Like Matthew Vaughn’s atypical fairy tale, Stardust, the director’s adaptation of Mark Millar’s graphic novel Kick-Ass feels like an alternative take on a pervasive genre. The premise to Kick-Ass emerges early on in the film when New York High School student, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), wonders aloud why no one has been crazy enough to throw on a costume and try to fight crime. Dave’s world is supposed to be like ours, one where comic book lives are read, not led; where the Watchmen vigilantes are just as fictional as their fantasy counterparts.
Despite getting “are you stupid, son?” reactions from friends Marty (Clarke Duke) and Todd (Evan Peters), Dave decides to embark on a life of vigilantism anyways, starting with the purchase of a green and yellow wetsuit from eBay to create his new clandestine persona. Donning yellow Timberlands (which always look ready to trip up our protagonist), Kick-Ass begins to train with his new signature weapon, a pair of batons, and by seriously considering trying to leap tall buildings with a single bound.
Dave doesn’t get too far in his early days of ass-kicking before he has a devastating encounter that leaves him stabbed, and the easy target of an ignorant driver, who nearly finishes the teen off when he hits him with his car. Though Dave starts off his campaign to right wrongs with the knowledge that he is merely human, Kick-Ass nevertheless undergoes the sort of transformation normal for most superheroes, but on a smaller scale. Dave’s injuries lead him to lose some of the feeling in his body, making him seem immune to pain; his body is also fused together in areas with bolts, making his frame more formidable. Kick-Ass, however, has nowhere near the skill and resources of Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage), a daughter-father vigilante team bent on taking down crime boss, Frank D’Amico, who rescue Kick-Ass from a fight he can’t win. We also witness the making of Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the privileged but socially isolated son of D’Amico, Chris, who befriends and betrays Kick-Ass in order to impress his dad.
Vaughn makes a thoughtful, albeit violent film, that questions many of the human choices and sacrifices that go into everyday heroism. While Dave’s mistaken homosexuality is a humorous repercussion to having an alter-ego, nowhere is this compromise more salient than in the relationship between Cage’s Damon Macready and Moretz’s Mindy Macready, knowing that the death-dealing daughter is a mere 11 years old. Even with the revelation that D’Amico was to blame for the death of Mindy’s mother and her father’s imprisonment, the audience cannot help but question how ethical it is to give that much power to a child and essentially hard-wire her brain for the sort of violence that Vaughn orchestrates.
Because of the interesting atmosphere created around the story, where the fictional world we’re watching is positioned as a staunch reality juxtaposed with the fantasies Dave and his comic-fan friends read, the violence of the violence is more immediate. We know that the concept of Hit-Girl and the resources her father is able to command, is as crazy within the Kick-Ass world, as it is to ours. That’s what makes Johnson’s character, Dave, so important. He occupies an odd middle place between the regular people he has decided to help and the Big Daddy/Hit-Girl team who actually approach superheroism in their ability, but in the end, he is in just as much awe about the level of crime and vigilantism that exists in his city.
Mostly we see Dave bumble through his new role, a regular kid trying to solve big people problems, a demeanor totally opposite to Johnson’s previous role as a young, cocksure John Lennon in 2009’s Nowhere Boy, but one he nails anyways. The largely ineffectual Kick-Ass is redeemed when he successfully helps Hit-Girl end D’Amico’s crime reign, however I was unimpressed with the reveal of the secret weapon. Yes, it made the most sense logistically, but it failed to be visually stimulating.
Because of the real-world emphasis of the film, the teenage characters come off as a real teenagers, not actors with over-wordy dialogue forced down their throats. The only exception is, of course, Moretz’s beyond-her-years Mindy, who the Let Me In actress plays with admirable vivacity and maturity. Cage and Mark Strong, as D’Amico, play interesting versions of usually overblown parts — the disgraced cop and the crime boss — the former’s stilted hero voice an obvious riff on Christian Bale’s ridiculous Batman grumble, but Cage’s performance is the only one with camp quality. Strong’s (Sherlock Holmes, Stardust) career is thriving off his villain typecasting, but the actor keeps his evil aura and angry outbursts to a realistic minimum. Mintz-Plasse — ok, let’s just call him McLovin’ — gives the least interesting performance, but I don’t think that means he can’t carry a bigger role should Kick-Ass 2 see Chris D’Amico become his father’s heir, a la Harry Osborne in the Spiderman series.
Overall Score: 7.45 – Good. (7s are good, but not great. These films often have a stereotypical plot or are great movies that have a few minor flaws. Fans of this movie’s genre might love it, but others will still enjoy seeing it in theaters.)
A solid re-imagining of the superhero genre that challenges as much as it entertains. Vaughn makes pain look painful, and kids look like kids, giving audiences a much needed dose of realism in the midst of fantastic action.