Review: Kick-Ass


Every comic-book fan has a fantasy lodged in the back of his or her head about what it would be like to be a superhero. “Kick-Ass” is the story of said average person and plays out that fantasy scenario under the most realistic conditions possible. How would being a superhero actually work in modern day? Perhaps “Kick-Ass” creator Mark Millar went overboard on the geek daydream by fusing as closely as possible both the world of classic comic fantasy and contemporary realism, but fans who hold the genre dear will convert easily to his wavelength and consequently will enjoy “Kick-Ass” far more than anyone else.

The movie plays as both ode to and satire of the genre it holds dear, which is by far its greatest attribute. Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) stars as a socially invisible high schooler who, as he begins the journey of manufacturing himself as the superhero Kick-Ass, draws numerous voice-over comparisons between himself and Peter Parker including the classic line “without great power comes no responsibility.” He has a voice that puberty clearly left behind and he’s insecure enough that he plays along with his crush thinking he’s gay. His hesitation toward fighting crime reminds us exactly why no sane person would try this in our world.

Staying true to genre convention, even the “powerless” Kick-Ass has an origin story. After donning a green wetsuit and setting up a My Space page, he decides to stop a car theft and ends up stabbed and plowed into by a car. Left with numb nerve endings and metal plates throughout his body which he appropriately comments reminds him of the adamantium inside Wolverine of the X-Men, he survives his next crime intervention and in the process becomes a YouTube phenomenon. The attention brings other superheroes out of the woodwork and their crusading generally involves killing people that work for crime boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), who has had enough with the masquerading and wants Kick-Ass among others dead.

Charged with bringing this superhero film for superhero-lovers to life, director Matthew Vaughn (“Layer Cake,” “Stardust”) plays with a myriad of techniques to create a genuine comic feel. He imagines the film in segments — each done with one particular technique or effect and given a mood through a choice in music from video game beats to Ennio Morricone Western themes. One sequence has the 11-year-old girl assassin “Hit Girl” (Chloe Moretz) taking baddies down in slow motion, the other more quickly with a coyer camera. Instead of abusing one technique, Vaughn strives for each to stand out on its own.

He also determines when he wants you to take “Kick-Ass” seriously and when he doesn’t. As part spoof on the genre, he uses some clichéd techniques, but then to reflect Millar’s choice to take the story down a darker more serious path, he’ll make a choice that impresses you and makes you realize the writing goes above and beyond where the plot of most spoofs go.

The subplot of heavy-artillery daddy-daughter combo Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl is a unique but essentially classic revenge story and the relationship between crime boss Frank and his son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who wants to look up to him creates an unexpected twist on another familiar dynamic. In other words, “Kick-Ass” is original storytelling rooted in classic comic traditions and archetypes.

Part of bringing superhero realism to “Kick-Ass” also requires honest levels of violence, sexual references and foul language. R-rated film veterans will not be fazed by the level of violence and not deem it gratuitous. And even though much of it is carried out by a foul- mouthed child, Moretz carries an incredible amount of maturity in a performance that more or less steals the film.

“Kick-Ass” strives to give comic book and superhero fans something they can identify with. Pop culture references abound in this movie and rather than annoy, they help bring “Kick- Ass” to eye level with the fan base, as if to say “we understand why you love these stories because we do too.” Those who don’t feel that way about the genre will still find things to like about “Kick-Ass,” but will see it at face entertainment value, not as an homage to Hollywood’s most powerful storytelling form in the last decade.

4/5 Stars

Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Written by Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Mark Millar (comic)
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Chloe Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse


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