A dear friend of mine won tickets to the premiere of the motion picture Kick Ass last Tuesday. Today, it opens nation-wide. This review will contain spoilers but only later. And I will warn you...
Some folks seem a tad confused about the premise, but here it is. This teenage guy with a lot of idealism and a lot of imagination decides to try and become a superhero. No, he has no powers (well, he ends up with an advantage, but well within the realm of the possible). As you can see from the trailers, he dons a costume and starts helping people. This is captured on video, ending up on YouTube where he becomes a massive "thing". Along the way he stumbles onto a much more serious variation of the same trope--a father and daughter team (Big Daddy and Hit Girl) out to take down a major crime lord. They are hardcore, and take a liking to the other nascent superhero.
As plots go, that sounds fine but let me assure you there's a lot more to this than a cool-sounding plot. For one thing, there are the characters. Nicholas Cage's Big Daddy comes across as a blend of two Batmans--that of Adam West and Christian Bale. Think about that for a moment. Now add a dash of Mr. Rogers. I'm not kidding. And it works. Brilliantly. Most folks I spoke with agree that Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl steals the flick, not only with incredible (and very, very violent) fight scenes but with the attitude that carries it off. Frankly, this role easily lends itself to gags but instead came across as a real person. The central character, however, remains Aaron Johnson's Kick Ass. Without him, the story just doesn't hold together at all. That it does is a fine testimony to his abilities as an actor as well as the quality of the script.
Kick Ass is also a comedy, one quite dark at times and more than a little violent. In this respect it more closely resembles Watchmen rather than The Dark Knight. If anything it has a sense of fun akin to the Iron Man or Spiderman movies. People die in this flick. Blood goes flying, sometimes spraying, and there are guts to be seen. Some are tortured. More, the whole flick manages a tricky balancing act between the complementary tones of fierce and inspiring humor.
Okay, the spoilers are now ahoy. You have been warned.
After watching (and if case you hadn't guessed, roundly enjoying) this film I looked up the comic book online--which was developed more-or-less at the same time. Interestingly, I found the one totally off-note in the whole thing was a change from the book--one of the relative few such. Quite simply, Dave (aka Kick Ass) has a bit of a crush on one of the popular girls at his NYC high school. Been there, done that. His first outing in his new crime-fighting outfit results in a trip to the hospital--which incidentally gives him metal plates on his bones and enough nerve damage to withstand more pain than usual. It also sparks a weird rumor at school--namely, that he is gay. Katie (played by Lyndsy Fonesca) turns out to have something of a "lost dog syndrome" and befriends him precisely because she believes the rumors. He understandably (being a teenager and stoopid that way as most of us were) goes along with this in hopes of spending time with her.
What strikes the vastly false note is that when he finally tells her the truth, she forgives his deceit in about seven seconds. Uh, no. I'll buy that she might have a change of heart later, but not so soon and frankly not without something serious to change the paradigm. Teenage girls are not as a rule much more mature than teenage boys, if at all. This feels like the equivalent of a brownie served atop your medium-rare steak. Ick.
It stands out even more when you consider how many chances this film takes!
When Kick Ass and Big Daddy are betrayed, with Hit Girl left for dead (except we know she survived because she's wearing kelvar), the Crimelord's goons stage a gruesome execution for the two heros. We know Hit Girl will rescue them. What shocked me was that she wasn't able to save her father. He dies from wounds suffered after being set on fire! A very effective scene, and not a little daring. Especially amid the copious humor amid the rest of the movie (but then, real tension and danger and suffering makes humor funnier if you do it right). Keep in mind the writer of the comic book is none other than Mark Miller, creator of Wanted.
All in all, I would give this movie a B+ and put it among the very best superhero films made so far. Kudos to the filmmakers!