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.
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.
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.