Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Movie Review: Kick Ass

Kick Ass *** ½
Directed by:
Matthew Vaughn
Written By: Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn based on the comic book by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr.
Starring: Aaron Johnson (Dave Lizewski / Kick-Ass), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Chris D'Amico / Red Mist), Mark Strong (Frank D'Amico), Lyndsy Fonseca (Katie Deauxma), Chloe Moretz (Mindy Macready / Hit-Girl), Nicolas Cage (Damon Macready / Big Daddy), Clark Duke (Marty), Evan Peters (Todd), Garrett M. Brown (Mr. Lizewski), Michael Rispoli (Big Joe), Xander Berkeley (Detective Gigante), Omari Hardwick (Sergeant Marcus Williams).

Kick Ass is an interesting movie. On one hand, it is a spectacularly entertaining film about a group of “real life superheroes”, who have no powers, but decide to dress up and fight crime anyway. The film is violent in the extreme, contains as many “fucks” as a Scorsese movie and doesn’t pull any punches as it mocks its geeky target audience, while giving them precisely what they want. It is also a movie where a 12 year old girl says many of those swear words, and is involved in some of the most brutally violent scenes, and ignores the psychological impact that being raised they way she is, by a demented man who has lost all contact with reality, would really have on her. It is a troubling movie, but it’s also an very good one.

The movie stars Aaron Johnson as Dave Lizewski, a 17 year old comic book nerd in what appears to be New York City. He has a dead mother (like all good superheroes), is ignored by girls and hangs out with two fellow comic book nerds. Then he gets an idea – he can be a superhero. He orders a scuba suit online, spends a few days practicing, and then heads out on the streets. The first time he tries to intercede, he gets the crap kicked out of him and is stabbed. After recovering in the hospital, he decides to give it another go. After saving one guy from getting beaten to a pulp, he becomes an internet sensation because of an amateur video. But when Kick Ass, his superhero name, decides to try and help out the girl he has a crush on (the beautiful Lyndsy Fonseca), he realizes just how over his head he is. If it wasn’t for the intervention of Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), who brutally kill a bunch of people to help him, he probably would have wound up dead. It turns out that he isn’t the first superhero out there. When the killings to come to light, it angers mob boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), who wants to catch Kick Ass, and whoever is helping him. Frank’s own nerdy son, Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) decides he wants to help out his father to try and catch Kick Ass, Hit Girl and Big Daddy. Then things get really out of control.

I liked Kick Ass because of its combining real life elements with the standard superhero plot. This is not some fantasy movie where someone dresses up as a superhero and becomes a super strong, but a more realistic version of the story. What would really happen if some comic book nerd decided to try and fight crime? And what kind of warped minds what not only do that, but also involve his 12 year old daughter in it as well?

To me the most fascinating character in the film is not Kick Ass, but Big Daddy. Nicolas Cage is a well known comic book nerd, so he obviously cherished his role as Big Daddy, who was a normal guy who has simply snapped and decides to get revenge on Frank because of what he did to him. He has lost contact with anything resembling reality, and more disturbingly, he has drawn his daughter into his deluded fantasy as well. Most likely, many audience members are going be disturbed by an early scene where Big Daddy teaches Hit Girl how to take a bullet with a vest on. The scene is darkly comic, but also disturbing – which is how I would describe almost all of the scenes between Cage and Mortez. Cage is excellent in the role – I particularly love him when he dressed as Big Daddy and tries to put on his tough guy voice, which comes out sounding ridiculous. But this is also a great performance about a disturbed individual. For her part, Chloe Morentz does an excellent job as Hit Girl, a little girl who thinks that what she is doing is perfectly natural. This is the way she has been raising, so she sees no problem with killing a bunch of people, whether it be with knives, guns or her bare hands. These scenes are troubling, and yet they are also the heart of what makes Kick Ass as good of a film as it is – there is psychological depth to these people.

The rest of the performances are fine as well. Johnson is good as a naïve kid who doesn’t know what he is getting himself into, but loves the attention too much to stop when he does realize it. After all, had he never turned into Kick Ass, Fonseca would not have looked at him twice – now, he is a geek getting laid by the school hottie. Fonseca is quite good as his love interest – his Lois Lane or Mary Jane if you will. Mark Strong plays the villain role, as he often does, and does it with great comic book style. And Christopher Mintz-Plasse is excellent as the son just trying to get his father’s attention.

Kick Ass is a disturbing movie – perhaps more disturbing than the filmmakers realized when they made it. The presence of Hit Girl makes the movie much more disturbing than it otherwise would have been. I mentioned off the top that the film ignores the psychological impact that being raised by a delusional madman would have on Hit Girl, but now I’m wondering if it actually does. True, the movie does to give the film a “happy” ending, while still setting it up for a sequel, and yet the entire movie is not an objective story, but rather one told from the point of view of Kick Ass himself – and he has proven throughout the movie that he is a little delusional himself – meaning he may not realize how damaged Hit Girl is himself. But having said all of that, I have to say what Kick Ass does, it does very well. It is a movie that at turns darkly hilarious, a disturbing, and contains action sequences that doesn’t diminish the impact of violence, but puts it right in the audience faces. My reservations about the film are really a testament to how well it does what it sets out to do. Kick Ass is a one of a kind movie.

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