Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick Ass” is the most hardcore, brutal, vulgar, and fanboy-ish comic book movie ever made. Well, one out of four ain’t bad – “Kick Ass” could very well be the most fanboy-ish comic book movie ever made. The truth is, while it certainly offers up some shock value (almost all of it in the form of little 12-year old Hit Girl), “Kick Ass” is more a bloody spoof of superhero movies than the groundbreaking film its cast/crew and the PR penguins at Lionsgate would like you to believe. Once the initial shock of a 12-year old girl in a superhero costume slicing up bad guys and calling people the c-word (rhymes with “hunt”) wears off, “Kick Ass” is perhaps a tad too generic and straightforward. Of course, that’s not to say the film isn’t thoroughly entertaining, but some perspective as to the film’s place in the cinematic universe should be observed from the start so we don’t all find our heads up our asses.
Brit Aaron Johnson stars as Davie Lizewski, your typical American high school geek in a typical American high school. Dave reads comic books, hangs out with his two typical high school geek friends, and typically crushes on the hot girl in school (Lyndsy Fonseca). He also typically masturbates every chance he gets to fantasies about his well-endowed teacher. One day, Dave gets the bright idea to buy a used scuba suit from the Internet and become a superhero named Kick Ass. He slaps some batons on his costume and goes out to fight crime – and promptly gets his ass handed to him, shanked, and run over by a car. You would think that would be enough to discourage our hero from the superhero biz, but then again you wouldn’t be Dave. Eventually, Dave gets the recognition he craves when he successfully fights off some thugs and gets his face plastered all over YouTube, but with success comes problems. Lots of them, in fact, and some in the form of gun-toting gangsters out to skin him. What’s a superhero without any powers and a clue to do?
Based on the creator-owned comic book by Scotsman Mark Millar and artist John Romita Jr., “Kick Ass” is almost always hilarious and oh-so wrong, just as long as you don’t expect it to change your life. The film gets progressively darker as Mark Strong, playing your typical New York goombah mobster named Frank D’Amico, plots to ambush Kick Ass, believing the less-than competent superhero responsible for a series of daring attacks on his business ventures. As it turns out, while Kick Ass did indeed ignite a superhero fad, it’s actually the vigilante father-daughter team of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) who are responsible for the real ass kicking. Fortunately for bad guy D’Amico, his geeky son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) also has a comic book obsession, though his interests don’t quite involve saving people.
If, like me, you were never sold on the notion that “Kick Ass” is trying to be a gritty or “real” take on the superhero genre, you’ll have a hell of a time. After all, later in the film a character flies around on a jetpack with mounted mini-guns, for God’s sake. If you aren’t expecting gritty realism, there’s little about “Kick Ass” that doesn’t contribute to the film’s overall sense of fun. Unlike in the comics, Dave’s friends Marty (Clark Duke) and Todd (Evan Peters) get more screentime, and supplies additional and welcomed yuks. As it turns out, Mark Millar is not really that good at writing comedy in his comic books, but the duo of Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman certainly are. Alas, extra Marty and Todd hilarity comes at the cost of Dave’s dad, who all but disappears from the movie, unlike in the comics where he’s a main fixture of Dave’s life and running thought balloons.
It should be said that while I think he does a swell job throughout the film, Aaron Johnson is horribly miscast as Dave, but only from a purely physical standpoint. The main character is supposed to be a skinny, geeky loser who eventually pumps some iron in an effort to aid in his crime fighting night job, but actor Aaron Johnson has the body of a gym rat. Give him credit, though, Johnson certainly embodies the role well, and strikes the perfect vibe as a hopeless comic book geek. It’s too bad that whenever I saw Kick Ass in his uniform, I never bought the “awkward geek who can’t fight” conceit that the film was trying to sell to me. Then again, at least he’s more convincing than love interest Lyndsy Fonseca’s high school teen, who looks and feels like she should be hooking for some wealthy clients instead of volunteering at a druggie clinic in her spare time. And why exactly was Miss Goody Two-Shoes shagging some drug-dealing scumbag on the side? That made absolutely no sense.
The real treat of “Kick Ass” is young Chloe Moretz, a scant 12 years old when the film was made, about the same age as her character’s comic book counterpart. It’s not an over exaggeration to say that Hit Girl carries the movie, especially since Nicolas Cage seems to be camping it up something awful. Cage is riotously bad in the film, but then again, when he’s expected to sip coffee and crack bad jokes while wearing a sweater one moment and murdering thugs in a Batman getup the next, I suppose he realized early on that this wasn’t a film he should be bringing forth his “Leaving Las Vegas” chops. Not that Cage’s oddball Big Daddy really matters, because it’s Hit Girl and all four feet-ish of her that handles nearly all of the film’s action highlights, including the raid on D’Amico’s building where she takes on a small army of gun-toting thugs all by her little lonesome. The sheer volume of physical training the little lady had to go through for the role must have been mind-blowing, so the next time someone tells you 12-year olds nowadays just don’t have the drive to do something, point them to Chloe Moretz.
“Kick Ass” the movie takes a lot of its cue from Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s comic book, with the major delineation being the motive behind Big Daddy and Hit Girl’s targeting of D’Amico’s operations. I won’t spoil it, of course, but suffice it to say, Vaughn and Goldman apparently couldn’t quite commit to Millar’s absurdist idea behind Big Daddy’s motives. Still, fans of the comic should find a lot familiar with the movie, as Vaughn obviously did his best to stay faithful and has for the most part succeeded. The violence in “Kick Ass” is absurdly over-the-top and as comic book-y as they come, made more so because it’s a 12-year old girl supplying much of the film’s carnage. While he was writing the script with Goldman, the two must have quickly realized that although the film started out as Kick Ass’s story, it quickly became the tale of Hit Girl, and the film’s final Act seems to reinforce this idea. It’s a good move, because compared to Hit Girl, Dave just ain’t all that interesting.
Without a doubt, comic book fanboys will love “Kick Ass”, simply because it’s a movie that caters to them in every possible way. The film may have started off with some grand notions about how anyone, even some nerd with glasses could put on a costume and help people, but that quickly gets lost in the exploding bodycount and copious amounts of dead gangsters as Hit Girl and Big Daddy enter the fray. Soon enough, Kick Ass becomes just some dork in the background trying to get laid, while the film moves on as a comic book action movie about two superheroes (Big Daddy and Hit Girl) killing bad guys. To be sure, it’s nowhere near the seminal work the filmmakers and some fanboy sites are declaring it to be (a “game changer”, if you will), but it’s certainly entertaining, and if you happen to love comic books, you’ll get even more out of it than some poor schlep who walks into the theater not knowing what he’s about to get into.
Matthew Vaughn (director) / Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn (screenplay), Mark Millar, John Romita Jr. (comic book)
CAST: Aaron Johnson … Dave Lizewski / Kick-Ass
Garrett M. Brown … Mr. Lizewski
Clark Duke … Marty
Evan Peters … Todd
Lyndsy Fonseca … Katie Deauxma
Christopher Mintz-Plasse … Chris D’Amico / Red Mist
Mark Strong … Frank D’Amico
Chloe Moretz … Mindy Macready / Hit-Girl
Nicolas Cage … Damon Macready / Big Daddy