FILM REVIEW Kick-Ass
Smells like teen spirit
15 * 100 mins * 2 April
Director: Matthew Vaughan
Cast: Aaron Johnson, Mark Strong, Nicolas Cage, Chloe Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
When is a superhero movie not really a superhero movie? Perhaps it’s when your lead character has no definable abilities beyond good intentions and an increased tolerance to take a beating. Or perhaps it’s when your origin story consists of little more than googling for a goofy wetsuit that looks the part. Both of these might be true of Kick-Ass, an adaptation of Mark Millar’s celebrated indie comic, but what’s also true is that Kick-Ass is a twisted example of the superhero flick at its very best, and one that tears genre conventions apart at a faster rate than Lou Ferrigno gets through shirts.
Dave Lizewski (Johnson) is your average high school chump. You know the kind: spends his evening with a laptop and a box of Kleenex and his days pining for the unattainable fake-tan beauty queen. So far so Spidey (except maybe the bit about wrist gymnastics) but Kick-Ass is no Marvel tentpole movie – in fact it’s unlike any superhero movie you’ll ever see, but one brimming with an appreciation and understanding of the genre it works to revolutionise.
In one obvious break with the past, Dave’s zero to sort-of-hero arc is more a succession of screw-ups than young pretender realising his crimefighting destiny. His first patrol as Kick-Ass, clashing with a pair of car thieves, is a horrifying disaster with startling, albeit blackly comedic, consequences. There’s no radioactive spider or secret ninja training in Dave’s past – fights spill out like drunken brawls with Kick-Ass flailing his twin batons as if someone turned the lights out.
That’s not to say there aren’t any fancy fist fights. In fact the film features two or three of the most spectacular and stylish action set-pieces you’re likely to see this year, including a breathtaking, one-shot warehouse massacre and a seizure-inducing strobe light shoot-out. The catalyst for these particular bursts of ultraviolence isn’t our hapless hero-in-the-making, however, but the film’s double-barrelled secret weapon – head-busting father-daughter vigilantes Big Daddy and Hit Girl.
Kick-Ass isn’t the only superhero in town, you see. They might have a twisted sense of paternal relations, but disgraced former cop Damon Macready (Cage) and daughter Mindy (Moretz) are New York’s last hope in the fight against drug lord Frank D’Amico (Strong), and it’s only a case of mistaken identity that drags Kick-Ass into this underground war. Tied in with this mess is D’Amico’s geeky son Chris (Mintz-Plasse), a closeted teen out to prove himself to his father by posing as crime-fighter the Red Mist to ensnare Kick-Ass.
Much has already been said about Moretz’s 11-year-old human slaughterhouse, but it’s no exaggeration to say she steals the film, part foul-mouthed death note, part My Little Pony, but with enough cocksure swagger to put the fear of God into a room full of gun-toting heavies. Distilled into Moretz’s pint-sized frame, Hit Girl could have been absurd, but there’s rarely a moment where you don’t buy her severing limbs by the dozen and swearing like a docker. Cage as an actor might best be described as an acquired taste but here, whether as a thinly-veiled Dark Knight channelling Adam West or the psychotically overprotective father, he’s rarely been better.
After making magic with Stardust, writer/director Matthew Vaughan proves more than capable of handling leftfield genre fare. His direction is suitably kinetic but rarely flashy, his screenplay (co-written with Stardust scribe Jane Goldman) even better, infusing Kick-Ass with the comic’s subversive edge but gifting it a warmer heart. The fantastic is grounded by brutal reality; there’s an incredibly dark and uncomfortable feel to several key moments, such as an unsettling webcast execution.
If there’s a problem it’s that Kick-Ass himself, despite Johnson’s solid performance, is an underwhelming lead. This is kind of the point, but once Hit Girl and Big Daddy kick into action you’ll find yourself with little patience for Dave’s girlfriend troubles. Strong is reliably slimy as the heelish D’Amico, but after Sunshine, Stardust and Sherlock Holmes typecasting is blunting his impact in this kind of role.
But these are minor issues in a film of great wit and invention. As the first big screen counter-culture superhero tale, Kick-Ass is quite simply the most successful comic adaptation to date, a flawless take on the rebellious punk sensibilities of the source. It’s the first and final word for this type of film and a genuine genre cage rattler. Say hello to the next generation of superhero movies. Jordan Farley