May 4, 2010
Kick-Ass (2010) – Review by Isaac
“With no powers, comes no responsibility.
………Except, that’s not true.”
Let me just start out by saying that Kick-Ass follows the recent trend of movies starring kids but are totally not intended to be viewed by kids. You won’t find any Kick-Ass action figures at Wal-Mart.
Synopsis: Pathetically normal high school student Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is one kid who is just stupid, bored, and naive enough to try being a Superhero. Donning a wetsuit he bought off of e-Bay, Dave takes to the streets and tries to do some good as the no-nonsense vigilante “Kick-Ass”. After Kick-Ass stars in a hit youtube video and popular Myspace page, “masked vigilantes” become a cultural phenomenon. Trying to live up to his ideals, the young vigilante ends up with more than he can handle. Dave’s masked endeavors cause several new masked heroes to follow in his footsteps. Where Kick-Ass draws the line at, well, kicking ass, Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) begin systematically executing the mob. Pursued by the mob and in way over his head, teenage Dave Lizewski has to simply survive in the world he has created.
Since I already covered the Graphic Novel version of Kick-Ass, I won’t bother going over much of the plot or details. But I will tell you that I had a blast watching Kick-Ass. This movie is now my number one candidate for “movies that are actually better than their books”. The characters are charming; the action is sharp, the style fun, its altogether a hilarious and incredibly entertaining film. Overall I felt the film was expertly put together and executed with just the right amount of humor and grit. I was very impressed by director Matthew Vaughn (Stardust), he brought a lot of charm and fun into the project. His skill with musical homages was definitely a highlight for me, from the parody-like Superman opening credits to the emotional rendition of Ave Maria. Two of the most powerful scenes in the film utilized the work of composer John Murphy. Big Daddy’s assault on the mob’s warehouse was fitted with a modified version of “In the House – In a Heartbeat” from the 28 Days Later soundtrack, giving the scene a dark and gritty feel. Another scene featured an adaptation of the Sunshine theme and the result was an incredibly meaningful and emotionally resonant sequence. That’s right; I got teary-eyed during Kick-Ass.
I was very pleased with the character portrayals here. As I guessed, Aaron Johnson was terrific as Kick-Ass. The scene where Kick-Ass fends off three attackers to save one man really gave Dave Lizewski the heart we needed to see. Christopher Mintz-Plasse (otherwise known as McLovin) was a perfect choice for Red Mist. The characters of Big Daddy (Cage) and his daughter Hit-Girl (Moretz) are especially hilarious. I never thought I’d see the day when Nicolas Cage played a good masked vigilante, but this was it. Cage based his character’s speech patterns off of Adam West (the 1960’s Batman tv show) and Big Daddy’s relationship with his daughter Hit-Girl is black comedy gold. This brings me to the most controversial part of the film: Hit-Girl, an 11 year old girl who cusses, beats up adult men, and kills mobsters with an arsenal of firearms and bladed weapons. (You can see why this is a polarizing issue). But here’s the thing: Hit-girl is supposed to shock you because Kick-Ass aims to shock and laugh. There’s a lot of shocking jokes, images, or fight scenes which can either: 1) offend you, or 2) cause you to laugh because it’s so, well, borderline offensive. I had read the Graphic Novel so I knew exactly what I was getting myself into here. Thankfully, I found more “laugh” and less “shock” here than in the book or the trailers, so I really enjoyed myself.
Anyway, back to Hit-Girl. The general complaint seems to be “it’s not right for an 11 year old girl to run around cursing and killing people” and “shame on the producers for asking a little girl to do this”. There is some legitimacy to this complaint, but let’s break it down: 1) Was the actress treated respectfully and the role handled with care? – I say yes. Nicolas Cage said that he was “very concerned” about a child actor in this role, but the scenes were handled in a professional manner and with a great deal of respect. 2) Foul Language – As for the profanity, it’s nothing more than what the average middle-schooler experiences every day. Her family can attest to the fact that starring in Kick-Ass has not caused young Chloe to become foul mouthed. 3) The violence – there’s something incredibly… odd about seeing a girl beating the crap out of bad guys. It’s shocking and comes across as very, very funny. (Perhaps it shouldn’t be funny, but I won’t get into that argument.) First, this is a satirical superhero story where masked vigilantes beat up badguys. In an intentionally far-fetched superhero dark comedy, it’s plausible for Hit-Girl to exist here. Second, the actor definitely understands what is real and what is not real. The actor endures rigorous physical training, as well as courses in weaponry and hand-to-hand combat. They practice using every weapon, as well as practice each choreographed fight in slow motion until they are ready to film. The safety of everyone is always considered. Each bump, cut, bruise or scar is the result of hours in the makeup room while artists slowly paint the false injuries. The point I’m trying to painstakingly make here is: Chloe Moretz wasn’t just given two pistols and told to run around shooting people. The actor is very, very much aware of what is real and what is not. So even though the character Hit-Girl may have lost her innocence, I don’t believe young actress Chloe Grace Moretz suffered the same fate.
Now for the final question:
Was the film Kick-Ass faithful to the Graphic Novel?
-Essentially, Kick-Ass is faithful in its story, but isn’t faithful to the spirit of the Graphic Novel. The book was much more dark, cynical, vulgar, and gratuitously violent than its movie adaptation. It also ended on a depressing note, whereas the film ended on a lighter one.
While neither come right out and say it, both book and movie ask the question: “What is the cost of being a Superhero?” The book (subtly) answers: “Too high for anyone to ever pay, because in real life, people suck. No one will offer a helping hand, even to a superhero like Kick-Ass. Because not only do people suck, but life sucks too.” Mark Millar wants us to understand that nobody’s tried being a Superhero because the good guys don’t really exist, only the villains.
The film takes this and turns it around, saying “the reason why there aren’t any good people in the world is because no-one stands up for each other.” Kick-Ass is the one person willing to put his life on the line. Sure he has a silly costume and can’t fight his way out of a cardboard box, but he’s got the heart to do the right thing. I believe the movie takes the question “What is the cost of being a Superhero?” and answers “The cause is noble, but the cost is high. And very few are willing to make the sacrifice.” – A realistic note, but not an utterly hopeless one.
The comic (by Mark Millar) was written at the same time as the movie script (Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn), letting each project develop into its own work. So really, the film doesn’t have to be “faithful” to the feel of the comic at all. Millar commented on the lighter feeling of the film, saying Vaughn had “made a chick flick” by focusing more on the characters emotions and softening some of their rough edges. But I disagree with Mark Millar. His comic made me laugh, but I never emotionally connected to the characters. If Millar’s comic had been directly transferred to film, I would’ve had a good time but ultimately left feeling empty and depressed. (I’d probably have given it 3 Zipped Lips). But in several sweeping scenes in the film, particularly the two mentioned above, director Matthew Vaughn had me by the heart. I’m glad Vaughn and Goldman cut the cynicism and decided to take Kick-Ass in a character focused, lighter, and more hopeful direction.