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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Kick Ass? Yes It Does

Kick Ass: 4 1/2 out of 5 Stars
Dave Lizewski: Why do thousands of people want to be Paris Hilton and nobody wants to be Spider-Man?
Fun, violent, foul, and messy. Adapted from the comic of the same name, this is a hard R flick about ordinary people taking on the roles of superheroes. We've seen other versions of this premise before, but thanks to a lot of good talent involved, this film succeeds on many levels, most importantly in the fact that it's very entertaining.


The film tells the story of teenage Dave Lizewski, played by Aaron Johnson, an average high school kid/comic geek, who sets out to become a real life superhero only to get caught up in a bigger fight. He meets Big Daddy, played by Nic Cage, a former cop turned costumed crusader who, in his quest to bring down an evil drug lord Frank D'Amico, played by Mark Strong, has trained his eleven-year-old daughter Mindy, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, to be the ruthless vigilante known as Hit-Girl.

I'll leave the description of the Big Daddy/Hit-Girl story at that, but the arc of Dave's characters stems from the idea of his curiosity as to why no one has attempted to actually put on a costume and fight crime. Dave has no personal motives, just interest; and after ordering a wetsuit online and modifying it, he starts to patrol the streets as his hero persona, known as Kick-Ass. While his first attempt at stopping a burglary goes terribly wrong for him (and I mean terribly), Dave nevertheless returns to his tasks, eventually beating up a gang of thugs and saving a life. This instance is caught by many people on their camera phones, and then uploaded onto YouTube, making Kick-Ass a well known figure. This level of popularity gets Kick-Ass to form his own MySpace page for people to contact him for help, as well as pulls him into the plot involving Big Daddy and Hit Girl. The exposure also leads to the arrival of another costumed hero known as Red Mist, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who has connections of his own to the life of crime.

The comic in which this film is based off of was created by acclaimed author Mark Millar, who, among other things, was responsible for Marvel Civil War. Millar also created the original comic for Wanted, which similar to this film, had its first issue written, and was then put into production as a film, with the screenplay and the comic being written simultaneously. However, Kick-Ass differs because both Millar and writer/director Mathew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman worked very closely together, taking ideas from each other, as both the screenplay and the comic were being written. As a result, not only is this a much better movie than Wanted, by managing to contain much of the wit that Millar creates, but even in the areas where the two mediums differ, this film and the comic are very much in line in terms of tone and atmosphere.
Hit-Girl: Ok, you cunts, let's see what you can do now.
Getting back to the film; it's a blast. The whole feature is full of wit, humor, bloody action, and stylish direction that keeps everything entertaining throughout. All of what this film accomplishes stems from my admiration for how it managed to get made. With the screenplay being initially rejected by every studio, director Vaughn had enough faith in what he was working with to call in a number of favors and fund the film himself, without the aid of a studio. As a result, this is a very good looking, yet cheap superhero movie that did not suffer from any studio intervention. And then luckily, after initial screenings, a studio jumped at the chance to pick this film up and let us all enjoy a fun flick.

In terms of what this story offers - as I've said, other films have used this premise (yes, I will reference Damon Wayans' Blankman) but this film works as both a really well paced action flick as well as a solid dark comedy that flips a lot of superhero tropes on their heads. I would hesitate to say it's subversive or satirical, because it follows a pretty standard formula and functions more on "what if" levels, but it's still a lot of damn good fun. Certainly helping is the use of the modern world for this film, using elements like, as I mentioned, YouTube, as a logical way for Kick-Ass' fame to catch on.
Red Mist: That's right we're superheroes, you love us.
Starting with Johnson as Kick-Ass/Dave, you have a very solid lead here. He provides smart ass narration that could have easily not worked, but does, as well as providing a screen presence as this wannabe superhero who treads a thin line of too goofy and too cool. McLovin' (because Christopher Mintz-Plasse is too much of a big name to keep spelling out) is also solid, and between this and Role Models, breaking away from Superbad I think will actually work out for him. Solid villain role for Strong as well, who I believe will be cast as a villain under the direction of every working English director (look him up). Of course I will give much applause to Nic Cage, who is always entertaining whether he's solid in the role or bat-shit crazy. His Big Daddy character manages to channel both ass-kicking Bale Batman and campy non-ass-kicking Adam West Batman, while still being Nic Cage with ridiculous facial hair. Finally, young Chloe Moretz will of course get the most attention as the furiously violent and sailor-level trash talker Hit-Girl. Suffice it to say, this girl = title of film.
Trey: This fucking guy comes out of nowhere. Kicks are asses.
Frank D'Amico: This would be the guy that looks like Batman?
Trey: I didn't say he looked like Batman.
Big Joe: You did Trey. You said the guy looked like Batman.
Goon: I said like a mask and stuff.
Big Joe: And a cape?
Goon: Yeah, like Batman.
Trey: I never said Batman!
Thankfully, Vaughn's direction was way up to the task in handling what was needed for this film. Having emerged from being BFF and producer for Guy Ritchie, only to move on to directing two quality films of his own - Layer Cake (the reason Daniel Craig is 007) and Stardust, he certainly nails the comic feel for this film. There is a lot of spot on framing, grand one-liner moments, neat scene transitions, etc. This is not to mention the layers upon layers of fan service that this flick does for geeks, from the numerous other comic references to the dialog that Dave and his friends have. The use of color is also effective, as the real world and the hyper-violent super hero world are designed to oppose each other from drab and boring to splashy and bright. Credit must go to his choices for the soundtrack as well, further keeping the screwed up superhero movie tone in tact.

Any gripes I may have with this film are certainly downplayed in my mind due to how much admiration I have for what has been accomplished. The film is a great mix of different kinds of fun and a great compliment to the original comic. While certainly not for everyone, geeks, superhero fans, action fans, and R-rated comedy fans can rejoice, this film kicks ass (there, I said it).
Dave Lizewski: How do I get a hold of you?
Hit Girl: [sarcastically] You just contact the mayor's office, he has a special signal he shines in the sky. It's in the shape of a giant cock.

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