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TBTS Reviews: Kick-Ass

April 24, 2010

There is both good news and bad news when it comes to the genre of “superhero movie,” friends. The good news is that, amazingly, even as the comic world continues to be strip-mined for anything even remotely transferrable onto celluloid, there are still gems to be found. The bad news is that we’re probably reaching an oversaturation point. And this is even before Disney begins to sink its hooks into their newly purchased Marvel library.

Kick-Ass, which is on one hand a superhero movie and on the other not a superhero movie at all, is a very good film sure to find its cult following — but it’s not entirely on the level as a comic adaptation. That’s not altogether a bad thing, and it’s not entirely cheating; the development of Kick-Ass as a comic book went arm-in-arm with the development of Kick-Ass the script, with rights to the film version sealed up before the first issue of the comic even hit stands.

As for the film Kick-Ass itself, it’s bound to be both one of those movies that’s a violent hoot of overstylized satire for those who recognize it and a gratuitous buffet woefully feeding a niche of people who don’t get the joke but sincerely love the violence. These types of films have always enjoyed a specialized spot in cinema history, however, from Peckinpah to Tarantino, and ultimately tend to fall into a positive spot historically — unlike the Saw films, for instance, which likely will never end up on any “best-of” lists.

Kick-Ass stars Aaron Johnson as Dave Lizewski, a shaggy-haired schlub infatuated with comic books who wonders why no one has ever actually decided to become a superhero themselves, and by such thinking re-invents himself as a dive-suit clad would-be vigilante named Kick-Ass, who becomes a hit on viral video.

(It should be noted, by the way, that while the premise of Kick-Ass is widely hailed by many critics as an original one, it hardly is. The “average joe” superhero concept has been covered in films from John Ritter’s 1980 Hero at Large to Ben Stiller’s 1999 Mystery Men — although neither as darkly as Kick-Ass).

As Kick-Ass meekly patrols the streets, picking fights with low-level muggers and bullies, however, he finds himself embroiled in a larger plot involving Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), an ex-cop with a score to settle with crime boss Frank D’Amico (the always villainous Mark Strong). Big Daddy has a secret weapon in daughter Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz), whom he has trained vigorously to become deadly assassin Hit-Girl, and the two contact Kick-Ass after D’Amico wrongly pins attacks toward his own men on the unsuspecting hero. Meanwhile, D’Amico’s own son Chris (Superbad‘s Christopher Mintz-Plasse) heads undercover as a hero himself, purporting to be Kick-Ass’ ally Red Mist.

Johnson’s Dave/Kick-Ass is sound, funny and appropriately bewildered, Cage is having a better time playing Big Daddy than we’ve seen him have in years, and Mintz-Plasse may have found as solid a vehicle for himself as he did as McLovin in Superbad. But the appropriate attention is all going toward the young Moretz, responsible for many of the most rephrehensible attacks in the film. Truly, it’s both funny and somewhat unsettling to see a well-armed eleven year-old bust into a room full of adult criminals snarling “Okay you cunts, let’s see what you can do now,” and Moretz takes on the role with absolute balls-to-the-wall tenacity. It’s no surprise that Hit-Girl has become the target of much ire from do-gooders and religious groups, but Moretz proves that she’s going to be around for a while. Which is good, because as Hit-Girl,she’s just single-handedly made herself a film cult icon to be talked about for years.

The entire affair, as you might suspect, boils to a head in the third act, with much of the comedy giving way to something much, much darker. This is mostly because Kick-Ass, while set in a world where true superheros don’t actually exist, is also set in a world realistic enough to understand that bullets trump katana blades and brass knuckles every time. These are real villains — terrible human beings — that don’t bother with costumes or catchy names or doomsday devices. Killing you with a pistol works just fine for them. Ultimately, the good-versus-evil dynamic gives way to an argument of who has more firepower, which is disappointing, but the film still has a good time getting there. In the end, Kick-Ass effectively satirizes America’s obsession with superheroes by simultaneously adminstering a huge dose of realism to the limping genre and staying true to the many classic conventions of the superhero story. And yeah, in it’s own way, that’s really kind of kick-ass.

  1. Brian Mueller permalink
    April 24, 2010 4:49 pm

    Thanks for the review of “Kick-Ass.” I wasn’t sure about it based on the trailer. It sounds like a worthy picture, but by the time I get to the theater to see it, there will no doubt be bigger (better?) films to see.

  2. ultrafanisme permalink
    April 24, 2010 6:22 pm

    C’mon dude, KICK ASS was just frickin’ FUN! Who cares about if it fit some kind of genre or not. Chill out and go for the ride!

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