Theatrical Review: Kick-Ass
High School student Dave Lizewski doesn’t want a normal life. He’s a geek, he reads comic books, spends too much time on his computer and girls don’t dig him. One day, Dave is sitting with a couple of his friends in his local comic shop and ponders the question of why no one has actually really become a super-hero. His friends give him the appropriate responses, but after getting pushed around by a couple of thugs, Dave decides he’s had enough and he’s tired of just standing around and letting this stuff happen. Dave decides to become a super-hero and on his first day out, he ends up in the hospital, having to have all sorts of replacement surgery. Six months pass. Dave has healed with all sorts of metal replacement in his body and some nerve ending damage that basically doesn’t allow him to feel some things, and so Dave gets back on his horse and tries again. This time he succeeds wildly, becoming an internet sensation and calling himself Kick-Ass. He also starts a chain of events that he just can’t get away from.
That’s the basic premise to the latest comic book to movie adaptation, called after it’s title character Kick-Ass. Kick-Ass is an adaptation of the comic book series by writer Mark Millar and artist John Romita Jr. It’s also the latest film from director Matthew Vaughn, who’s certainly delivered the goods in the past with movies like Layer Cake and Stardust. and it’s also a pretty darn good movie, though I do have a problem or two with it.
First though, on the plus side, it absolutely looks terrific. Vaughn’s shooting this with all sorts of bright colors and his screen compositions literally bring Romita Jr.’s art to life on the screen. Some changes have been made that make this differ slightly from the comic. The most notable of these being in the origins of another character inspired by Dave, Big Daddy, which in turn leads to some changes in the ending, but I think the intent of the book is still there on the big screen. That is, I wasn’t crying foul over it at all.
There’s some real moments of pure brilliance up there as well- those moments being Kick-Ass’ first big night where he becomes a sensation, Big Daddy’s inspired comic-book telling of his origin (absolutely beautifully done), a video-taped fight scene which shows Big Daddy in action, the introduction of Big Daddy’s protege, Hit Girl and Hit Girl’s assault on the gang members who capture both Kick-Ass and Big Daddy late in the film. These scenes are really well made set pieces and when they come up, they kick the movie into overdrive.
One of my problems though, and it’s not necessarily with the movie itself, it’s more mine, is that when I initially read the book, I didn’t read it with a laughtrack going on in my head. Now this film, through a lot of it’s absurdity, certainly elicits a lot of big laughs from it’s audience. But as a comic book reader, I pretty much read this with a straight face when it came out, and so it was a little disconcerting for me seeing it this way. This is a black comedy for sure, and a lot of these scenes where the laughs come in the theatre are pretty much straight out of the book. As far as I know, it was by design to get laughs in Millar’s originally script, I just didn’t read it that way. For someone coming into this without having read the comic, this won’t mean anything at all. And for those who have read the book, well your mileage may vary, though I suspect I’m probably a minority on this.
The cast, for the most part is pretty darn good. Aaron Johnson plays Kick-Ass/Dave and this kid is someone to watch in the future and he exhibits a lot of character growth on the screen. Nicolas Cage plays Big Daddy and you can tell that Cage had a lot of fun here, in particular as he’s playing Big Daddy in costume where he’s channeling Adam West as Batman. Mark Strong is certainly effective as Frank D’Amico, our bad guy of the piece. This one’s a little different for Strong, being a more out of control character than what he’s been in the past, but he’s still really good here. The standout of the cast though is Chloe Moretz. Moretz plays Hit Girl and literally whenever she’s on-screen, there’s real magic happening. Hit Girl is an 11-year old who’s been training her whole life for what happens in the movie, and Moretz’s performance is star-making. But the other downside for me here is also in the main cast, and that’s with Christopher Mintz-Plasse who plays D’Amico’s son and also assumes a costumed identity as the Red Mist. Mintz-Plasse screams “stunt-casting” to me (which is certainly played with in the marketing of the movie) just begging for people to say, “Hey, there’s McLovin!” I didn’t think he had any real presence in the film and most of his lines and delivery are pretty flat. Compared to everyone else in the movie and how their work kicks up the adrenaline, MIntz-Plasse puts on the brakes.
So yeah, I have a couple of problems here, but still I thought Kick-Ass delivered and did so with great style. It’s irreverent and extremely violent, so if you’re put off by the violence, then this one isn’t for you. I’m a long-time comic book fan (going on 43 years now) and really appreciate the lengths that Matthew Vaughn went to fairly accurately bring this to the screen. While I enjoyed the film a great deal, I think it’ll have an even bigger appeal to today’s younger fans. They, at least to me, want everything to be a little more in your face and self-referential and they’ll certainly get that with Kick-Ass.