Kick-Ass, like many classic superhero stories, is about an ordinary guy who becomes something more, something extraordinary. The difference is that Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) doesn’t have Batman’s money, he’s not bitten by a radioactive spider and he’s not exposed to cosmic rays, he’s just an ordinary teenager who is a little deluded. This lack of an extraordinary ability or easy availability to a large quantity of expensive gadgets doesn’t stop him from fantasizing; like Dave says “At some point in our lives, we all wanted to be a superhero”.
Dave decides to try and make this dream a reality, ordering a wet suit off the internet, customising it and begins training in the art of being a superhero. You know, learning to jump between buildings and striking cool poses, stuff like that. As Dave says though, any serial killer will tell you – there’s a point where fantasizing just isn’t enough. His first foray into costumed vigilantism isn’t particularly successful, he’s stabbed, hit by car and ends up in hospital. Following a series of operations Dave is returned to good health but is unable to feel pain after his nerve endings are severed. Although this isn’t quite a superpower and it doesn’t add to his fighting abilities, it does mean he has a better chance at being the last man standing in a fight.
Although swearing he won’t go back on the streets, the desire to assume his alter ego is too great and he goes out looking for wrongs to right. Whilst trying to rescue a cat he accidentally knocks down a guy who is running away from a group of thugs. Despite not being particularly successful in beating them up and chasing them away, he doesn’t give up and it doesn’t matter how many times they hit him he won’t go down. A group of people gather to watch from inside a diner, one kid recording the fight on his phone, everyone else just watching in disbelief. When the fight is over and the thugs have finally given up and run away the kid rushes over to ask the masked vigilante his name; Kick-Ass! Dave replies. The video is uploaded to YouTube and Kick-Ass becomes an overnight sensation. Dave also sets up a Kick-Ass Myspace page where he ends up with thousands of ‘friends’. Dave is a pretty geeky guy though, with just a couple of close friends, and in his regular life he experience nothing like the adoration he gets as Kick-Ass. The three friends mostly hang out together, making inappropriate jokes, reading comics and generally repelling attractive girls. As Dave spends more and more time as Kick Ass though his real life gradually changes and there are even romantic possibilities for Dave, a guy we are introduced to really early on masturbating in his bedroom, a lot.
As the story progresses the supporting cast becomes more key as the film is more about a collection of great characters, rather than just a film about Dave/Kick-Ass. Dave Lizewski does provide the centre for the audience though as he is probably the character that is relatable in a group that is mostly very strange and pretty demented. Other characters include Nicholas Cage as Damon/Big Daddy, Chloe Moretz as his daughter/side kick Mindy/Hit Girl, Mark Strong as crime boss Frank D’Amico and his son Chris played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Part of the way through the film Chris also adopts an alter ego becoming Red Mist. Dave and Chris are similar in many ways but where Dave has his close friends and a relatively simple ‘real life’, Chris is the son of a large crime lord and therefore has everything money can buy but due to his privileged lifestyle he is also a lonely figure. The dynamic between the two and Chris’ eventual character arc didn’t really work for me actually as Chris’ motivations seemed a little muddled but I think this might be less of an issue on subsequent viewings.
Although did like the characters of Dave and Chris and the other school kids are engaging, this film for me was about two characters who, unsurprisingly to anyone else who has read the comic, totally steal the film. Big Daddy and Hit Girl. Just writing those five words makes me want to watch the film again right now. I tend to try and avoid film criticism that lapses into simple fanboyism but it is so hard to write about Kick-Ass, and in particular Big Daddy and Hit Girl, without slipping into fanboy hyperbolism. If I saw this film when I was 15 (thanks to a generous ruling from the BBFC, the film is released in the UK as a 15) it could well have been my favourite film. There are large sequences of insanely violent action, there are endless comic book references, from the obvious down to details such as a background shot of a cinema playing The Spirit 3, there is a protagonist who is around the age of 15, a little girl who swears like a sailor and slices off limbs, a plethora of amusing pop culture references and a visual style that is ridiculous and excessive in an unbelievably fun way. Don’t misunderstand me though, this is not a film just for teenagers, I am around double that age and I still had an absolute blast watching Kick-Ass.
Nicholas Cage as Big Daddy had me in stitches and with this and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans I have slightly fallen in love with Nicholas Cage this year. Cage plays the father part with a strange but appropriate sincerity and when he is Big Daddy he channels Adam West with really funny results. And so to Hit Girl, Daily Mail baiting, foul mouthed, John Woo loving, weapons expert, tiny killer psychopath Hit Girl. Every moment Hit Girl is on screen is a joy and Vaughn clearly understands the point of Hit Girl in the original comics. Hit Girl is there for extreme action and shock value but every now and again, especially towards the end, she is there for emotional engagement. The sentimentality in a few scenes could jar and come across as clumsy but Moretz’s performance is pitch perfect and she mixes so well the elements of her character, she is both a monstrous mass murderer and a sweet little girl. Chloe Moretz is only 13 (12 when she made the film) but she is already clearly a talented actress, her performance is very impressive for someone so young and despite the pulpy subject matter she delivers a genuinely engaging and layered performance, both extravagant and nuanced. It is hard not to just gush about Moretz’s performance but it is seriously that good. Although the idea of seeing a Let The Right One In Hollywood remake holds little appeal to me, hearing that Moretz is going to play the role of Abby (Eli in the original) is enough to spark my interest. Hopefully she can build on such a memorable performance and not pull a Culkin.
Also surprisingly good in Kick-Ass is Mark Strong. I say surprisingly because although I know he has his fans I have yet to see him anything where he has impressed me; I was particularly underwhelmed by his performance in Sherlock Holmes. In Kick-Ass Strong plays Chris’ father and crime boss Frank and he is pretty funny in the role and plays the exaggerated cartoon crime boss bad guy with great panache. I’m now really looking forward to seeing what Strong can do with the character of Sinestro in the upcoming Green Lantern film.
Kick-Ass is also a great film to look at, not something I was necessarily expecting, with super-saturated colours and flashy but not ridiculous camera flourishes. The editing is also pretty tight throughout ramping up the pace in all the right places but still giving space to dialogue heavy scenes and emotional moments without rushing past them to get to the action. One criticism I do have though is that there is a sag in the pace part way through the film and the film could have been much tighter if the editing had been a bit more ruthless. Also there were moments where the action sequences felt a little like self-contained set-pieces and not significantly intergrated into the rest of the film. That said these two points are minor criticisms and overall the pacing and editing is pretty tight.
This film is mostly action and comedy and it delivers so well in both areas. The action and comedy are both vulgar but this vulgarity never seems forced. The film is just so much fun it’s hard not to just get swept up in it. At the press screening I attended there was even applause at some of the more outrageous moments and there was raucous laughter throughout. Not just relying solely on the shock factor that much of the film has, Kick-Ass has characters you actually grow to care about and it also benefits from an engaging story.
Kick-Ass is so audacious in every way possible and a film that after seeing I immediately wanted to both see it again and tell people to go and see it.
Kick-Ass opens in the UK on 26th March and embedded below is the Red Band Trailer which focuses on the foul mouthed, scene stealing Hit Girl.