I'm going to see Kick-Ass. So does it live up to the title or what?
Not much for easing into it, are you?
It's called Kick-Ass, man. I'm not buying a ticket for insight into the Human Dilemma or whatever. Skip the film-critic foreplay and review the fuckin' movie.
... Fair enough.
Yes, the movie lives up to its title. In fact, I'd go so far as to say the things these characters do with weapons remind me of the first time I ever saw Equilibrium or The Matrix. Vaughn even has a character specifically name-drop John Woo. This would be a huge act of chutzpah if he didn't have the clanging set of church bell balls necessary to actually achieve the sort of operatic bullet ballet of early 90s Woo.
I knew it! So if you had to give it a letter grade or whatever, we're looking at a "SHIT YEAH out of 10," right?
Well, wait a minute. Like even the best John Woo movies, there are pockets of cheesy, eye-rolling melodrama that seem to belong in a different, much worse movie. At first, we're firmly planted in a smartassed, but realistic world: Dave Lizewski is a dork who isn't special, isn't noticed, lives alone with his widowed dad, jerks off a lot and reads comics. One day, he decides that he should be a superhero, so he orders a wetsuit, puts on a mask and promptly gets his shit ruined. The first 20 minutes work as a winking deconstruction of the medium, a commentary on the silliness of superheroes. But director Matthew Vaughn loves him some fantasy. This is, after all, the guy who made Stardust, which was essentially a feature length love letter to The Princess Bride. At some point, he starts dialing back the realism and letting classic comic-book fantasy elements creep in. It occurs roughly around the point when Nicolas Cage first appears.
Oh yeah, Nicolas Cage is in this! Tell me he's as batshit insane as I'm hoping.
It's like he's channeling an unholy trinity of William Shatner, Adam West and Christopher Walken. He plays Big Daddy, a disgraced cop, framed by the city's crime boss. After being released from a five year bid in prison, he trains his 10-year-old daughter to be the sidekick Hit-Girl. Considering the Marvel pedigree of this film, I'll explain it like this: Imagine a "What If" issue where The Punisher was Alan Thicke, and Deadpool was Shirley Temple with Tourette's.
Due to a case of mistaken secret identities, Kick-Ass is forced to work with Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, and from there the film starts slowly cranking up the crazy, until it resembles a Looney Tune written by Frank Miller and directed by Steven Spielberg. It's socially irresponsible, morally irredeemable and pretty goddamned glorious to behold.
So then what's all that garbage about Melodramatic Hot Pockets or whatever you were saying earlier?
Don't get me wrong, the film bothers to create actual characters. For as crazy as Big Daddy and Hit-Girl are, their relationship has real love at the center of it, and they make it felt.
But contrary to early word out of SXSW this year, it's not the superhero movie that "changes the game." I don't think that was ever on the table, even if Mark Millar's source material could carry that much weight (and it can't), Kick-Ass the movie isn't really built for that. It feels more like Matthew Vaughn wanted to goose the genre a little, not subvert and rewrite it. Girls are gotten, speeches are made, vengeance is earned and kitties are rescued. Dramatically, Vaughn sometimes chooses to respectfully cop-out instead of disrespectfully kicking ass.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. Yeah, the movie spends a little too much time asking the audience to care whether Dave gets laid, and the soundtrack is filled with the same pseudo-Nickleback bullshit that plagued the Spider-Man movies. But other than a few dead spots weighed down with unearned gravitas, Kick-Ass does so. In fact, if I had to make a hasty judgment call that I'll probably revisit ruefully in a couple years, this easily makes the list of 10 best superhero films.
Top 10, huh?
Maybe even Top 5. Maybe.
OK, one last thing: This whole Hit-Girl controversy about her being sexualized jail-bait?
Oh, it's bullshit. The movie is too busy making Chloe Moretz into America's Cutest Homicidal Ninja Maniac to waste time tarting her up. Chris Hansen doesn't have to worry about skulking around the back of multiplexes with a camera-crew while this is in theaters. The only real negative I can foresee is this: It gives overweight cosplayers yet another inappropriate costume to squeeze into. Get ready for 35-year-old, 210-pound Hit-Girls haggling over back-issues at a Comic-Con near you.
So it's worth it, then?
It depends on whether you enjoy superheroes, smartassery, and inventive, gratuitous violence. Even if the world of undies-on-the-outside isn't grabbing you, the action sequences are smartly set up, elegantly choreographed and brutally paid off in a way that would make old-school John Woo proud he got a shout out.