(Matthew Vaughn, 2010)
I think it’s safe to say that one of the most prominent and notable film sub-genres to have emerged this past decade is the superhero movie. Sure, there has been a Superman here, a Batman there, but they were few and far between. But around 2000 when the first X-Men movie came out, and even more notably in 2002 when the first Spider-Man film came out and broke numerous box office records, it became apparent that this was a surefire way to make a blockbuster, and studios have made billions of dollars over these years, thanks to literally dozens of superhero movies and comic book adaptations, and even more proposed for both the near and distant future. Like anything that shows up so suddenly and with such brute force, it only took a few years for the products to begin to fluctuate and waver in quality. Movies like Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and others started to show signs that the genre, with its “origin story” requirements and “super villain”-involved plot restrictions, could only go so far, and only has so much to offer. As these limitations begin to become quite apparent, new, fresh approaches to the genre take center stage. Films such as The Dark Knight prove that there are ways to transcend the genre and enter unprecedented realms of quality. And then there is Kick-Ass, quite an odd, peculiar little film, and dare I say, the beginning of a whole new wave in the superhero sub-genre, which also includes the recently released Defendor, and the upcoming Scott Pilgrim.
I should mention say that, first and foremost, this is an irresistibly entertaining film. It is really funny, the characters are very endearing, convincing, and extremely easy to connect to, and the action scenes are impeccably well conceived, shot and choreographed. If anything, it is just a fun, enjoyable romp of a film. But it is also so much more than that. Probably my favorite aspect of the film is that it manages to adhere to and stay loyal to the rules and regulations of the comic book superhero genre but, at the same time, turn them all on their head. On the one hand, we have the basic formula of the superhero film: an evil organization with a nasty villain at its head, stages of self-discovery, loss of faith, low-point slump but eventual overcoming of obstacles and triumph. But then again, it features a cast of characters completely devoid of super-powers: our protagonist is just a regular, below-average comic book geek who decides to take matters into his own hands and express himself in a peculiar and unexpected way. On his first night out “fighting crime”, he gets beaten up so bad he is hospitalized. Two characters in the film can be seen as possessing some sort of heightened abilities – Big Daddy and Hit Girl are quite proficient at gunplay, weapon handling, acrobatics, and killing. But these characters, especially Big Daddy, are portrayed as nothing less than bloodthirsty psychopaths. They are not out to fight crime; they are out to fulfill a wild revenge fantasy. They revel in murder and disembowelment. And the film does not spare us when it comes to showing their graphically violent escapades. For a villain, we are treated to a character that, at first glance, seems like a stereotypical New York City mob boss. But we soon discover his relationship with his son, which is surprisingly realistic, tender, and protective. He genuinely cares for the boy, and their relationship quickly becomes one of the more fascinating elements of the film.
But truly, it’s impossible to discuss this movie without talking about the main attraction, the star of the show. Although she is not the protagonist, it’s hard to deny that Hit-Girl is the most impressionable, memorable, and brilliantly crafted character in the film. The mere concept of a 10-year-old girl talking with a foul mouth, using the most crass and taboo of language, and displaying an impeccable proficiency at shooting, stabbing, choking, and in general, of taking down and killing individuals twice her size and strength is nothing short of genius. And young Chloe Moretz deserves all the credit for playing this character with the kind of devotion and conviction and believability that one would expect from an adult actor but not someone as young as she. I predict a healthy future for Moretz, if she keeps making great career choices like this one. But she isn’t alone in the film: all the actors, both famous and less known, do fantastic jobs in their respective roles. First and foremost is Aaron Johnson, a Brit, who plays the role of Dave “Kick-Ass” Lizewski, a wiry, insecure, geeky American teen who decides to put on a wetsuit and go out on the streets to fight crime, and does a fantastic job at it. He is an easily identifiable protagonist and we warm up to him immediately, and his conviction certainly manages to carry the audience through the film. Mark Strong is, as usual, simply delicious as the villain: he may be typecast, but there’s a reason for that: he simply revels and always shines in these roles, although he is even more interesting when he’s performing high drama. Christopher Mintz-Plasse proves once again, after he had already done so previously Role Models, that he is much more than a one-note wonder, and that he has no problem breaking away from his debut role and not being typecast as the “McLovin” type. His character, like the others, is intriguingly multi-layered, and he, too, plays with utter conviction and believability. And topping it all of is Nicolas Cage, who takes an uncharacteristic supporting role but truly shines as the manic, obsessive, borderline-psychopathic Big Daddy, whose love for his daughter – whom he teaches the violent, brutal, vulgar way of the world – is the only sign that he is still human.
Kick-Ass is certainly an odd bird of a film. On the one hand, it is a realistic and hilariously charming depiction of what would happen if some frustrated geek just decided to one day put on a superhero outfit and walk the streets, helping people in need. Of course he would become an Internet sensation, of course he would use MySpace to receive requests, of course he would be beaten to a pulp the first few times. But on the other hand, it is also a very campy and stylish comic-book film, featuring caricature villains, over-the-top stunts and colorful alter egos. On the one hand, it is a tender but completely disturbing account of a loving but psychopathic father who coerces his pre-pubescent daughter into helping him seek vengeance against the man responsible for framing him and killing his wife. On the other hand, it is a wild, hilarious, action-packed, ultra-violent adrenaline rush. With endearing, memorable characters, whole-hearted performances, a hilarious script and top-notch production values – the musical cues, the cinematography, the visual effects – Kick-Ass is not only a great entertainment, but also the shoe-horn for a new kind of superhero movie: one that doesn’t take itself too seriously, one that revels in its own exaggerated, over-the-top, comic-book-rooted elements, and one that I suspect we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of in the future.