After a decade of big-budget superhero films and all the clichés that come with them, Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Kick-Ass gives its audience as smart and entertaining a look at the genre as you can ask for. Embracing, and even reveling in its over-the-top elements, the film manages to ground itself with a strong and often hilarious character-driven narrative that gives the film its heart. While it falls short of perfection, it succeeds as an outstanding, satirical, action-romp in a way that no film like it has done before.
Vaughn creates a world that –particularly in the first third of the film– truly feels genuine despite being surrounded by the ridiculous. Relative newcomer Aaron Johnson is surprisingly effective in the lead role as Dave Lizewski, your prototypical nebbish high school nerd. Encouraged by a love of comics, Lizewski is compelled to see what it would be like to become a real masked crime fighter. The scenes with Johnson beginning his transformation into a hero are intentionally referential to the origin stories from Spider-Man and Batman Begins, but are so effective you can see why the actor has already been offered roles in more conventional hero films. As his crime-fighting as scuba suit wearing Kick-Ass goes viral, Lizewski runs into the father-daughter duo Big Daddy (Nic Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) who bring their own delightful flair to vigilante justice.
As good as Johnson is in the film, every single scene with Cage and Moretz is simply genius. It is the absurd yet heart-warming relationship between the two that really sets the tone for the movie. There has been some confusion about what Kick-Ass is trying to be as a movie, but you only need watch the interactions between these two to realize Vaughn went for the absolute ridiculous while filling in the edges with just enough reality to keep the audience. Cage, enjoying a career resurgence after last year’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, channels his best Adam West as Big Daddy, who’s costume is an intended call back to Batman’s trademark appearance. It is a character who should never work in a mainstream film, but does thanks to an inspired performance. The same could be said for Hit-Girl as Chloe Moretz absolutely nails it. The 12-year old rising star was a scene stealer in the superb (500) Days of Summer, but she completely runs away with this film.
This is the point in the review where I’m supposed to wring my hands about a 12-year old girl killing people on screen and dropping profanity, but you can probably surmise I had less of a problem with it than Roger Ebert. Maybe it’s youthful indiscretion, a liberal temperament or 14 years of South Park, but a middle schooler with a potty mouth isn’t enough to offend me or I suspect much of the film’s intended audience. Both the (somewhat overstated) violence and vulgarity flow from the plot and are respectful of the character arc you’re encouraged to follow her on. Viewed in the context of the film, her actions add to the tone of the story, and more importantly the performance by Moretz is one of the highlights of the year thus far.
Visually, Matthew Vaughn crafts a gorgeous looking film that at once looks different than almost anything else around and yet familiar enough to make the audience feel at home. All of the leads, including Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Mark Strong take to their characters with an enthusiasm that makes the film a joy to watch. Succeeding where the Watchmen film couldn’t, Kick-Ass is an unrepentant great time at the movies, and simply a wonderfully made film.