Kick-Ass has been promoted as the kind of vigilante dramady that should star Micheal Cera, wherein a dorky high-school kid becomes a super-hero—err, dorky masked high-school vigilante. It’s based on the 2008-2010 Mark Millar comic of the same name by Marvel’s Icon imprint, which had the great tagline of “Sickening Violence: Just the way you like it!” This should be an indicator of what you’re in for when watching it.
The plot’s fairly straightforward; Aaron Johnson is Dave Lizewski, the most average of awkward teenagers. Fed up with how boring his life really is, he decides to become a super-hero, naming himself Kick-Ass and setting up a MySpace page, and things go from there. Dave/Kick-Ass proceed to get his ass-kicked by local thugs in his first encounter, somewhat predictably. Only the other somewhat predictable thing happens, and he gets his own “super powers:” he damaged his nerve endings so he couldn’t feel pain, and the doctors installed metal plates to hold together his broken bones. The new and improved Kick-Ass then makes it big after protecting a random man from other thugs in front of a diner. With his observers’ videos posted to YouTube, he makes it big on the news as Kick-Ass, spawning his own comic. His earlier encounter gets him the attention of his crush, Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca), but she perceives him to be her new “gay BFF.” Hilarity ensues.
There’s two other plot threads that weave themselves into the story from there, both of them parent-child relationships. First up is Big Daddy (Nick Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), a dorky but doting father with a gun obsession and his precocious (and deadly) pre-teen daughter. They’re off on an epic quest to practice grim vigilante justice on local crimelord Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) and his hordes of incompetent mob-mooks. The second thread is of Frank himself, along with his son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), dealing with their strained relationship and Frank’s illegal operations. Frank thinks Kick-Ass is the one interfering with his operations, and sets out to kill him, failing in new and interesting ways at each turn as Big Daddy foils his criminal plans.
It’s an interesting comparison, watching the two families interact; in a lot of ways, the pairs mirror each other: two families looking for relative stability. Frank and Chris are sadly closer to finding it, despite Frank’s unsavory side, simply because of how odd Big Daddy and Hit-Girl come across as. Even the pairings are similar: Hit-Girl and Frank both swear a lot and kill a lot of people, Big Daddy and Chris are both very soft-spoken, the two kids are both trying to find their way with their parents’ extreme lifestyles, and some later developments parallel the two groups even more. However, there’s nothing really done with all this; I’m not even sure if the parallels and comparisons were intentional given how detached they feel.
The acting and actors are all top-notch, making for some fine performances as the plots develop. Aaron Johnson does a great job as the dorky title character, a very engaging and likable lead. Nicholas Cage steals the show with his persona switching from a dweeby father/accountant when out of costume, and a take on Adam West when decked out as Big Daddy, the latter coming across as very Shatnerian with… its… well-paced… monologue-esque… dialogue. And Mark Strong is a great choice for lead villain, always raising a few laughs while keeping an incredibly dark feel to his character.
Despite all the recent media blitz and criticism, Chloe Moretz doesn’t swear nearly as much as I was lead to believe. Granted, she’s a walking dictionary of obscenities, but seriously people, I heard worse in elementary school. I guess nobody gives two shits if their own kids are perpetrating the act, but as soon as a young girl is swearing across a fifty-foot screen, it’s the decline of our very moral fiber. Hit-Girl’s shtick of swearing a lot and brutally killing people due to her ultra-ninja-wire-fu tactics gets old after a while, which thankfully is only about fifteen minutes before the movie ends.
For a film with heavy undertones of moral ambiguity and vigilantism, the end is a major cop-out to the “super-cool” action sequences of blood and gunfire, which is sort of self-defeating, made even more ridiculous when it’s a pre-teen girl who swears constantly. The film tries a little too hard to find humor in bloodshed and swearing, but these are things that just don’t register as “humor” for audience members who aren’t, say, twelve or fifteen. And with the ‘R’ rating, that audience is kind of limited.
When it’s all said and done, Kick-Ass falls into a very interesting niche where few comic book movies fall: that spread between mediocrity and excellence. It doesn’t have the cinematic flair of Sin City, the character development and emotion of Spider-Man, nor did it electrify the screen like the new Batman movies. At the same time, it avoids the black pit of misery which films like Elektra and Catwoman are relegated to: it is far from bad, and still farther from terrible. It’s an above average film: well worth watching, but it doesn’t exactly push any envelopes. The characters are all stock tropes and don’t develop much, the laughs are a bit forced at points, and there’s a lot of predictability here. I have to think that jokes about Lost are going to be pretty dated in five years. But at the end of the day, it’s enjoyable and entertaining, something you can’t say about every movie based on a comic franchise; an above-average comic movie is still several steps above a bad one.