Aaron Johnson as Dave Lizewski / Kick-Ass
Chloe Moretz as Mindy Macready / Hit Girl
Nicolas Cage as Damon Macready / Big Daddy
Mark Strong as Frank D’Amico
Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Chris D’Amico / Red Mist
Lyndsy Fonseca as Katie Deauxma
Clark Duke as Marty
Evan Peters as Todd
Deborah Twiss as Mrs. Zane
Sophie Wu as Erika Cho
Garrett M. Brown as Mr. Lizewski
Elizabeth McGovern as Mrs. Lizewski
Kofi Natei as Rasul
Omar A. Soriano as Leroy
Xander Berkeley as Detective Gigante
Omari Hardwick as Sergeant Marcus Williams
Johnny Hopkins as 1st Gang Kid
Ohene Cornelius as 2nd Gang Kid
Michael Rispoli as Big Joe
Corey Johnson as Sporty Goon
Kenneth Simmons as Scary Goon
Anthony Desio as Baby Goon
Carlos Besse Peres as Buttons
Randall Batinkoff as Tre Fernandez
Dexter Fletcher as Cody
Russell Bentley as Medic
Jason Flemyng as Lobby Goon
Tamer Hassan as Matthew
Yancy Butler as Angie D’Amico
Adrian Martinez as Ginger Goon
Val Jobara as Nervous Goon
Tim Plester as Danil
Joe Bacino as Posh Goon
Hubert Boorder as Oscar Juarez
Craig Ferguson as Himself
Quinn Smith as Big Mean Boy
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Fun and entertaining in all the ways a violent R-rated action flick should be, but its unfocused structure creates a lull that almost kills the movie.
Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a young comic book nerd who decides that he should try to become a real-life superhero so he puts on a costume and goes out to fight crime, encountering other heroes like the father and daughter team of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), and Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), while at the same time making himself the target of angry mob boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong).
The problems adapting comic books and graphic novels to the screen are many, and it usually comes down to how faithful/reverential or not a filmmaker is to the source material. Matthew Vaughn and his screenwriter/producer Jane Goldman haven’t veered too far from Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s irreverent take on superheroes, maintaining the dark humor and violent action that made it such a hit. The eight issues of the first volume were a tight package that worked both serialized over two years and as a quickly read collection. Vaughn’s movie is generally best when it brings scenes directly from the page to life, and it’s far too obvious when the movie deviates from the comics, because it’s often where the pace drags to a halt. If you haven’t read the comic than maybe this won’t be so obvious, but this may be one of those cases where not reading the graphic novel beforehand will help not to set expectations too high.
The first half hour is almost identical to the comic where we learn how high school loser Dave Lizewski–well-played by Johnson–decides that he can do what he sees heroes doing in comic books only to have his first outing turn disastrous and nearly fatal. Months later, Dave has undergone extensive surgery and been retrofitted with so much metal inside him that he can no longer feel pain, and having not learned his lesson, he’s back on the streets to fight crime. Despite his enhancements, the self-named Kick-Ass is a complete disaster with a few skills, which becomes even more painfully obvious when he encounters the father-daughter team of Big Daddy and Hit Girl (Nicolas Cage and Chloe Moretz) who have been cleaning up the streets of crime, working far more covertly than Kick-Ass. Eventually, he meets and teams-up with Red Mist, a similarly minded and less than competent hero on the scene and the two are all over the news.
If you’ve read the graphic novel, you’ll pretty much know the story above as well as some of the key “surprises,” but the movie’s problems are most obvious as it enters the second act and starts deviating from the comic book. We won’t get too deep into those differences for those who haven’t read the original, but most of the decisions that falter involve changing the structure. For instance, the secondary characters are introduced much earlier in the story, cutting between them and Dave/Kick-Ass, which takes away from the big shocker when he learns about them for the first time. He still reacts the same way but by that point we already know who they are, more or less. “Kick-Ass” works when it’s told through Dave’s eyes, so to continually break away to try and develop other characters causes the movie to lose its focused point-of-view. Obviously, it’s a simple story that needs fleshing out to work as a movie, but so much needless characterization is added that the movie hits a serious lull after the first 45 minutes.
Part of that problem is the inevitable fact that Chloe Moretz’s Hit Girl completely steals the movie from the very second she shows up on screen, just like in the comic book. Like Uma Thurman’s “Kill Bill” character “The Bride” if she were 25 years younger, cutting a violent and bloody swath through the bad guys while swearing up a storm, her scenes have to be seen to be believed, because it’s akin to the first time you saw Bruce Lee or Jet Li or Jackie Chan in action.
It’s another great example of Vaughn’s skills at casting, which are second to none, as seen by his previous two films and earlier productions. British actor Aaron Johnson does a fine job playing a typical American high school outcast, creating such a relatable main character, both in costume and out, especially during his skewed origin story, the parallels to Spider-Man being emphasized by Vaughn. Nic Cage’s performance as Big Daddy is just odd even by Cage’s standards. It’s certainly entertaining to see him in the überhero role, but he tends to ham it up, at times being so clearly influenced by Adam West’s Batman that it seems out of place in the overall tone of the movie. Mark Strong has proven his skills as a villain countless times now, but his Vic D’Amico is very different from ones he’s played before, yet equally memorable, because he plays it just over-the-top enough to work. (There’s little question that Strong is well on his way to becoming one of those venerable actors like Stanley Tucci who is good in anything and everything they do.) Christopher Mintz-Plasse probably wasn’t the best casting choice for Red Mist, since he plays up the “McLovinesque” super-nerd aspect of his character too much; that’s actually the entire joke about his character but he inadvertently makes Dave seem much cooler by comparison.
Otherwise, it never feels like Vaughn is trying very hard to create his own visual style or directorial identity. So much of the best parts of the movie are taken verbatim from the comic while others pay tribute to other filmmakers, especially Quentin Tarantino. The violent action scenes are nothing short of amazing, but it doesn’t help that while a katana-wielding Hit Girl takes out bad guys, Vaughn uses similar ’60s surf music to “Kill Bill.” In another scene, Vaughn swipes music used in “28 Days Later” to build tension during one of Big Daddy’s key fight sequences. One presumes anyone interested in an ultra-violent R-rated action flick like “Kick-Ass” will already be familiar with Vaughn’s lack of originality. (Those two musical cues are the worst culprits, and the other musical choices range from the inspired to the insipid.)
At a certain point, the movie needs to get serious, but Vaughn spends so much time with the snarky humor, it’s hard to take the tenser third act moments seriously. Fortunately, it all ends with a bang, like a shaky gymnastics routine that delivers such a perfect landing, you immediately forgive those moments that didn’t work. It’s the best way to win back the crowd with an action-packed blow-out that allows Hit Girl to take out more of D’Amico’s goons in her inimitable way. It’s just a shame we don’t arrive at that point earlier; cutting out twenty minutes of needless characterization for the secondary cast would have made this a much better action flick.
The Bottom Line:
As a stand-alone movie, “Kick-Ass” works similarly to the comics, offering snarky fun and violent entertainment that retains Millar’s sick sense of humor throughout. The first half hour is amazing in that respect, as is the ending, but there’s a lot of needless storytelling fat in the middle that comes close to ruining the movie. With that in mind, we recommend you see and enjoy the movie but then go to your local comic shop and shell out $25 for the hardcover to see how this story can be told more efficiently.