Kick-Ass fully lives up to its title. While not perfect, it's definitely the most pure, giddy fun I've had in a movie theater so far in 2010 and a flick I can easily see myself picking up on DVD and enjoying repeat viewings of for years, something increasingly rare these days. Part satire of the inherently absurd superhero mythos and part awesome superhero flick of its own accord, injected with a healthy dose of high school comedy and an unhealthy dose of gory action, I like to think of Kick-Ass as being Watchmen meets Superbad.
The plot's pretty simple: a high school comic book nerd named Dave Lizewski (he claims not to be a nerd in his voiceover narration but all onscreen evidence refutes this) decides more or less on a whim to become a superhero named Kick-Ass. He's marginally successful at best but meets a father-daughter duo of much more talented and much more murderous superheroes named Big Daddy and Hit Girl, whose crimefighting ways incur the wrath of mob boss Frank D'Amico upon not just them but Dave as well. I'm leaving out a few other key characters and subplots but let's just say that violence ensues and leave it at that.
The cast isn't exactly loaded with big stars beyond Nicolas Cage as Big Daddy. In fact I've never seen the protagonist Aaron Johnson in anything, while everyone else is recognizable from one or two other projects — Chloë Grace Moretz from (500) Days of Summer plays Hit Girl, while Superbad's McLovin (the actor has a name, but c'mon, he's McLovin) is another superhero named Red Mist and Sherlock Holmes villain Mark Strong further cements his typecasting by playing the heavy. Big Daddy and Hit Girl stand out the most. I hate a lot of Nicolas Cage's work (Knowing's awfulness shall haunt me forever) but he's hilarious here and I applaud his humility as an actor; you almost never see an established A-list star playing second fiddle to an unknown but here it provides for pleasantly odd onscreen chemistry. As for Chloë Grace Moretz, well, we'll get to her in a minute.
Here are the top three things that Kick-Ass has going for it as far as being supreme entertainment:
1. It's an action comedy that truly balances the action and the comedy. The vast majority of the time the phrase "action comedy" is code for "a comedy with a few action scenes." Most are quite bad, but even in the genre's few gems — 2008's Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder for example — the action scenes would fail to stand up on their own without the laughs. They're the spice, not the main course. Then you have action movies with so much comic relief that you could almost classify them as action comedies — think Star Trek and Iron Man — but again, just the comedy with the thrills removed would leave you with an anemic, pointless film.
Then there's Kick-Ass, a genuinely and consistently hilarious comedy that had everyone in the audience I saw it with roaring while also being a vibrantly shot, creative, badass action flick with some of the coolest fight sequences I've seen in a couple years. Each half alone is so strong it could carry a movie by itself, together, they lift Kick-Ass to greatness.
The comedy occasionally yields to cliché; for example, we pretty much first meet our protagonist masturbating, the exact same way that American Pie: The Book of Love opens, not a good comparison to invite. And there's a scene where the protagonist's love interest greets him and he greets her back only to realize that she was greeting the girl standing behind him and be embarrassed, which is directly out of the first Spider-Man. But when it gives way to spoofing the absurdity of superheroes and pure vulgarity it's quite funny, and when it leans on the pitch black comedy of copious murder it's hysterical. This is a dark, dark comedy, not for everybody. Probably not even for most people. But man did I laugh.
And the action kicks ass (pardon the pun, it was inevitable); there's cool fights and cool weaponry and everything you could want, particularly when it comes to Big Daddy and Hit Girl. There's one shootout partway through lit only by a strobe light that's gotta be one of the most creatively shot gunfights I've ever seen in a film, bringing fresh and exciting life to something we've all seen hundreds of times in movies and TV. I've sat yawning through so many action scenes in recent years that it was nice to be grabbed by the balls for once. A big part of that is also due to my second reason Kick-Ass rules...
2. It's gory and violent as fuck. The 80s are dead, and it's pretty much expected these days that every summer action flick is going to lounge comfortably in PG-13 territory. Wanted is one of the only exceptions of recent years, but while I admired that film's bloody sensibility I found everything else about it instantly forgettable. Kick-Ass actually manages to marry sick and twisted violence to likable characters and a hilarious script, so it wins hands down. Brains are blown out of skulls onscreen, people crushed and exploded and burned alive, hacked to pieces, limbs sliced off, blood and viscera flying all over the place. Oh snap! It'll make your parents feel faint.
Beyond Wanted and Rambo you just don't see that kind of screen magic anymore outside of maybe slashers and torture porn, but I don't wanna watch that shit. There was also a fair amount of gore in Watchmen, but the tone was rather dry like you should almost feel bad if enjoy the violence for violence's sake; in Kick-Ass, there's a demented clown-style wicked glee to it that happily invites you to love the slaughter. That is, if you can get over your...
3. Moral outrage. There are legitimate moral outrages. War, mass starvation, corrupt politicians. But quite literally every single moral outrage in recorded human history that can be boiled down to "oh god won't someone think of the children?!" has been breathtakingly idiotic. No exception. Ever. Controversy over violent video games, idiotic. Rap music, idiotic. The sex scene in Mass Effect, idiotic. Dakota Fanning in Hounddog, idiotic. Sexting, idiotic. And I find something fascinating about the sociology of stupidity so I love watching people work themselves up into an angry lather over their moral outrage, which Kick-Ass seems to have accomplished thanks to Hit Girl, an eleven-year-old assassin (played by an actress who I think was twelve at the time of shooting).
Some critics and news commentators are livid over her use of the words "cunt" and "fuck," saying that having young Chloë Grace Moretz say these words was morally reprehensible. This is absolutely hilarious because twelve-year-olds are incredibly foulmouthed and swear more than just about anyone except maybe thirteen and fourteen-year-olds since the words are still cool and taboo. Seriously, what is it with most adults seeming to have absolutely no recollection whatsoever of what it was actually like to be a kid? Are they all putting up a big farce together or does every human being at age thirty suddenly undergo an overnight bout of intense amnesia and wake up believing that every child is pure as the driven snow? Someone older than thirty who reads my blog, help me out with this.
The outrage over her butchering dozens of mobsters might have a bit more validity were it not for the fact that it's a fictional movie with fictional blood, but it is, so it doesn't. Oh god won't someone think of the children?!
Director Matthew Vaughn has compiled an impressive filmography in his six short years behind the camera. First there was 2004's Layer Cake, a British crime flick that I liked but didn't love, then there was 2007's Stardust, an immensely charming family-friendly fantasy flick that I thought captured the spirit of The Princess Bride better than nearly any movie since 1987, and now we have Kick-Ass. More than just good movies, these are all good movies with completely disparate styles and genres and tones and settings and not even any recurring actors. I'm reminded of Danny Boyle, director of Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Slumdog Millionaire. The ability to take whatever's thrown at you and make it your own. That's true talent. I can't wait to see what Matthew Vaughn does next.
4 Stars out of 5