Monday, April 19, 2010


I love it when a movie comes out and a supporting character gets all the attention.  Remember how horrible and racist Jar Jar was?  Or how awesome and tragic Heath Ledger was as the Joker?  Kick-Ass has a supporting role that overshadows the main character in a similar fashion.

Kick-Ass is yet another adaptation of a comic book, although it doesn't have a lot of the common problems and strengths of that movie sub-genre.  For one, this is a comic that just finished its run in February of 2010.  Two months later, and here's the movie.  This isn't a longtime fan favorite, either; it only has four issues, and their release was spread out over two years.  Clearly, this is a film that was developed in coordination with the comic, which makes the adaptation less of a concern for fanboys.  Sure, some things were changed for the big screen, but they were relatively minor and make it more palatable for movie audiences.  Also, with so little source material, there is not the typical question of what plot or characters will be featured in the film.  In that, I applaud this movie.  It's faithful to the source material, but is willing to change enough to appeal to a broader audience.

That said, this is not a movie for everyone.  It is extremely violent, both in an over-the-top fun way and a viciously brutal way.  Which type of violence just depends on whether a good guy or bad guy is getting hurt at that moment.  One aspect of this violence that a lot of critics have seized upon is that the best over-the-top stuff comes from a then eleven (now thirteen) year-old girl.  I don't necessarily blame you if you don't find the notion of a teenage assassin awesome, but you're missing out on a lot of fun.

This movie stars Aaron Johnson as a typical semi-nerdy kid that is neither too smart or too popular.  One day, he realizes that nobody has ever tried to be a super hero in the real world.  His friends (Evan Peters and perennial nerd Clark Duke) reason that it is because A) super powers don't exist and B) anybody trying to fight crime while wearing a costume is destined for a beat down.  Not one to listen to logic, Johnson's character orders a wetsuit online and presto...!  the crime fighter Kick-Ass is born.  His first time out, though, Kick-Ass gets his ass kicked.  Once out of the hospital, though, he keeps at it and is eventually filmed doing his good deeds and becomes a Youtube sensation.  That's all fine and good, but Kick-Ass is a small-scale vigilante; he'll try to find your cat or break up a beat down, but he doesn't have the brains or skills to attack crime on a larger scale.  Kick-Ass influences others, though, including some that are on his skill level (like Christopher Mintz-Plasse, AKA Red Mist) and some of whom are way, way, way more qualified to take the law into their own hands than him.  In the latter category are the father-daughter team of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz).  The movie really hits its stride when Kick-Ass gets mixed up with these two and sees how scary and violent comic book-style violence is in the "real world."

For the first half of the movie, viewers are going to be primarily focused on Kick-Ass and his problems with girls and being taken seriously as a hero.  Most of the time, you're supposed to be laughing at him or, at least, sympathizing with him.  To his credit, Aaron Johnson does a good job in this role.  Unfortunately, the movie doesn't feel deep enough to make you care a lot about him.  On the bright side, these scenes are still entertaining, but they're basically cinematic fluff.  Yes, it's funny seeing an ordinary person act so bizarrely in ordinary circumstances, but there's not really any emotional repercussions for any of the actions taken.  For a story that shows how people would react to a real-life superhero, the main motivation for Kick-Ass in naivety and boredom, which seems like it would run out very quickly.

That might sound like I didn't enjoy the movie, but that's just a fundamental problem I have with the story at its core.  This movie is a lot of fun, and it's almost entirely due to Hit-Girl.  Sure, Christopher Mintz-Plasse is good as Red Mist and the other teen actors Clark Duke and Lyndsy Fonseca (both from Hot Tub Time Machine) are fine; in particular, I enjoyed Red Mist and Kick-Ass rocking out to Gnarls Barkley in Red Mist's Mistmobile.  It's not a huge moment, but it's a cute touch.  Fonseca is better than most teenage actresses here, but her role isn't too demanding.  Clark Duke successfully portrays a slightly chubby nerd.  Again.  Mark Strong plays the movie's villain and makes a pretty good bad guy.  I don't know exactly what it is about him, but he doesn't come across as very nice.

But this isn't their story.  Kick-Ass is all about how a normal guy like Kick-Ass compares with Hit-Girl, who has been trained since birth to fight crime and kill criminals.  Chloe Moretz is fantastic in this role.   I'd tell you some of the things that she does and says, but the surprise is half the fun.  She kills lots of people in a uber-stylish comic book fashion and is very entertaining in the process.  Nicolas Cage delivers an awkward performance as her father and mentor, but even his William Shatner-esque dialogue cadence doesn't detract from the film.  The film isn't all fun and laughs, though.  When Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl or Big Daddy gets hurt, it is graphic.  There is a torture scene, and that is both gruesome and uncomfortable.  The worst shots (in terms of being hard to watch, not quality) feature Hit-Girl getting punched and kicked in the face by a grown man. 

The brutality is used to show some consequences for the characters' choices, but this isn't meant to be a cautionary tale.  It is fun, dumb, and very, very violent.  Director and co-writer Matthew Vaughn does a great job with the action in this movie and delivers the humor well, too.  The only problem is with the story itself.  By opting against a psychological profile of would-be superheroes, this movie turns up the fun but leaves the potential for heart behind.  That's not a bad thing, mind you.  Sometimes, there's nothing wrong with enjoying an eleven year-old girl take on organized crime.

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