The idea of real-life superhero is not new; it is as old as comics books. In fact, there have been people who have tried, usually in a variety of half-assed ways. For instance, in New York City, there are a handful of people who claim to be superheroes. Their "crime-fighting" takes the form of handing out fliers, working in soup kitchens, or scaring away drug dealers. Rarely, if ever, does it take the form of becoming a hard-nosed fist flinging vigilante who plays by his own rules and owns the city.
Kick-Ass, from director Matthew Vaughn (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels; Stardust), based on the comic book series by Mark Millar, supposes just that. Millar, a veteran comic-book scribe, wrote Kick-Ass as a labor of love much as he did the series Wanted which was turned into a movie starring Angelina Jolie in 2008. Wanted was only loosely based on the comic series and suffered immensely as a result. Millar wrote the script for Kick-Ass with Vaughn concurrently as he wrote the comic. And it is very good.
Comic-book nerd and high school nobody Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) sets out to become a real-life superhero. An unfortunate first outing that lands him in the hospital doesn’t set him back too far, and, better yet, makes him slightly impervious to pain. Before you can say "Dark Knight," he’s foiled a robbery and has had his likeness plastered on YouTube. Meanwhile, Big-Daddy (Nicholas Cage) is training his eleven-year-old daughter, Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz), to be a sort of superhero herself. When the two begin mass-murdering people who work for druglord Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), Kick-Ass gets blamed, and must work together with the two "real" heroes to get everything straightened out. Things only get more urgent when D’Amico’s son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) plans to lure Kick-Ass by becoming a superhero himself named Red Mist.
What makes the movie so good is the very thing that makes the movie so controversial – Hit-Girl. She’s cynical, foul-mouthed, and deadly. The phenomenal action scenes are as gory as they are funny, well-choreographed, and mostly star her leaping from wall to wall, reloading clips in one smooth mid-air motion, and flinging blades like a shrunken ninja. Although Kick-Ass is against taking the lives of others, Hit-Girl and Big Daddy certainly aren’t, and the movie revels in that contradiction. That the cages are being rattled by such a spectacle speaks more about our society than the movie itself. Many have shouted "child-abuse" when Hit-Girl takes a few punches and even worse, they shout "misogyny" when Hit-Girl utters the dreaded c-word. This level of violence is standard for comic-books (Wolverine is far more gruesome), and the language is nothing you haven’t heard on HBO. If Hit-Girl had instead been Hit-Boy, no one would have had a problem.
Of course, the film barely alludes to these issues of child-abuse and modern attitudes towards femininity. Furthermore, the idea of bravery and manliness in our superhero obsessed culture, the idea of real-life violence vs. comic-book violence, and the hinting of an incestuous love between Hit-Girl and Big-Daddy are omitted, perhaps with a sigh of relief from Vaughn. After all, why try to make the film deeper than it needs to be? Kick-Ass isn’t a meta-comic-book movie, it’s just a comic-book movie. The idea of a real-life superhero is destroyed as soon as Hit-Girl has her first scene. She’s the real deal in a movie that’s entire premise supposes "real deal" superheroes don’t exist. This is simply a good, clever action film.
Johnson is barely passable as Kick-Ass in a role that would have been handled better by Jesse Eisenberg. Mintz-Plasse reprises his McLovin likability with ease. Cage tries his best to spin a strange take on his character, but fails miserably, seemingly thinking that quirkiness can only be delivered by speaking like a southern minister one scene and just a bad commercials actor in others. His wink at the audience is so pronounced he had might as well just wave and say "Hi!"
Moretz, on the other hand, is a revelation. She is the most compelling reason to watch this movie. She throttles your attention, delivering her lines with such perfect believability that to not hope her career is long and prolific is impossible. Watching her dispatch a group of mobsters isn’t just over-the-top, it’s mind-bendingly entertaining.
So, leave your sensibilities and any young children at the door and watch this movie if only to see a good action movie with witty dialogue and a clever plot. Kick-Ass may not go down as one of the greatest movies ever made, but it should be remembered as a movie that at least attempted to entertain without pulling punches or patronizing the audience. And sure, when Iron Man 2 comes out, this movie will be all but forgotten, but it’s here now and begging for you to watch.
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Nicholas Cage, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Distributor: Universal Pictures, Lionsgate
Runtime: 117 mins