An average high school student learns the painful answer to the question of why there are no real superheroes in Kick-Ass, a completely new kind of comic book movie.
Based on the critically acclaimed comic book series from writer Mark Millar and artist John Romita Jr., Kick-Ass tells the story of one Dave Lizewski, an unassuming comic book geek who decides that the world needs superheroes more than he needs his physical well-being. During his self-destructive journey of self-discovery as the costumed hero Kick-Ass he gets tangled up with a couple of more capable heroes, Big Daddy and his preteen daughter Hit Girl, and proceeds to get hurt.
Does Kick-Ass' pain translate into movie-goers pleasure, or does the film answer the question of why there aren't more successful comic book movies?
Kick-Ass: English actor Aaron Johnson's portrayal of everyman high school student Dave Lizewski, the boy who would be Kick-Ass, is an echo of Tobey Maguire in the first Spider-Man film. He speaks with the same sort of warbling uncertainty, and carries himself with the same optimistic awkwardness that made Maguire's initial take on Peter Parker so charming.
Hit Girl: She might not have top billing, but Chloë Grace Moretz's Hit Girl is the true star of Kick-Ass. The 13-year-old actress from Atlanta (Okay, I'm a little biased there) commands your attention in every scene she appears in, switching effortlessly between sweet little girl to hard-assed killer in the blink of an eye. She doesn't bat an eyelash while delivering dialog that would make many grown-up actors blush. Moretz takes on a completely over-the-top character and very nearly succeeds in making her believable. Her fight scenes contain the best little person fighting since Yoda went apeshit on Count Dooku in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.
Big Daddy: Nicolas Cage's take on Hit Girl's father threw me for a loop at first. The doting father routine while out of costume was pleasant enough, with Cage riffing on the stereotypical father who'll do anything to make his baby girl happy. Every now and then he displayed subtle ticks hinting there was a less-than-stable mental state lurking beneath the surface. That part of his performance was fine, perhaps even brilliant. It wasn't until he showed up in full costume, delivering his lines in the same stilted fashion as Adam West in the old live-action Batman TV series that I began to twitch. I initially found it completely ridiculous, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Just as Dave Lizewski apes the heroes of his age, so does Big Daddy. It's not his fault the heroes of his age were corny.
Red Mist: It's McLovin! What more do you need? Christopher Mintz-Plasse might never live down his Superbad character, but he does a fine job in the role of Chris D'Amico, the son of the movie's mob boss villain and wannabe super hero. A sheltered rich kid, Chris just wants to be accepted. His father won't let him in on the family business and his bodyguard doesn't let anyone else get close. So when he finally teams up with Kick-Ass, you really feel for the guy, which makes it slightly easier to forget the character's true motivations. Mintz-Plasse manages to add a little bit of depth to an otherwise shallow character. Well done!
Senseless Violence: One of the biggest concerns I had with Kick-Ass being made into a movie was the danger of losing the outrageous violence in the source material. The Kick-Ass comic book featured some pretty brutal scenes; scenes I was sure wouldn't make it into a studio film, especially one featuring a 13-year-old girl. Much to my chagrin, director Matthew Vaughn didn't simply keep the violence intact, he amplified it, adding in new elements like the random bazooka or the giant, industrial-grade lumber microwave. You can't go wrong with an industrial-grade lumber microwave.
Comic Brilliance: Kick-Ass would not have worked at all without comedy. The movie laughs at its violence, its heroes, its villains, and its overall premise. It takes standard comic book movie themes and exposes them for how ridiculous they are. It manages to pull off some great comic moments without ever straying into the realm of outright parody. It gets dangerously close at times, but the humor in Kick-Ass always manages to catch itself before crossing the line.
Melodrama: Kick-Ass mainly stumbles when it tries to depict genuine emotion. The movie's dark humor and ridiculous levels of violence set my expectations to the point where, when I was called to care, I wasn't sure if I was supposed to take it seriously or not. Imagine that Quentin Tarantino had slipped in a touching, heartfelt romance into the middle of Pulp Fiction; that's how awkward Kick-Ass's (thankfully) few emotional moments felt.
It's Not the Comic Book: This is where I rant about the difference between the Kick-Ass comic book and the Kick-Ass movie. If you don't give a damn about the comic, then ignore this bit entirely.
I'm not naive enough to think that any graphic novel could make it to the big screen completely intact, but several elements from Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.'s work were altered to the point where I feel the spirit of the original story didn't make it through intact. Notable changes include Big Daddy and Hit Girl's true origin, which would have made Nicolas Cage's character much more disturbing had it remained the same as the comic, and the character of Katie Deauxma, Kick-Ass's love interest. The change to Katie's role is particularly jarring, as the situation that plays out in the film is so implausible that it appears in the comic book as a dream sequence, before the real consequences of Kick-Ass's actions come to light.
It's extremely difficult to review Kick-Ass after having read the comic book series. I understand that the comic book and Kick-Ass movie were written separately. Mark Millar handled the comic book writing, while director Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman handled the screenplay. I admire Vaughn for championing elements of the book that no movie studio wanted to touch, from the violent content to a 13-year-old spouting the C-word. What they've created here is the sort of comic book movie that Quentin Tarantino would make, destined to be a cult classic.
I just feel the comic book series would have made a much better film.
I leave you with the same advice I give people about Wanted, another movie adaptation of a Mark Millar comic book series: Don't read the comics first. Go see the film, appreciate it for what it is, and then, should you be curious, pick up the graphic novel to see where it all began.
Kick-Ass was written by Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman and directed by Matthew Vaughn. Released in North America on April 16. Based on the comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. Purchased my own ticket.