KICK-ASS is inventive, cool and funnier than a Bugs Bunny Saturday morning cartoon.
Over the last decade it has become an industry standard for studios to release at least one superhero film as a tent-pole for their summer schedule. More recently, having been kick-started by SIN CITY, a new trend has surfaced: releasing smaller budgeted, more violent comic book adaptations around the Easter holidays. Films such as 300 and WATCHMEN aren’t particularly suitable for summertime, in which cinemas are dominated by mass-appeal blockbusters; these films stand more of a chance in an earlier slot in the year.
New entry in this strategic release model is KICK-ASS, based upon Mark Miller’s extremely violent comic book of the same name and directed by Matthew Vaughn (LAYER CAKE, STARDUST). The story concerns Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), an unnoticed high school student and comic book fan who one day decides to become a super-hero, even though he has no powers, training, or meaningful reason to do so. KICK-ASS does exactly what it says on the tin and, although it’s let down by a few tonal missteps, is best summed up as a wildly entertaining synthesis of SPIDER-MAN and KILL BILL.
Make no mistake, KICK-ASS is tremendously violent, and it doesn’t give a damn if you’re offended by it. Bullets fly, legs are severed and, in one of the film’s most splatter-hungry moments, a man is blown up in an industrial microwave. To make matters worse (read: better) a lot of the time the pain is being dealt out by a twelve year-old girl, uttering profanity-ridden punch lines such as, “OK you c*nts, let’s see what you can do now”. The film then, is clearly not one to take grandma to see on the Sunday matinee.
The ensuing fight scenes are some of the best I’ve seen in years: inventive, cool and funnier than a Bugs Bunny Saturday morning cartoon. The two stand-out sequences would have to be the first involving ‘Hit-Girl’ (the previously mentioned twelve-year-old, played by Chloe Moretz) – which is hilariously abrupt and highly visceral – and the slick and satisfying one-take attack by ‘Big Daddy’ (Hit-Girl’s father and partner in crime, played by Nicolas Cage) upon a warehouse full of gangsters.
KICK-ASS is more than a collection of Tarantino-worthy action set-pieces, however; most of the story focuses on Dave’s adolescent trials and tribulations. They aren’t, as you might expect, riddled with Peter Parkeresque clichés and outdated morality struggles; the story attempts to take a more modern and humorous look at today’s teenagers. Dave isn’t a loner or a complete loser but isn’t exactly one of the popular kids either, marking a refreshing twist in genre conventions.
The insertion of pop-culture references such as YouTube and MySpace, as well as a sub-plot which sees Dave pretend to be gay in order to get close to the girl of his dreams, make the film much more culturally relevant. KICK-ASS also works very well as an amusing parody of superhero films, beginning with a false-start involving an Armenian teenager testing out his Icarus-inspired costume and plunging head-first into a taxi rather than soaring into the skies.
In fact, Vaughn has so much to pack into KICK-ASS that it could have easily become an overly long mess of ideas. The director pulls it off, fortunately, by employing a swift and energetic pace that keeps almost the entire narrative intact in less than two hours – a worthy achievement in and of itself. The soundtrack is similarly energetic and fun, comprising of a selection of modern licensed tracks, which give the film an extra sheen of cool. The film is also impressive from a technical standpoint, taking most of its stylistic cues from the medium it’s adapting.
Caption cards reading “Meanwhile” and “Six months later”, a bright and bold colour pallet, as well as a gorgeously animated flashback, all aid in creating the look of a comic book come to life. The acting is first class, and you can tell everyone involved had a blast making the thing. Aaron Johnson does a good job of making Dave’s somewhat senseless actions seem empathetic, and Chloe Moretz seems an actress wise beyond her years; she makes you truly believe a twelve-year-old girl could kick that much ass. Nicolas Cage is also in rare comedic top form here, with a perfect deadpan delivery and brilliant parody of Adam West’s Batman.
For the most part, KICK-ASS is a very faithful adaptation of the comic book, and for that alone it should be praised. Most of the films pitfalls, however, occur when it chooses to stray too far from the source material. Notable changes to the relationship between Dave and his love interest, Big Daddy’s history, and the ending of the story only make the film cheesier and more fantastical than it needed be. For a film seemingly so intent on creating a semi-realistic world in which real people try to be superheroes, additions such as a jet-pack with mini-guns attached simply seem unnecessary (even if they are fun in their own way).
Additionally, the conclusion of the Dave’s romantic aspirations clashed with the overall tone of the film, and there is also a slight awkwardness to some moments in which tragedy and comedy are blended. Nevertheless, KICK-ASS is the most invigorating and exciting comic book adaptation to come along for a long time and is certainly not to be missed.
KICK-ASS (2010). Director: Matthew Vaughn. Writer: Jane Goldman (screenplay) and Mark Miller (original comic). Cast: Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloe Moretz and Nicolas Cage.