'Kick-Ass' Review: When Playing Super Hero Gets Real
The bottom line of this review is a foregone conclusion. Kick-Ass is the greatest superhero film ever made. It marches proudly with the wide-eyed splendor that made the original Raimi-helmed Spider-Man so memorable, mixed with the slick violence and glee that made the earlier Guy Ritchie films landmarks. If you agree, let's spend some time basking in it's glory. If you disagree read on to get your weekly fill of rage. Oh and be sure to tell me all about how wrong I am in the comments. I'll see you there.
It's a familiar origin story with a slight twist. The inception of Kick-Ass isn't a freak science accident or a noble birth on an alien planet, but rather the desire of one kid to try to be a superhero. His super power is the nerve damage he incurs after his first attempt at heroics, allowing him to take a serious beating without feeling the damage that's been done to him. His initial validation is the number of friends on his MySpace page (a dated reference even when the film was released, but let's let it slide) and his goal is to win the heart of the girl he has a crush on. His motivation to step up his game, is that people think he's gay. It's got all the hallmarks of what makes the gleeful teenage escapism of comics great, but without the easy in. Kick-Ass can't magically become powerful. He gains no power no matter his fame, and when fe finally decides to step out and fight crime on behalf of his crush, he immediately sees that he's a fraud. He meets the real deal; Hit Girl and Big Daddy, a psychopathic vigilante crew with a real axe to grind, and the weapons and skills to do it in the most brutal way.
The first time I watched this, the introduction of Nicholas Cage as Big Daddy/ Brian Macready was a complete surprise to me. He wasn't involved in the marketing or advertising, and when he pulled out a gun and told his daughter it would feel like a punch, and a shot into the chest after calling her "Baby Doll," I was on board. On repeat viewings his unveiling is so much more than that. Just as Kick-Ass decides to don the mask, we see the reality of the world he's stepping into. We see a man shoot his own daughter because he knows what she's up against. He does it with a casual attitude that offsets the world we've seen. With the same casualness that Mr. Lizewski (Garrett M. Brown) asks his son if the honey bee on the box of cereal they're eating has changed, Macready shoots his daughter in the chest. This is the morning routine of real vigilantes. At this point we don't know why either of them are so fanatical, but we see that Dave Lizewski isn't ready to be Kick-Ass. He wants the fame and he wants the girl, but he's not ready to pull the trigger.
Nicholas Cage is one of my all-time favorite actors. Good enough for me to hyphenate all-time. And in this film he kills it as a begrudged comic-fanatic-police officer who was wronged by the wrong guy. His portrayal of a father is Leave it to Beaver levels of sweetness. He never swears, he never is mean to his daughter, but on the same turn he's training her to kill. He's cold blooded. He wants his daughter to be the same way. He previously was a cop who was framed by villain and crime boss Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong). After his wrongful imprisonment his wife overdosed on pills while pregnant with his daughter. That's the birth of the true hero of the film. Hit Girl.
Hit Girl is born out of vengeance. She wasn't a teen who decided to make the world better, she wasn't a father who lost his wife. She's clean. She was born to do one thing, kill Frank D'Amico. What I love about this film is that it's operating on all levels of super hero awesomeness at the same time. We have a compelling origin/coming of age story in Kick-Ass. There's an ongoing Batman style revenge story in Big Daddy/ Brian MaCready. On top of that we see a heroine realizing her full potential after inception with the incredible performance of Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit Girl. She was born to avenge the killers of her parents, and not only has the ability but the will.
We also get a glorious super villain birth in the 'daddy don't you want me' plot of Chris D'Amico, the son of the films villain. I just want to pause for a moment to reflect on how many heroic arcs are started and completed in this film. It's an Avengers style task accomplished with half the baggage and done with so much electricity and synergy between the actors, direction and editing, that I can't help but marvel at the structure. The guide lines holding this thing together are delicate, but definite. Each character is on a path born of some larger destiny, and they all walk the rope to the bitter end. It's truly a great super hero film.
I could go on. I could tell you about Matthew Vaughn's vibrant color palette, and the great use of non-diegetic sound that brings excitement and evens the tone wonderfully, or about the virtues of Clark Duke as a comic relief character, but I think I've hit the epic huge virtues of the film, plus, you've already seen it. Watch it again. If you haven't seen it, I hope I've enticed you. Watch it.
Final Say: Watch It