Full disclosure: I debated opening with “This film will kick YOUR ass.” But in the interest of avoiding any puns in this review of Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick Ass,” I will say this: the film certainly lives up to its name. There is enough blood, guts and martial arts to satisfy any action junkie. But the truly surprising thing about “Kick Ass”? Underneath all the kicking and punching there is a really great superhero film.
Aaron Johnson plays Dave Lizewski, a high school student who is just barely flying under the radar. He’s not cool enough to get the girl, but he’s not geeky enough to warrant mockery. He spends all his time with his two buddies reading comics and trying to avoid being mugged. This gives Dave the bright idea of trying to be a hero himself, whom he dubs Kick Ass. An initial run-in with two thugs lands him in the hospital, where he discovers that the fight damaged his nerve endings providing him with pseudo-super powers. After a YouTube video hits of him taking out three baddies single handedly, Kick Ass becomes a star. His notoriety draws the attention of the father-daughter team of Big Daddy and Hit Girl, played by Nicholas Cage and Chloe Moretz, respectively, and of the local crime boss and his son ,who also has superhero ambitions, played by Mark Strong and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.
Before I go any further I have another confession to make: I haven’t read the graphic novel. I have no clue how faithful “Kick Ass” is as an adaptation, and frankly I don’t really care. Because as a film, “Kick Ass” demonstrates an understanding of what we all love about comic books. Dave is every earnest fanboy who wishes they could find a legitimate reason to don a costume and fight crime. And as much as he wants to fight the bad guys, at the same time he wants to be cool and be remembered for something which, let’s face it, is true of comic-book heroes and teenagers alike.
The film captures the joyous fun of comics. The action scenes, while gorier then anything you will find in “Spider-Man” or “X-Men,” feel like they sprang off the pages of a comic book. Vaughn pushes the boundaries of disbelief just enough so that you know you are watching a superhero film, but not so much that you are rolling your eyes. The responsibility for this lies almost squarely with Moretz’s Hit Girl, who has some of the best action set pieces of the film. It’s riveting, hysterical stuff that keeps you completely engaged in the movie.
The film does stumble when it falls into some other superhero film clichés, namely the romantic subplot featuring the girl of the hero’s dream. The audience is told Dave loves her and examples of her goodness are supposedly shown throughout the film, but the character never comes across as more than a shallow “Mean Girl.” This film does change things up in that Dave has to pretend to be gay to get close to his proverbial Mary Jane Watson because she really, really wants a gay BFF. Dave is clearly not an awesome judge of character. This is another case of a filmmaker trying to convince the audience that some vapid bimbo can qualify for an interesting romantic lead. Either give us a legitimately worthwhile character or leave the sub-plot out all together. In this film, that would only mean more screen time for Hit Girl, and that’s not a bad thing.
“Kick Ass” may not be a perfect adaptation, and it fails to avoid some of the pitfalls that plague movies of the same genre, but taken of its own merits, “Kick Ass” fills a spot in the superhero genre that has been vacant until now. It is a movie that is as much about being a fan as being a hero, and it gives all of us the things that we want to see out of a comic book film. And that, my friends, is pretty kick ass.
(Hey, I get at least one word play right?)
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