This review will contain mild spoilers to the film, but not the comic books, as I have not read them. Kick Ass is set to hit theaters on April 16th, in the United States.
Kick Ass was the opening night film at SXSW 2010, in Austin, Texas, and I had an express pass to get in. While I was a bit hesitant to see such a big movie, at a festival where films are picked up, or completely forgotten, based on the buzz generated by those audiences in attendance, I could not hold back my geek impulses. If you’re looking for an initial grade or recommendation before I get into the plot and my thoughts on the film, I’ll say that I feel like I made the right choice in seeing Matthew Vaughn’s Kick Ass, and you’ll feel that your money was well-spent, when you see it next month.
Kick Ass presents a world not unlike our own, with rules like gravity, nerve damage, and social networking. We are introduced to a bookish, shy, narrator, Dave Lizewski (played by Aaron Johnson), not too dissimilar to Spiderman’s Peter Parker. A high school student with the usual problems: girls that make fun of him, friends that won’t stick up for him, and bullies that steal his comics.
After wondering aloud, why no one has tried to actually become a super-hero, he puts together a costume from scuba gear and mail order catalog items. His first attempts at heroics are met with visits to the trauma ward, while also making him even less popular at school.
We soon meet two characters who have been in this game for, presumably, a long time. One is a combination of Batman and the Punisher: Big Daddy, Damon Macready (played by Nicolas Cage). A father wrongfully imprisoned, who upon release, prepares to exact revenge upon all whom he feels had some had, whether directly or indirectly, in the fate of his family. The Robin to his Batman is his daughter, Hit Girl, Mindy Macready (played by Chloe Moretz). She is actually more like Robin meets Wolverine, a deadly killer, robbed of her childhood, her innocence, to fulfil Big Daddy’s dreams, in the way that more realistic parents may force their children to play tee-ball or ballet. We are introduced to the characters in a shocking training session, where we aren’t sure what is happening, or what lays underneath.
Kick Ass, Big Daddy, and Hit girl make their way up the chain of the crime family that was responsible for many of their woes, carving a bloody, fiery path in the process.
The film is, in the end, a lot of fun, but ultimately meaningless. We are meant to believe that what Big Daddy has been doing, while somewhat justified, is robbing his daughter of that which her late mother lost, her life. Is it fair to push your child towards your own goals? Absolutely not. We are also presented with the idea that taking on the mafia can work, if your heart, and supply of bullets, are in the right place. There is an attempt to show our society, as a spectacle obsessed, drooling idiot, completely at the ready to watch a snuff film when presented with one. Is it important for the director and writer to take a stronger stance on the matter? Perhaps not, but I think some messages in this film may be misconstrued by the film going masses, who may not be too different from people requesting to be friends with Kick Ass’ Myspace profile in the movie.
While it is fun to imagine an alternate comic reality, where Batman did not grow up with a moral code, where he exacts bloody revenge on anyone that might be between him and his ultimate goal, the big boss. The movie however, rarely shows us any serious repercussions for Big Daddy’s actions, apart from what Hit Girl has become, and his own fate.
There are several memorable sequences in the film I thought I’d highlight, as they were what stuck with me well after the movie finished. First off has to be when Kick Ass, now having completed his costume, goes on an initial crime-fighting stroll, only to meet the thugs that stole his money and comic books earlier in the film. What is most shocking in this scene has to be how quickly the violence turns from ultra realistic, as Kick Ass is stabbed in the stomach, to almost cartoonish proportions as he stumbles towards the camera, and the street, only to suddenly be struck by a car that seemingly comes out of nowhere. It has become a cheap gag, the car slamming into someone from outside of the frame, but it works every time.Another incredible scene, is one that rivals the Matrix in its use of gun play, as a character enters a lobby of a building. You will not be able to take your eyes off of the screen as a ten year old girl, disarms and slaughters an entire hallway of mafia thugs, with very little but her training to keep her alive. The third scene I’ll leave you with is an incredible homage to video games, and their failed attempts at translating to the big screen. Two of our heroes are trapped, with a third attempting to save them from the bad guys. This is all completed in the dark, from the point of view of the rescuing hero, with night vision goggles. I’m not a big video game player, but I instantly felt like I was playing a first person shooter. While it is very obvious what they are trying to do in the scene, it still works, and came out of nowhere. We weren’t given any scenes previously that were shot in a similar way, and nothing that came afterwards followed it’s pacing or structure. While that may sound a bit annoying, it isn’t.
With regards to the sense of repercussions, the movie seems to want to have it’s cake and eat it too, in presenting us with this “realistic” super-hero world. In one hand, it says: Super-hero’s don’t exist, these people don’t have any powers, now, how well could they survive? On the other hand, it wants to be a fun comic book movie, with explosions, bazooka sight gags, and even a jet pack. Yeah, a jet pack. A jet pack that has to be one of the best reveals in comic book film history. Although, as cool as the jet pack is though, the filmmakers go one step too far at the end, by having the characters fly completely across the city, which I found unbelievable, and unnecessary.
Some final aspects of the film that I have to touch on, are it’s uses of technology, the Internet, and popular culture. There are references to Lost, heavy usage of the iPhone, and an almost ridiculous number of references to Myspace and YouTube. I have to imagine that Myspace was, at the time the script was written, still pretty popular, and one could, say get thousands and thousands of fans and messages, by creating a profile and posting videos to it. However, I think its safe to say that there are probably not even as many active users on all of Myspace, as there are shown to be fans of Kick Ass’ Myspace page in the film. Would it have been better for him to have created a Facebook or Twitter account? I don’t think so. Any usage of technology like this will ultimately lead to the film feeling dated somehow, especially as people shift from platform to platform on an almost yearly basis now. The uses of the iPhone aren’t as egregious, but again, they basically tell the viewer: well, this movie had to have been shot between A and B. This will ultimately hurt the continuity going into the sure to be green-lit, sequel. With Myspace quickly fading into our collective memories, there is no way that Kick Ass 2 will feature the same profile page. One last cultural reference, that I alluded to, is a line that Kick Ass says in the voice over, about wanting to survive long enough to know what happens at the end of Lost. While the line is really funny right now, when this movie hits DVD/Blu-ray/VOD, that line might either fall completely flat, as we will have all seen the Lost finale, or might fly over the heads of the audience altogether. Sure, lines like that are thrown in there for those fans that will get it, but it is not done very subtly.
Should you see Kick Ass? Absolutely, if you’re a fan of comic books, of incredible action choreography, and you want to see Nicolas Cage attempt the strangest accent, this side of Shatner, this movie will please. This movie though, is incredibly violent, and if you plan on taking small children, who themselves are fans of superheros, I’d recommend giving the Red Band Trailer a few viewings, as it will give you a good idea as to how bloody violent this movie can get at times. The green-band trailers present us with a quirky superhero movie, that really doesn’t begin to capture the levels of violence and profanity, that some might find objectionable.
Again, I don’t think this movie is saying anything particularly intelligent about Comic Books, Superhero worship, vigilantism, or society in general, but that doesn’t stop it from being so much fun. I’d recommend seeing it in theaters, as it greatly rewards the group experience. You’ll laugh louder, wince harder, and have longer post-screening conversations if you go with a group, and see it in a big, booming, theater.