Have you ever wondered what it would be like if someone tried to be a superhero in real life? And I don’t mean like in Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies - the most realistic superhero movies that have been made to date - with all the cool gadgets and stuff, I mean if someone just put on a homemade costume and just started fighting bad guys without nothing more than some major overconfidence and their wits (and perhaps a pair of nun chucks) to give them an edge over their opponents. Well, you don’t have to wonder anymore because the latest superhero movie Kick-Ass, based on the ongoing creator owned comic series of the same name written by Mark Millar and illustrated by John Romita Jr., shows exactly what it would be like if someone really did try the superhero thing and it would be quite fun apparently. The road to getting the film made, though, has not been an easy one, with the project being rejected by all the major movie studios due to the rather graphic and perhaps controversial nature of some of the comic’s content and director Matthew Vaughn having to raise the $70 million production budget himself, the financing coming entirely from independent sources. This, however, is not at all a bad thing for the completed film as freedom from the constraints of studio imposed restrictions has allowed Vaughn to make the film exactly as he saw fit, and thus deliver something that is in no way diluted or cheapened by the interference of studio executives whose only interest is the bottom line.
A nerdy teen who's unfortunately “invisible to girls”, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a comic-book fanboy whose major obsession is superheroes and whose object of desire is the beautiful Katie Deauxma (Lyndsy Fonseca) who happens to think that he is gay, Dave has always wondered why we don't see superheroes in real life, and one day he decides to try it out for himself. With his home-made costume - a wet suit bought online - and weapons, Dave springs into action against some local hoodlums. Amazingly he survives, and is thrilled and amazed to find his life is changed forever. With his new superhero name 'Kick-Ass', Dave inspires an entire subculture of copycats, ranging from well-meaning do-gooders to crazed vigilantes, among them fledgling crime fighter Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) with whom he forms a friendship. Not only that but he also finds himself working alongside real superheroes in the form Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz), an 11-year-old sword-wielding dynamo, and her father, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) as he takes on the the forces of local mob boss Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong) who has resolved to wipe out the costumed crusaders. At first Dave thinks that “with no power comes no responsibility” but he soon learns that this is far from the case.
Director Matthew Vaughn is following in the footsteps of fellow Brit director Danny Boyle in proving to be extremely adept at a variety of genres. First, he won acclaim in the gangster genre with his directorial debut Layer Cake, then he enchanted viewers with his magical fantasy Stardust and now he has delivered one of the most original and most super superhero movies in a long time with Kick-Ass. And you probably thought that there was no originality left in the superhero genre. Here, Vaughn has delivered a film that is superb on every level. Featuring serious geek credentials in the form of numerous subtle (and some not so subtle) superhero and comic book references and in-jokes and being a sincerely faithful adaptation of writer Mark Millar’s comic series (unlike 2008’s rather unfaithful adaptation of his Wanted comic), this is a film that is guaranteed to please fans of the source material but at the same time there is plenty for the unitiated to enjoy as well. Several films in the past have attempted to combine superheroes and comedy or deconstruct the superhero genre and in most cases they have either failed or only been semi-successful in achieving this goal, e.g. Mystery Men and Watchmen, but Kick-Ass succeeds where they don’t, managing to be both hilariously funny and show superheroes in a whole new light. The approach taken here is one of realism and this allows for a superhero movie unlike most you have seen before. Even though some later scenes perhaps stretch believability slightly, pretty much everything you see happen in the film is stuff that really could happen. The superbly shot and choreographed fight and shootout sequences, which are thrilling, hilarious and brutally realistic in equal measure, are all things that are very plausible and could perhaps happen in real life. There are no super powered battles or anything, just violence that is brutal and bloody, but refreshing in that we see an undiluted representation of the brutal reality of what it would be like to be a superhero as opposed to the fantastical representation so many superhero movies show with their 12A fantasy comic book style violence - not all fun and games. Additionally, the fight sequences aren’t as clear cut as what we are used to seeing, with the fights not always turning out in favour in the hero. In fact, the first attempt by Kick-Ass at crimefighting ends in disaster, with him being beaten, stabbed and run over by a car. The dialogue too is every bit as refreshing and honest. Never shying away from crude language, more sensitive viewers may be offended by some of the things that are said, but every bit of dialogue sounds authentic and true to life, adding to the realism of it all. The characters too seem realistic. They do not have superpowers, in some cases they don’t even have good basic fighting skills and (a few exceptions aside) don’t have access to cool Batman style gadgets and gizmos. The heroes are just everyday people with everyday problems and this feeds into their lives, making for characters that are far better developed and have far more interesting dilemmas than your average superhero. As a result, the characters are much more relatable and believable, allowing a deeper level of audience empathy than in most comic book movies. Conversely, the villains are not over the top supervillains but rather just mob criminals, the kind of which you would find in the real world. Realism is also present in the way Kick-Ass becomes an internet phenomenon and an entire new wave of popular culture develops around him. If someone really did try to be a superhero this is exactly what would happen.
