By Marty Mulrooney
Kick-Ass is the latest in a long line of superhero flicks to hit the big screen. Based on the recent comic book series by Marvel (the film rights were actually sold before the comic went to print), I knew from the trailers it was going to be pretty insane. So I eagerly took my seat in anticipation of what would hopefully be a fresh spin on this often sadly formulaic genre.
The initial setup of the film works well, if not rather predictably. We are introduced to the typical geeky teenager in the form of Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), who starts to wonder why nobody has ever tried to be a superhero in real life. After his own failed attempt to stop a car jacking leaves him with severe nerve damage, he dons a homemade costume to fight crime for real, reinventing himself as Kick-Ass. We also glimpse the cute girl who he really likes but usually wouldn’t look twice at him. So far, so Spider-Man…
Where Kick-Ass departs from standard superhero fare is in its light-hearted delivery. The whole film is narrated by Dave in a tongue-in-cheek, all knowing manner that is actually pretty endearing. For example, it contrasts perfectly with the earlier moments when Dave first checks out his costume in the mirror. Basically consisting of a green scuba wetsuit and yellow rubber gloves, Dave looks like a total idiot. His tough guy talk whilst checking out his new look only makes it more cringe worthy, Taxi Driver for geeks. We all laugh along. And then he beats up a gang of thugs. Not in a particularly elegant manner, but he does it nonetheless. Some kid uploads it on YouTube and bam: Kick-Ass is an overnight phenomenon. We finally start to take him seriously as a hero.
But really, we don’t. Because he doesn’t have a super power, he just takes a beating really well. He is likeable sure, but not iconic. The film could have fell flat on its face because of this somewhat muted protagonist, but then we get to witness the real main attractions: Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloë Moretz). When Kick-Ass teams up with them, the film steps up a gear. Everything just falls into place. It all makes sense.
Truth be told, there isn’t a very deep plot at work here anyway, but I won’t spoil too much about who these two characters really are beyond their superhero alter egos. What I can reveal is that, introduced to us as father and daughter, their scenes crackle and sparkle with dark humour. Cage simply seems to be having a lot of fun, with his acting finally returning to form after some dud roles as of late. When portraying Big Daddy he is the exact opposite of the homely father figure we first encounter, quite terrifying in action as a warped version of the most recent Batman suit, married with the vocal delivery of Adam West.
Yet Mortez is the highlight here and rightly so. Sweet and innocent as a little girl, she soon transforms into Hit Girl and proceeds to steal the entire show. Her action sequences are insane, her delivery is top notch and she feels downright bloody dangerous, an 11 year old girl tearing apart fully grown men with guns and knives without pausing for breath. How this got rated a 15 in the United Kingdom I will never know.
There are times where the boundaries pushed may feel questionable, such as at one point where Hit Girl swaps her regular costume for a school girl uniform, almost certainly drawing parallels with similar images in Japanese Manga. Yet her performance is so confident and controlled that you never really dwell on the smaller issues regarding her sexuality, or indeed the much more prominent ones addressing the cartoonish violence that she unleashes. She is simply a force to be reckoned with that surpasses mere age, providing some of the best action sequences committed to film in a long time. She fully embraces a controversial role and in the process totally rocks. She is the film’s much needed iconic superhero. Her image will likely sell many a t-shirt.
So yes, in the end the story does take a backseat to the thrill of seeing Hit Girl in action, but it matters little overall. I hardly even needed to mention the plot to write this review did I? The story works well and provides a few good laughs along the way, which is what counts. But make no mistake, the action is where it is at.
What of the rest of it then? Well, Mark Strong is fantastic as always, fully embodying his role as main bad guy Frank D’Amico with authenticity. He feels threatening as a vengeful mob boss. Sadly, Christopher Charles Mintz-Plasse as his son just didn’t make me chuckle like he has done in the past. I think perhaps I was hoping he would turn out to more of a superhero in his own right and less of a plot device. Alas, it was not to be. Maybe in the sequel? Also, segues between hand drawn comic art and live action looked amazing when they appeared but were criminally underused.
Overall, I do feel that Kick-Ass gives audiences something new, especially fans of superhero flicks. It doesn’t do this by giving us a better story than the usual superhero film. It just gives us a more extreme superhero. Some audiences are going to hate this entire concept because it is so over the top and insane. Certainly, the ending rather clumsily shoehorns Kick-Ass back in as the real hero, which is a total mistake. Others will love the fact that this isn’t some clean-cut Toby Maguire CGI fest, reeking of staleness. I am caught somewhere in-between. I like the whole package when it comes to my films and the story here just didn’t cut it. Luckily, the action did. Oh, and the soundtrack is great too.
So what saves the film from a lower score despite its diluted narrative? For me, it boils down to one scene. Hit Girl uses a strobe light to disorientate some goons in a blacked out room; the camera slows down as she dispatches them in the pale flickering monotone light one – by – one. It is a ballet dance of death and destruction that has me holding my breath, a big grin spreading across my admittedly immature face as I watch the inevitable headshots unfold. So stupid, but so very entertaining.
8 OUT OF 10