Directed by Matthew Vaughn
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: