Kick-Ass. 117 mins. R. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Written by Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn. Starring Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloe Grace Moretz, Mark Strong, and Nicolas Cage.
As the comic book/graphic novel film genre has grown in popularity over the years, audiences have been treated to almost every kind of iteration: from big-budget tentpoles (Spider-Man, The Dark Knight) to Oscar-baiting dramas (Road to Perdition) to gothic horror (From Hell) and even hipster, ironic comedies (Ghost World). But if you think you'd seen it all - rest assured, because Kick-Ass certainly lives up to its title, and delivers a fresh and clever take on superheroes that proves immensely entertaining and easily rewatchable. Others (especially here in Chicago - Ebert, Phillips) have labeled the movie irresponsible, immature, sick, twisted, and gratutitously violent. To a degree - they're right. Kick-Ass is all of those things. And that's exactly why you should see it.
I've always wanted to do a movie about someone trying to be a superhero in the real world, with no powers, no money, and armed only with a pressing need to preserve justice and save others. Turns out the characters in Kick-Ass have the same idea. Newcomer (and Brit - doing a flawless American accent) Aaron Johnson stars as Dave Lizewski, an unremarkable high schooler and comic book geek, but just a normal kid - no more or less cooler than anyone else. At lunch with his friends (including the always-welcome Clark Duke, last seen in Hot Tub Time Machine) one day, he floats the idea of someone donning a costume and fighting crime for real. They laugh, but Dave finds himself smitten with the idea, and he proceeds to do just that, taking the moniker of Kick-Ass. When Dave becomes an Internet sensation after one fight that he just barely survives, his feats inspire two other crimefighters to come out of hiding - the father-daughter team of Damon and Mindy Macready (Nicolas Cage and Chloe Grace Moretz). This proves to be a real headache for the big bad guy who basically runs New York City (Sherlock Holmes' Mark Strong), and it all builds to a violent showdown, that tests the limits of everyone's "powers."
There are several remarkable things about the movie, but I was most taken with how the movie subtlely and gradually develops from a tongue-in-cheek comedy at first to a rip-roaring action thrill ride by movie's end. Kick-Ass parodies the comic book genre, and then manages to honor it, giving us a perfect example of what these movies can achieve. Director and co-writer Matthew Vaughn basically gets to have his cake and eat it too. Though his past movies have been hit and miss for me (Layer Cake, Stardust), Kick-Ass is almost consistently great. The action scenes are kinetic and exciting, and apart from a snoozy middle section that just seems to be running in place, the movie moves along at a rapid clip. It's also one of the rare films, especially for comic book flicks, where the build-up pays off and the last third of its running time is the best part.
You've probably already heard about the character of Hit Girl - that's Mindy Macready's costumed superhero - and with good reason. She is the breakout character in the movie. She's only 11-years old, and she can lay waste to a room full of 20 grown men in a flash. She's got the mouth of a sailor and can really wield a knife. Boy, can she wield a knife. She's played by Moretz, who was Joseph Gordon Levitt's annoying little sister in (500) Days of Summer. Well, she's not annoying here. Hit Girl is a blast, and when the movie ramps up and switches its focus from lead character Kick-Ass to supporting character Hit Girl (a rare but welcome development), the results are gripping and totally satsifying.
The relationship between Mindy/Hit Girl and her father, Damon/Big Daddy (Cage) really sealed the deal for me with this movie. We first see them in an open field, with Cage firing a gun at her (while wearing a bulletproof vest) as a means of training. She whines about getting ice cream - he says fine, as long as she takes a bullet two more times. The tone is perfect - it's a unique relationship, and Cage does a masterful job of conveying the paternal love, mental imbalance, and need for revenge that fuels his Big Daddy character. Even if you're not a fan of comic book movies, Cage and Moretz make this worth seeing. The Hit Girl/Big Daddy story arc is very remnisicent of Luc Besson's 1994 film, The Professional (with a young Natalie Portman), only Kick-Ass is a little more, well, kick-ass.
Is it perfect? No. The middle sags, the relationship between Dave and his high school sweetie (Lindsy Fonseca) is clumsy - she thinks he's gay for no real reason for a good portion of the movie, and the use of music is kind of distracting. But you won't care by the end. Kick-Ass earns its stripes. It's funny and original, with great action, some deft acting and an awesome climax, and it's the first movie of 2010 that, while not exactly a "must see," definitely falls into the category of "should see." I'm anxiously awaiting the sequel - Hot Shit. Let's see the filmmakers get away with the MPAA on that one.