With superhero movies on the rise from the early 2000s onward, it was inevitable that a deconstruction would come along. Kick-Ass, however, is itself based on a comic book, one by Mark Millar, a regular Marvel comics writer — and though creator-owned (which is to say, it’s legally Millar’s, not Marvel’s), it would later end up being published under one of Marvel’s imprints. I’ve never read the comic, but I was aware that it had garnered some praise.
The movie was one I was unsure about at first, which is why I didn’t see it in the theatres originally. But with it also being reasonably well-received, and the sequel out now, I felt it was time to remedy the oversight.
Kick-Ass is the story of high school student Dave Lizewski, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Dave is a social nobody, not even noticeable enough to be an outcast. Taylor-Johnson plays the role of the socially awkward dork with such natural ease that it may be authentic. Dave doesn’t live in a world of superheroes; he lives in the real world (well, OK, the Hollywood version of real). One day, Dave ponders with his friends about why nobody has ever tried being a superhero in real life; while superpowers are a fiction, costumes and the ability to help people anonymously isn’t necessarily so. Eventually, inevitably, he decides to do just that, ordering a wetsuit online to use as a costume, and goes out to fight crime as “Kick-Ass”. I’d say it goes about as well as you’d expect, only it doesn’t actually go even that well. I won’t spoil it except to say that there’s some good comedic timing in his first outing.
Eventually, Kick-Ass gives it another go, and discovers that he’s not the only one going out in costume. There’s also a father-daughter team known as “Big Daddy” and “Hit Girl”. Big Daddy is played by Nicolas Cage, and it’s a classic crazy Cage performance, one where he isn’t wild and over-the-top, but is simply so off-kilter that it’s hilarious to watch. Meanwhile, Hit Girl is played by Chloë Grace Moretz, which should give an idea of the character right there — Moretz wasn’t quite a teenager during filming, and Hit Girl is similarly young. As one person puts it, Big Daddy has effectively brainwashed her from a young age to be a crimefighter, and she is easily the most skilled combatant in the movie, as well as the most disturbing.
Little Miss Psycho
The lovingly deranged father-child relationship of Big Daddy and Hit Girl is paralleled on the villain side of things with the D’Amico crime family. Mark Strong plays Frank D’Amico, a drug kingpin who is becoming frustrated with the number of shipments being highjacked by costumed vigilantes. Christopher Mintz-Plasse plays his disaffected son. Chris D’Amico knows about his father’s drug operation, and he’s not upset by knowing his father is a criminal overlord… he would just like to feel included once in a while. The film is as full of dysfunctional family relationships as it is with action.
The action is interesting to quantify, because it feels as though director Matthew Vaughn made a point out of tailoring different action-directing styles to different characters. When Kick-Ass is fighting, his amateurishness is highlighted by a straightforward approach with the camera; the shooting technique doesn’t differ noticeably from when he’s just walking around. It only starts to get fancier when other people take notice and get excited by it, and even then it’s primarily through showing him on closed circuit camera feeds and video phone screens. It maintains a roughness to it that emphasizes that this isn’t a superhero fresh off the comics page. The more traditional, impressive action movie shots are reserved for when Hit Girl is in action, showing the greater degree of polish that comes from her training. Of course, this is still contrasted with the fact that this is a little girl. The scene where she lays waste to an apartment full of drug dealers to the tune of The Banana Splits Show is simultaneously impressive, disturbing, and hilarious.
And that, as much as anything, is a good way to look at Kick-Ass. It’s not for young children, despite featuring one; it features a lot of swearing and a lot of violence, and not just typical comic-book level violence. But it’s a fun action film, and a reasonably funny comedy. It’s a little difficult to get into at first, as the movie starts out stumbling as awkwardly as its main character does, but it comes together into an entertaining film as it goes on.