Kick Ass is my kind of mindless fun. Fun’s about the only way to describe this thing. I can’t remember the last time I’ve sat down in a theater and felt I got every last bang for my entertainment buck. This flick’s slick, funny and unapologetically violent. Directed by Mathew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust), Kick Ass is based on a comic penned by Mark Millar, best known in comic circles for helming much of Marvel’s Ultimate imprint and creating the limited series Wanted (which was butchered on the big screen just two years ago). Kick Ass works on a lot of levels. Its a super hero parody that at once cherishes and lambastes the conventions of the medium. It’s a love letter to John Woo, but it stands quite exceptionally on its own as an ultraviolent action film. It’s got moments of pants-shittingly hilarious comedy, yet filled with some scenes of shocking darkness. Kick Ass wants it every which way, and believe me, it gets what it fucking wants.
The film revolves around an unremarkable teenager, Dave Lizewski, who after elects to become a superhero, despite having no powers and basically being the least well equipped person to do so. After a disastrous first super-heroic outing, Lizewski ends up in the hospital, with his injuries resulting in damaged pain receptors, allowing him to take a beating more severe than your average joe. He decides to give it another go, and is caught on film defending a man from a gang beating, turning his super hero alter ego, Kick Ass, into an internet sensation. As he continues his exploits, he attracts the attention of two other vigilantes, father and daughter team Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, and becomes involved in the war they are raging against local mob boss, Frank D’Amico.
Some critics have taken shots at this film for its violence. One wonders what kind of film they expected to see with a title like Kick Ass, but let me be frank: It’s easily one of the goriest films to play to mainstream audiences in quite some time. And I, for one, couldn’t be happier. The initial beatings and street fights in the film don’t really prepare the viewer for the carnage that’s about to unfold onscreen around the time Hit-Girl comes on screen and things crank up to Dead Alive levels of violence. If you’re as much of a gorehound as I am, you’ll be in heaven at this point. Yes, sometimes the CGI blood and guts is less than believable, but it works for the hyper-real atmosphere of the film. And by the time things go all Modern Warfare 2 (you kinda have to see it for yourself), you’re too damn busy laughing and cheering to scrutinize the effects. About the only part of the film where the violence looses its gleeful spirit is the showdown between Hit-Girl and D’Amico, but hey, how funny can a grown man beating on a child be? (If you’re me, the answer is “very”, but I may be a minority here.) Other than this slight hiccup in tone, the rest of the violence on display here is all in good fun and a blast to behold.
The acting is, by and large, superb. I expected Aaron Johnson’s performance in the title role to be a rehash of the kind of sad-sack teen characters that Michael Cera plays exclusively, but, to my surprise, he brings quite a bit of heart and youthful naiveté to the role that often comes off as quite believable. Nicholas Cage may have single-handedly saved his flagging career while turning in one of the most fun, yet batshit-crazy roles in many moons as the gun-totting Batman parody, Big Daddy. He veers from clinically insane Ward Cleaver to slightly more insane Adam West impressions. Also, he’s fucking insane. If you’ve heard anything about this film, you’ve likely heard that Chloe Grace Mortez steals the show as Hit-Girl. Well, the young actress does not disappoint, and her performance is easily twice as good as you’ve been lead to believe. Like some mutant spawn of a tween J-Pop Idol and Matilda from Leon (with just a dash of Deadpool), she shoots, stomps, slices, and juliennes bad guys while delivering vulgar one-liners (“Okay you cunts… Let’s see what you can do now!”), all set to the Dickies’ Banana Splits cover. The rest of the cast performs adequately for the most part (Mark Strong brings quite a bit of unexpected comedy to his role as the main villain; Christopher Mintz-Plasse turns up and does his McLuvin thing, with vastly diminished comedic returns) but no one quite stands out like Johnson, Cage, or Mortez do.
Fanboys will most likely take issue with the liberties taken with the source material, but these are minimal when compared to those taken with the last Hollywood adaptation of Mark Millar’s work, the pointless and almost unrecognizable Wanted. In the comics, there’s no happy ending for Dave; instead of getting his dream girl, she enlists her new boyfriend to beat him shitless. Also, in the comics Big Daddy is revealed to not be a disgraced ex-cop, but rather a former accountant who simply wanted to create a new and more exciting life for himself. One sympathizes with the screenwriters for the changes they made. Danny’s original romantic fate would have certainly given the film a more depressing (albeit realistic) ending, and any sympathy that the audience might have for Big Daddy would likely be erased by revealing the depths of his psychosis and the danger and depravity he was willing to expose his daughter to for the singular purpose of enacting his power fantasy. I understand the complaints purists may level against the film, but the majority of the material that made the comic great emerges intact onscreen, so perhaps we should count our blessings.
A fairly ludicrous charge leveled at Kick Ass is the moral corruption Chloe Grace Mortez must have suffered as a result of staring in such a film. And it’s not the copious amounts of choreographed violence she witnessed and participated in that have critics’ collective panties in a twist; it’s the naughty language. Now granted this girl says some pretty filthy fucking things in the film, but what damage or abuse has she suffered as a result? Even the 13 year old Mortez has gone on record as being shocked at the controversy surrounding her character’s frequent use of profanity rather than the body count she racks up. Also, a less than silent minority of critics have accused the film of sexualizing Mortez and tarting her up as underage rape-bait, which is even more ridiculous. I think that says a hell of a lot more about the critics than the filmmakers. I’m fairly certain the only people likely to be aroused by Hit-Girl are /b/tards over at 4chan.
Controversy aside, Kick Ass emerges as quite the entertaining film. True, it’s mindless violent fun for the sake of itself, but it doesn’t try to convince you it’s anything more. And as a spectacle of gunshots and gore, it succeeds and then some. It delivers stylish direction that pays homage to the Hong Kong shoot ’em ups that came before it while not ripping the genre off. It gives the source material the respect it deserves, but isn’t so overly reverent that it can’t trim off the fat when it serves the plot. Toss in smart writing and a handful of inspired performances (and one show stealer), and you’ve got a perfect serving of cinematic junk food.
– Adam Rosina