Comic legend Stan Lee changed the idea of superheroes forever when he created Spider-Man. While other superheroes had alter egos--mild mannered Clark Kent and millionaire Bruce Wayne, for example--none of those tended to be much more than smokescreens for their costumed identities. Spider-Man was the first superhero whose real life was just as normal as yours or mine. Geeky Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider and given amazing powers, but that didn't change the fact that he still had to go to high school, and still was a nerd. Cinematically, Christopher Nolan posited the idea of what would happen if a real caped crusader began operating in a major city with Batman Begins, and expanded on that with The Dark Knight. But for all its realism, it doesn't change the fact that Bruce Wayne is still a multi-millionaire (or most likely billionaire at this point), certainly not an everyday chap. Matthew Vaughn, a director originally tapped to direct another superhero film (X-Men 3) before leaving for a different comic related adaptation (the stellar Stardust), brings us a vision of what it might be like if the kid next door took to the streets in a costume to fight crime. And what would said kid name himself? Why, Kick-Ass, of course!
"With no power comes no responsibility."
Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is your average, everyday kid. He doesn't really fit in anywhere, and he certainly doesn't do too well with girls. He spends most of his time hanging out with his friends and getting mugged by the local punks. As a comic book fan, he wonders why no one has ever dressed up to fight crime. So, he decides to try it out himself, with disastrous results. But, undaunted, he continues on as Kick-Ass anyway. Simultaneously, other mysterious masked vigilantes, such as Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), and Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), appear on the scene. The heroes get tangled up fighting the mob, headed by Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong), and find a bigger fight than they expected.
Kick-Ass, based on a comic book by Mark Millar (the writer of Wanted), is a great idea. Every boy has wondered what they would do if they were a superhero, and the first part of the film actually does a great job of showing the realities of bringing such an idea to fruition. The film escalates pretty quickly into unrealistic waters, but honestly, if it didn't, it just would have ended with Kick-Ass getting shot in the head. Once Hit Girl and Big Daddy show up on the scene, the heavy artillery comes out, and the movie jumps up a few notches. The trailer makes it out to be a comedy, but the humor isn't pervasive. Yes, it's funny, but it's not only funny. In fact, if I had to describe Kick-Ass in one word, it would be "brutal." The movie is rated R, and it's not for nudity (although there are some tantalizingly close calls). The film is bloody, bloody, and above all, bloody. There are scenes that are actually cringe-inducing because of how violent they are. That's not to say the action is bad; in fact it's frequently thrilling. But this movie takes full advantage of its R-rating.
The cast is very game to play. Aaron Johnson has a wide-eyed, geek-induced disconnect with reality that's perfect for a kid who thinks he can be a superhero. Mark Frost is a perfect heavy, capable of being both menacing and funny in turns. Nicolas Cage proves yet again that in the right hands, he is a genuinely versatile actor, making Big Daddy, one of the film's more absurd characters, grounded and real. He also provides the film's best humor, along with his co-star, Chloe Grace Moretz. While it may be Kick-Ass' name in the title, it's really Hit Girl who steals the show. Moretz plays the innocent little girl and the ruthless killer in equal measure, making the juxtaposition all the more unbelievable and hilarious. The stuff she does in this movie will make your jaw drop, just in time for a torrent of laughs to escape. There's also a few Matthew Vaughn regulars who pop in from time to time.
Vaughn himself does a great job handling the material, which can be a tough tightrope to walk. He plays with audience expectations, using subtle visual and aural cues to lead the viewers one way, often to take them another moments later. He doesn't pull his punches, as I mentioned before, making the movie lewd, crude, and in your face. Some might call it overkill, and at times I might almost agree, but overall Vaughn handles himself and the material very well. Although for a reason I can't understand, a lot of the movie looks blown out, and I can't figure out why that decision was made.
Kick-Ass is the first big comic book movie of 2010. In the next weeks and months we're going to see several more, including The Losers, Iron Man 2, Scott Pilgrim,etc. And while some of those films may be better, I'm willing to bet none of them will be as ostentatious, outrageous, and unique as Kick-Ass. Matthew Vaughn has another winner on his hands, a film with character, wit, and buckets of blood. Kick-Ass may not be Spider-Man, but that doesn't stop him from taking out the trash.