The film is technically excellent on every level, with Matthew Vaughn Jane Goldman’s screenplay being truly hilarious, tragic, exciting and realistic offering up a superbly coherent and well structured narrative, some very memorable, believable and profanity laden dialogue and plenty of well developed and authentic seeming characters. Vaughn’s direction is every bit as fantastic with the director bringing some real style to the production in the form of great continuity and editing, superb camera work and the incorporation of both comic book style text at points and a comic style sequence which fills out the backstory for Big Daddy and Hit Girl. The roles have been cast to perfection too. British actor Aaron Johnson is proving to be a very versatile actor. Just two years ago, he was playing the male romantic interest in Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, last year he played John Lennon in Nowhere Boy and now he absolutely excels in the role of Dave Lizewski. Not only does he nail the American accent but he also convincingly and humourously portrays both the geek and ‘tough guy’ sides of his character and proves very capable at everything that is required of him here, both the funny and the serious stuff. For all the strengths of his performance, though, he just does not compare to Chloë Grace Moretz, an extremely talented young actress who is fast becoming the early 21st century’s answer to Jodie Foster, not a child actress but a grown up actress in the body of a child. She delivers an extremely mature performance that is way beyond her years and perfectly captures the toughness of her character as well as the emotionally tormented side. She swears up a storm and some will be shocked at some of the language coming out of her mouth, particularly a mention of the c word, but it never seems gratuitous, rather making her damaged character all the more convincing. Moretz also shares a very good hero-hero/father-daughter dynamic with Nicolas Cage, the two being so perfect together that you could easily believe that they really are related. Cage too is excellent, taking a backseat in a supporting role for a change rather than being the leading man. His role here is perhaps one of his most perfectly cast parts in some time, combining his usual energy and superb entertaining abilities with his other, somewhat less seen acting abilities, with genuine emotion being portrayed in certain scenes. Mark Strong once again does the villain gang, being well cast in the criminal boss role, although not having quite the impact he could have due to having played the bad buy part quite a few times lately. Any such problems are not the fault of his performance here though, just that he doesn’t much particularly different this time round. Christopher Mintz-Plasse also delivers an enjoyable performance as the wannabe superhero who isn’t quite who seems to be. Finally, Lyndsy Fonseca is a very likable romantic interest and not merely a damsel in distress, and Clark Duke and Even Peters are also well cast as Dave’s geek friends Marty and Todd. Other recognisable faces putting in appearances are Dexter Fletcher and Jason Flemyng but little is made of either. Overall, Kick-Ass is a superhero film that genuinely does bring something new to the table. It offers a take on superheroes that seems fresh and original, is hilariousl, thrilling and even slightly tragic and is superbly made in every respect. Simply put, this is a film that truly does kick ass and the news that a sequel is already in the works already has this critic getting excited. With Iron Man 2 now less than a month away, April 2010 is set to be a stellar year for superhero movies.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)