I know I’m the last person with an interest to see Kick-Ass — or as my ticket stub has it, “Kick A**” — but after all the good reviews, I decided to see it myself a couple of weeks ago.
I have little interest in the original comic book, which I haven’t read. I’m not a big fan of artist John Romita, Jr.’s post-‘80s work — after he started perfecting his own style — but he would have been the stronger draw for me. I have no sympathy for writer Mark Millar’s puerile (like CLiNT) cynicism and antagonism toward superheroes. If I hadn’t heard in Paul O’Brien’s comments that those tendencies were toned down, I still wouldn’t have seen the movie.
The superhero baiting is almost gone, but the cynicism is still strong. Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson) is Dave Lizewski, a high schooler who turns to crimefighting after one too many comic books and casual muggings. His first foray turns out badly after he’s stabbed and hit by a car, but his second battle gets noticed after New Yorkers more concerned with using their phones to record the fight than call 911 post the fight on the Internet. After that, he becomes a celebrity — or, I suppose, Internet famous.
There is, of course, an OLI44 — how could there not be, with high school and superheroes in one movie? But Kick-Ass handles romance like children handle everything, with a careless abandon that doesn’t care about fragility or value. Dave’s got a crush on Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca), and in a plot twist that would make the hackiest sitcom writer blush, Dave pretends to be gay when Katie is looking for a homosexual BFF. The relationship proceeds about how you would expect, given that setup and the romantic storyline’s secondary importance.
Let’s be clear: If this movie were solely about Dave as himself and as Kick-Ass, it would be forgettable. But two other very competent heroes steal the show: Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage). Big Daddy is an unjustly disgraced former cop, and Hit-Girl is his 11-year-old daughter. Hit-Girl and Big Daddy share a loving but disturbing bond, equal parts violence and sweetness. Big Daddy is a loving father focused on retribution for being framed by a mob boss, and Hit-Girl is a foul-mouthed prodigy of mayhem. Cage’s and Meretz’s performances are easily the best in the movie, and they manage to pull off the unlikely characters with a surprising ease. For some reason, Cage’s soft-spoken, caring character — who slips into an Adam West impersonation in his costumed persona — is no less shocking that Meretz’s high-pitched obscenities and endorsements of violence.
In interviews Millar has made many claims of realism, based around Kick-Ass’s non-superheroic hero. Do not believe those claims. There is little realism here. Yes, the movie stars a scuba-suited hero who gets the tar beaten out of him in most fights, but the movie also has a jet pack, an 11-year-old delivering debilitating punches to the face, and a bazooka attack in Manhattan apparently attracting no attention. That Kick-Ass doesn’t get beaten up simply for his stupid costume or by people wanting to prove they’re tough strains credibility.
But that’s not a criticism; that’s to the movie’s credit. The movie knows the superhero story, and it hits all the right notes all the way through. The action and stakes build until the cataclysmic end, and the fight scenes are exciting, well scripted and performed, and always filled with the promise of danger. Yes, the romance angle is forced, but the Katie’s reaction to one of Dave’s beatings is affecting. The violence is felt viscerally — each punch can almost be felt through the screen. The heroes are given stirring dramatic moments; at one point, the movie brilliantly uses an Ennio Morricone theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly as Hit-Girl begins the final assault. The origins, the learning curve, the secret ID, the family, the team-up, the betrayal — all the stock elements are here, and they’re here for a reason. The entire movie leaves a mark in the mind, taking the superhero story, reinforcing it, then punching you with it.
Is this as good as some comic fans are saying? No. But it is a very good movie, one that somehow manages to be better than the sum of (most of) its parts.
Rating: (4 of 5)