I can't claim to be an aficionado of the comic-book Kick-Ass, written by Mark Millar
and John Romita (and in case you don't remember, don't worry, their names pop up as characters read the comic-book on screen, good tie in, I mean, in-joke), and I can't even speak entirely for what the man's talents as a writer are completely (other exposure would include his Superman: Red Son
comic, which was a fantastic 'else-world' book, and the adaptation of Wanted from 2008, which was... decent).
But what is here is the film, directed by Matthew Vaughn, on a rather gigantic wave of fan-boy buzz and hype. Character posters have appeared in subway stations and on internet sites, commercial emphasize the "Kick-Ass"-ed nature of the characters, and the trailer is juiced up to pump up the audience like there's no tomorrow. As a red-blooded 20-something going into the film, I had no expectations as to the total quality of the film, but I hoped for the best.
As it turns out, Kick-Ass is... just OK. That might be the worst thing Vaughn would want to hear, but it's what happens when one shoots so high with a high concept while also, as a director, not taking into account something as, say, originality. I don't mean in the premise itself, per-say, which concerns a teenage kid, Dave, who is just an average nerdy dude who gets picked on and whose mother died rather un-tragically from an aneurysm (oh, and he masturbates a lot, just thought I'd share that). He decides one day, 'hey, why doesn't someone just become a superhero?' Dave throws on a scuba suit, goes out into the world, and... gets his ass beaten down, a lot, like emergency-room suitable. But, as he says, like a good serial killer, he can't let go, and keeps going out, getting his ass kicked (and kicking a little bit here and there), and a video sparks him into the momentary flavor of the moment.
There is some satire present here in this concept, and with some of the other characters, like Mr. McCready and his daughter, Mindy, the former training the latter since birth to fight and, on occasion, be shot at like it's going to the park ("It's like getting punched in the chest," kindly Damon says). Whether this is all really top-notch satire it's hard to say; from the looks of material in Kick-Ass and Millar's previous adaptation Wanted it's easy to say that he's a big Fight Club fan, really, just a big comics fan since naturally he writes for them and wants to toy and see what makes the conventions kick. In fact I wasn't bothered so much by the Big Daddy/Hit Girl relationship... actually, that's a white lie. It is disturbing, particularly when set, at least at first, in something that really resembles a "real" world in the scope of a movie. But it's handled well in the sense that it's interesting - they're dynamic for their moments on screen.
I actually would want to see more of that, and see more of Hit Girl/Mindy developed. But then again, why have development (playing Devil's Advocate here) when you can just have Hit Girl by way of her father/mentor go around killing lots of people without much background in character. What ultimately comes up in the film is a sense of a shallow interpretation of the material, of it sliding into a weird region where it loses sense of any kind of reality based in its satire and becomes a derivative fan-boy genre wet dream. And I'm not trying to make hyperbole with that; Vaughn transforms his film, in the second half, after what has been a curious mixed-up but sometimes very funny story of misguided outcasts living vicariously through fantasy, into a genre knock-off. And not even that, but a Tarantino knock-off. By the time the Morricone music came up and the masses of guards arrived, only one thought creeped in my mind: At what point does Hit Girl join the Deadly Vipers?
The loss of originality in the direction, and moments of humor that fall flat, could be made up by the performances. As luck would have it, Nicolas Cage
does really rise up to the occasion (perhaps as he's such a comic-book fan himself that he really does get what Millar and Romita went for). He puts on a strange William Shatner type of inflection for stretches of time, and puts some serious emphasis into his characters own vendetta - his story makes up the crux of the film, getting vengeance at the gangster played by Mark Strong - and he gives a genuine piece of work, at times howlingly hysterical and dead-pan. Those who fare less well are Hit Girl, played by Chloe Moretz (though she does what she can), and especially the guy playing Kick-Ass. Even in scenes where I wanted to get behind the jokes, like the running side-story with Dave and the girl who thinks he's gay (a creep thing to do, but hey, he's a teen), I couldn't because it's just an unconvincing performance. Mint-Plasse as Red Mist doesn't fare much better, but the character is one-note anyway.
RATING: (HIGH) RENTAL
I wish I could get behind the film a lot more than I did. Yet, the longer it lingers in my mind after watching it, the less I think of it, favorably or negatively really. It will probably give its already solidified fans of the comic something to chew on, and maybe Vaughn can bring a few more into his cinematic fold. Little sparks of a fantastic commentary show up (perhaps media attention, which has some basis in fact, re: the story a year ago in Cincinatti where an actual guy named "Shadow Hare"
went out to try and fight crime, could have given some better focus). But overall, it doesn't really make its mark as its own genuine article, which is a shame.
PS: If you're wondering what the quoted line in the title of this blog refers to, well... you know that movie Batman? Yeah...