Movie Review – Kick-Ass (2010) [Nir Shalev]
by NIR SHALEV
Kick-Ass plays like an inappropriately disgusting joke; some will like it and some will hate it. There’s no middle ground and that’s due to the fact that it partly takes place in an alternate, fantastic universe, is filled with pop-cultural pomp, has cartoonish characters and is filled with slightly realistically gory violence. It is being described as “Kill Bill meets Superbad” and that’s a very accurate description. That’s also where it mostly fails.
Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust) and almost faithfully based on the graphic novel written by Mark Millar (“Wanted”), Kick-Ass is the story of what happens when a teenager, Dave Lizewski, wonders why superheroes don’t exist. His friends tell him that it’s because they’d get their butts kicked but Dave is crazy enough to try it anyway. He orders a green scuba suit from Ebay and roams the streets in search of helpless individuals that he might be able to assist. When he happens upon two men attempting to steal a car, he tries to persuade them not to do so and ends up being beaten to a pulp, stabbed, and finally, accidentally hit by a passing car. After having his skeletal joints refitted with metal components and losing feeling in his nerve endings, he hits the streets yet again and this time, when he happens upon a man being brutally beaten by three other men, he manages to defend him, although still receiving a good beating. The incident is recorded on a passerby’s phone camera and is plastered all over YouTube. Dave then creates a MySpace account for Kick-Ass, his alter ego, and basks in the grand fame.
But another pair of actual superheroes roam the streets and fight crime: Damon Macready/Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage), an ex cop and his eleven year old daughter Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz). Big Daddy’s beef is with the Italian-American mobster boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) and he and his daughter had been taking down his crime syndicate little by little. But due to a slight misinterpretation Frank D’Amico believes that Kick-Ass is behind the recent setbacks to his business and wages a war against him. At one point in the story, Kick-Ass, Big Daddy, and Hit-Girl inadvertently meet and decide to keep the others’ secrets while keeping communication between them a possibility.
There’s also Frank’s son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a spoiled brat that’s a wannabe gangster. He suggests to his father that the only way to capture Kick-Ass is by pretending to be the newest superhero on the beat and earning his trust. He creates his own alter ego Red Mist, drives around in a nifty red Ford Mustang, and has a GPS system built in along with an iPod docked where he can check up on his own website for any citizens needing help. The movie grows very violent from there, as if it wasn’t violent already.
The problems with the film are not in the story but in everything that makes a graphic novel work where a movie doesn’t. Millar’s original work was colorful and unabashedly gruesome, but since it was just a comic it worked. The characters were realistic, even though the situations weren’t, and they had great character arcs. For example: shortly after receiving acclaim as Kick-Ass, Dave gains a girlfriend in school because she thinks that he’s gay (due to an unimportant reason). He continues to pretend to be gay just so he can spend time with her and the longer that the charade continues, the harder it’d be for him to confront her with the truth. In the comic, Dave eventually confesses to her the truth and she dumps him; it makes sense. In the film, after confronting him they make love and grow more romantically linked. Huh….
The film takes itself too seriously most of the time. It believes in what it preaches and continually contradicts itself. The characters are unrealistic and don’t develop at all, except, surprisingly for Chris D’Amico, and the film’s scenes of action are video game-like bouts containing excessive gruesome violence. Limbs are chopped off, brains are splattered, bloods sprays everywhere, and all thanks to a murderous eleven year old girl. It’s difficult to side with her as a mature adult, but as a child it’s awesome. And there, another contradiction appears, that this film is rated “R” and is not intended for anyone below the age of eighteen. So who is this film intended for?
We see that Dave is human because of all of the beating that he receives; we see that the bad guys being mutilated are human because of the pain we hear in their screams and the blood that hits the walls; and we see Frank D’Amico beating up Hit-Girl towards the end of the film and we feel disgusted that an eleven year old girl is being pounded to the ground. As the film progresses we are not thinking of the graphic novels that this film is based on and the level of reality contradicts the stylish violence.
Lastly, the pacing is uneven. Between pop cultural jokes and an eleven year old dropping c-words and f-bombs we have undeveloped “caricatures” that exist in a fantasy world. Nothing in this film resembles a shred of reality and most of the performances are bland, to say so at the least. The only redeeming value, personally, is the work of Mark Strong (Rocknrolla, Sherlock Holmes). His Brooklyn accent is spot on perfect and he never breaks out of character. Frank D’Amico is a great example of the definitive bad guy but therein lies another contradiction: he cannot exist in this fantasy world because his performance is, although slightly goofy, grounded in a sort of reality.
This movie is a gigantic mess from the get-go and those audience members that love video games and treat them as a form of art will love this film. There is nothing about this film that I can defend or praise nor do I expect to enter debates with others. I see it as a failure and completely detest it. There are many films out there that deal with a similar subject matter, films that can be easily found in your local video store. I say, save your money and rent those instead.
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Tom felt much the same way about Wanted, also adapted from a Mark Millar comic, as Nir feels about Kick-Ass.