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Josh Reviews Kick-Ass!

April 19th, 2010

“Why do you think nobody’s ever tried to be a superhero before?  You’d think all these guys talking about it online every day, at least one would give it a try.  Not everybody gets to be a rock star, but it doesn’t stop people buying guitars.  Jesus, man.  Why do people want to be Paris Hilton and nobody wants to be Spider-Man?”

That is the question posed by teenager Dave Lizewski to his friends in the fantastic new film Kick-Ass.  Originally an eight-issue comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. (read my review of the comic here), Kick-Ass the comic was juvenile, profane, hyper-violent, and absolutely wonderful.  I am pleased to report that the film adaptation directed by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust)is equally juvenile, profane, and hyper-violent, and also equally wonderful.

Kick-Ass is the story a strange, lonely kid who seizes upon a crazy idea: to become the world’s first real-life super-hero.  Dave Lizewski doesn’t have any super-powers; he doesn’t have a large inheritance that he can use to buy incredible gadgets; he doesn’t really have any special skills at all.  But he’s not going to let that stop him.  What unfolds is a quickly-escalating spiral of chaos, as Dave finds himself neck-deep in a bloody struggle between crime-lord Frank D’Amico (played by the great Mark Strong, who it seems to me can do no wrong after his great performances recently in Stardust, Body of Lies, and Sherlock Holmes) and two real-life super-heroes, Big Daddy (Nic Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz).

The casting in this film is superb.  Nobody plays a bad-guy better than Mark Strong these days, and Chloe Moretz has found herself an extraordinary break-out role.  Speaking of break-out roles, bravo to the filmmakers for their casting of Aaron Johnson as Dave Lizewski.  This relative unknown absolutely kills in the part.  I was also really thrilled to see Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad) well-used here as Chris D’Amico.  Again, perfect casting, and its nice to see Mintz-Plasse in a different sort of role that nonetheless takes advantage of his bizarre geekiness.

We’re living in a good time for comic book fans, as Hollywood seems to be getting the message that faithful adaptations of great comic books is a wiser strategy than complete reinventions.  (Then again, Mark Millar’s terrific comic book Wanted, about super-villains who have successfully taken over the world, was completely mangled into an Angelina Jolie vehicle about assassins who take their orders from a magical loom, and that movie made hundreds of millions of dollars, so maybe I’m being hopelessly naive.)  But I look at a film like Watchmen, and I look at a film like Kick-Ass, and I am delighted at the respect that these filmmakers have paid to the source material.

Sure, Mr. Vaughn and his co-screenwriter Jane Goldman have made changes to the source material.  (They developed the film while the comic was still being written, so this is no surprise.)  They’ve added in some loopy new ideas of their own (a whole bit of business with a bazooka, for example), but I was delighted that so many of the rough edges of the comic — the things that made it such a unique, idiosyncratic work — have been maintained by the film.  This is not your average all-ages super-hero film!!  Kick-Ass is filled with harsh language and tremendous violence that is guaranteed to shock (particularly due to the fact that much of both is delivered by the pre-teen character Hit-Girl).

OK, Vaughn & co. have on occasion bowed a little bit to audience expectations.  There are a few instances when they’ve made Dave a little less of a dweeb, and his relationship with his crush Katie Deauxma unfolds a bit more conventionally than in the comic.  But I can’t really say that I objected to either of those small changes, as I actually think that both adjustments helped the narrative.  (Frankly, my biggest complaint is a nit-picky bit of annoyance at the way that the filmmakers re-wrote Kick-Ass’ first big case — his encounter with a bunch of drug-dealers that turns into his first violent encounter with Hit Girl — as being set in motion by Katie.  Connecting her to those drug-dealers seemed totally out of place, and I preferred the comic’s original set-up of that sequence.  I’m also not sure I quite connected with Nic Cage’s weird, stilted delivery of his lines when in costume as Big Daddy, but what the hell, it’s Nic Cage, so I guess weird is on the menu.)

Kick-Ass bobs and weaves between comedic moments and scenes of great intensity and drama.  The film is somewhat of an homage to and a parody of super-hero films, without ever slipping into becoming a total spoof.  Rather, as Dave’s adventure unfolds, it becomes a kick-ass super-hero movie all its own (in the same way that Galaxy Quest mocked Star Trek films and then in its second half turned into an awesome Star Trek-like film).  I credit director Matthew Vaughn for maintaining that delicate balance of tone.  The closest thing I could compare this film to is Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill volume I, in the way that the film giddily moves from comedy to incredible, over-the-top orgies of violence.

This is not a film for everyone!  There’s no question about that.  Here’s a quick barometer: if you know which comic book movie the quotation “Wait’ll they get a load of me!” comes from, then this is a film that you’re going to love.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about then, well, I’d bet Date Night is still playing at a theatre near you.

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