Friday 2 April 2010

Kick-Ass (2010)

Friday 2 April 2010
DIRECTOR: Matthew Vaughn
WRITERS: Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn (based on the comic-book by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr.)
CAST: Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Chloe Moretz, Mark Strong, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Lyndsy Fonseca, Yancy Butler, Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Clark Duke, Evan Peters, Xander Berkeley & Omari Hardwick
RUNNING TIME: 117 mins. BUDGET: $28 million
Created in tandem with Mark Millar and John Romita Jr's comic-book series, Matthew Vaughn's Kick-Ass is the latest in a trend of superhero fiction to put a post-modern twist on the form's tropes and lore. Here the question is: what would happen if real people decided to pull on face-masks and fight crime as superheroes? The film abandoned a lot of early promise of social commentary and realism, becoming progressively more cartoonish as it hums along, but I doubt many will complain about its bubblegum sensibility.

Peter Parker analog Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) -- the archetypal geek who's infatuated by a high school hottie (Lyndsy Fonseca's Mary Jane Katie) -- becomes the titular "Kick-Ass" after ordering a green wetsuit online, gripped by a lifelong fantasy of becoming a masked avenger and fighting injustice, armed only with two night sticks and his mouse-that-roared spirit. After his alter ego's debut ends with a stabbing and hospitalization, Dave's broken body is pieced together with metal plates and bolts (a nod to Marvel's adamantium-enhanced Wolverine), and damaged nerve endings give him the "superpower" to withstand pain. Consequently, the "reborn" Kick-Ass manages to defeat a three-man gang outside a late-night diner, and a video of his triumph becomes an internet phenomenon, turning him an overnight cult hero, and encouraging Dave to offer his services as a dorky vigilante via MySpace.

Complications arise when ruthless mobster Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong) mistakenly attributes the death of some of his goons to Kick-Ass, vowing to end this emboldened teen's exploits, unaware that the real assassins were an unassociated duo of genuine caped crazies: middle-aged, Batman-clone "Big Daddy" (Nicolas Cage), and sword-wielding 11-year-old "Hit-Girl" (Chloë Grace Moretz), a father and daughter combo with a specific reason for targeting D'Amico's crime syndicate. Meanwhile, D'Amico's own nerdy progeny, lonely rich kid Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), sees an opportunity to make his daddy proud by going undercover as wannabe-sidekick "Red Mist", to befriend Kick-Ass and lure him into a trap.

Kick-Ass is in danger of becoming a victim of hyperbole it can't live up to, so I recommend lowering expectations. This isn't the powder keg Spider-Man-meets-Kill Bill fusion a lot of people are hankering for, but it's certainly a fun movie that manages to translate its source material very well (although the book's ultra-violence is meaner and grislier.) The casting is the film's biggest success, with Johnson (Nowhere Boy) perfecting an American accent to become a geek with more credibility and likeability than Toby Maguire's mopey webslinger, playing a superhero whose physical safety you fear for at every turn.

Self-confessed comic-book afficionado Nicolas Cage, who's hungering for a superhero movie role that doesn't stain his resume (and has found it at long last here), does a great job playing a deranged father who's brainwashed his own child to become an instrument of his revenge. Cage has particular fun dressing as a makeshift Nolan-era Batman, coupled with Adam West's fluctuant line delivery. Strong (typecast as villains already) does a good job as the clichéd kingpin, while Mintz-Plasse nabs his best role since Superbad's inestimable McLovin, although he'll probably be explored better in a sequel.

But it's Chloe Moretz who burns herself into your memory, and not solely because her character Hit-Girl's the film's polarizing, morally-questionable creation. Moretz is one of those unnervingly talented child stars that have a self-assurance way beyond their years (she was 11 when filming began, she's 13 now.) As Mindy Macready, Moretz provides a sublime mix of gawky misfit and pigtailed innocence, often exploding into a violet ball of violence; hacking, slicing and chopping bad guys to death, punctuating her slaughter with a curled lip profanity or three. She steals every scene she's in, and not just because she's the obvious hand grenade thrown into the cocktail, but because she's just so damn charismatic in the quiet, goofier moments, too.

What stops Kick-Ass being the unblemished success it could have been, boils down to a few things: the first act is a deft balance of snarky teen-comedy, which gives way to increasingly silly nonsense; Kick-Ass himself has no tangible connection to the film's villain (he falls into the plot thanks to mistaken identity), so it's the supporting players of the Macready's who actually have more reason to be considered the leads, thus making the film feel a touch unbalanced; and D'Amico has no complexity or villainous plot that needed thwarting, so the whole thing boils down to a D'Amico/Macready grudge match. Still, while it narratively doesn't amount to a whole lot, and a few characters are wasted, it packs enough laughs and violence to satisfy the core audience, gives cinema an instant cult heroine in Hit-Girl, and proves that Matthew Vaughn (Guy Ritchie's erstwhile producer) is very definitely a talent worth keeping an eye on. The fact Kick-Ass was financed and created outside of the Hollywood system is cause enough for celebration that it turned out so well, and made the suits look foolish for refusing to fund it.