it thinks it is fresh-faced and progressive. But it falls short. Some of its ideas such as the repressed superhero were brought to the big screen over ten years ago when Kinka Usher made the Dark Horse comic series Mystery Men. Usher’s film was almost universally praised for its production design and quirky, fast-paced dialogue. Kick-Ass has neither the lavish photography or the performances to match Mystery Men, making it look a lot less unique on second glance. Indeed, I’m positive British horror-comedy the League of Gentlemen knew just how to portray the superhero with no superpowers when they created the character of Anthony “Neds” Needham and his special car Maxie Power. And, while it is a nice idea to use social media as a context for a superhero building his public relations portfolio, why use the now dated MySpace?

Criminally, however, Kick-Ass features a tired romantic sub-plot that makes little sense and comes across as a shade insulting. Again, I’m left wondering if this is a parody of American teen romance clichés or sheer laziness on the part of the filmmakers. It is a shame Vaughan and Goldman couldn’t instill the anarchy of their good versus evil battle into the relationship between Dave and the ravishingly beautiful Katie Deauxma (Lyndsy Fonseca). Unlike Hit Girl’s excessive range of naughty words and ultra violence, Katie’s “Kick-Ass is smoking. I for one would definitely fuck his brains out if I got the chance” isn’t quite on the same level. It’s this uneasy contrast between the inspired and outlandish and the tried and trusted cliché. With the broken bones, sliced throats and broadcasted torture I would have expected any sex to be suitably graphic and any sex speak to be on par with Cameron Diaz’s pre-suicide monologue in Vanilla Sky when she says to Tom Cruise: “You fucked me four times the other night. You’ve been inside me. I swallowed your cum. That means something!”

Yet despite its flaws the film does have a certain charm. Dave’s heart is in the right place despite his wayward thinking and actor Aaron Johnson does a serviceable job of making him suitably vulnerable with the likeable undertones of a social outcast. But Nicholas Cage stands out in one of the best roles he’s had in years alongside onscreen daughter Chloe Moretz. I particularly liked the allusions to Batman before Cage’s costume is revealed to look much like the caped crusader of Gotham City. His relationship with Moretz is the film’s greatest attribute, raising the young girl to be a street-fighting, gun-toting anarchist who steals money from the rich to provide more guns and ammo for her father. This father-daughter family is straight out of a redneck baby manual – armed to the teeth and dangerous as hell. But their moralistic vengeance towards crime boss Frank D’Amico lends their violent ways credence, making their own murderous plight all the more fun.

Kick-Ass isn’t the inspired progress I was hoping to see within the genre but director Matthew Vaughan and co-writer Jane Goldman are inherently quirky and their ironic musing and oddball humour make Kick-Ass frequently delightful. Young actress Chloe Moretz steals the show as a pre-pubescent Uma Thurman Bride-like vigilante, while Nicholas Cage enjoys the best role he’s had since Adaptation.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

Directed by: Matthew Vaughan
Written by: Matthew Vaughan, Jane Goldman
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Nicholas Cage, Chloe Moretz, Mark Strong, Lyndsy Fonseca
Released: 2010 / Genre: Superhero Fantasy / Country: USA / IMDB
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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. rtm Reply

    I’m torn about this one. I gave it high marks because I thought it was well done and the performances are very good. It’s surprisingly more character-driven than a lot of superhero-themed movies out there. I agree Chloe stole the show and her relationship w/ Nic as her dad is affecting. I actually like Aaron here and was blown away to learn he’s a Brit! I saw him in Nowhere Boy afterwards and it really proved the kid’s got range.

    But in the end, it just left a sour taste in my mouth because of the excessive range of naughty words and ultra violence, like you said. Especially coming from such a young girl!

  2. Dan O. Reply

    There’s a lot of blood and gore here that may turn some viewers away, but I must say that I liked a lot of this crazy action, and the constant humor that I thought was wittier than actually funny. Good Review Dan!

  3. Rodney Reply

    Will I agree with many of your statements here Dan, I gave it a higher mark in my own review, perhaps due to the fact I think I found the underlying anarchic themes more amusing than you did. Still, a great review, and when I get home from work I’ll put a link to this page on my own review.

    Anybody looking for an alternative review can read my thoughts here: http://www.fernbyfilms.com/2010/08/26/kick-ass/

  4. Dan Reply

    @rtm: The violence and Chloe Moretz’s foul language was what made the film stand out for me. What I didn’t like was how they didn’t carry that through to the romance – part of the film was R-rated, the other part was PG-13. Just the like the original story, they shouldn’t have ended up together but they sold out to please a mainstream audience.

    @Dan: Yeah, I agree, and the anarchy of the relationship between Nicolas Cage and Chloe Moretz is great. Pity the romance was so cliched.

    @Rodney: I did love the anarchy but I wished they’d carried it through to the relationship between Dave and Katie. I just felt they shouldn’t have stayed together – in fact, when he comes through her window she should have shot him or something…that would have been faithful to the tone set by Hit Girl and Big Daddy’s vigilantism – IMO.

    I don’t want to take anything away from Lyndsy Fonseca who plays Katie – she’s gorgeous! If nothing else, the film inspired me to follow her on Twitter!

  5. Castor Reply

    I liked this but I see where you come from Dan. While it’s a nice, refreshing change of pace movie from the usual comic book superhero, it still felt like there was something missing to it and subsequent viewing weren’t as satisfying.

  6. Novroz Reply

    Great review Dan.
    I reviewed this too once. I have hard time loving this movie for only one main reason “How could a LITTLE girl can cruelly kill people and not turning out twisted in the head?”

    It’s the kind of movie I watched once and it was already more than enough.

  7. fitz Reply

    Hey alright, someone else who wasn’t thrilled with this. It wasn’t bold or new, in fact the soundtrack should have reflected that.

  8. Andrew Reply

    I think, though, that Kick-Ass is asking very different questions about super powerless superheroes, namely what happens when such people try to fight crime? They get hurt. Or they die. Kick-Ass is all about the impossibility of such displays of heroism and not carefully deconstructing but outright shredding the very concept of the superhero. It ends up becoming a superhero movie in the last act because being a regular hero in D’Amico’s high rise stronghold would surely end in death for both Mindy and Dave, and so they mow down a company of thugs with gatling gun-equipped jet packs and a bazooka.

    As far as the sex goes, I think that shows just how readily society exposes us to violence at a young age while keeping sex a taboo. These kids have no imagination beyond fucking each other’s brains out; meanwhile Dave is better equipped for violence (though not by much). I never really gave that element much thought but thinking about it now I do feel like it plays into the film’s commentary about violence in society.

  9. Red Reply

    I really enjoyed this movie, but I felt the story of Kick-Ass was handled poorly. This movie would’ve been better had they just focused on Hit-Girl and Big Daddy. When Hit-Girl stops the execution, and Millar cranks up the music and turns on the strobe light is easily one of my favorite scenes this past year, and something I watch on an almost daily basis.

    As much as I loved the final fight scenes, I always find it hilarious that when Hit-Girl is “out of ammo”, she has a big yellow grenade dangling off her shoulder. In which case that would’ve been quite useful in taking the hallway instead of running straight into ~10 well armed men.

  10. Dan Reply

    @Andrew: Very interesting points Andrew. I didn’t give the film much thought in regards to its commentary on violence in the media. From your points above it does become more interesting when coupled with my view on the paper thin romance – are we desensitised to violence to such a degree that we can happily see a young child beating the hell out of grown men. Or is simply boys with toys – and that the violence played to the target demographic over any romantic entanglement.

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