By Brian Lafferty
April 16, 2010 (San Diego’s East County) -- Kick-Ass is not your typical superhero. He doesn’t have any special powers and he lacks strength. His costume is a garish green wet suit with yellow stripes. He is deathly afraid of heights. This movie is one of the more interesting of its kind: an existential portrait of a tortured superhero.
The person inside wet suit is a teenager named Dave (Aaron Johnson), a geek who knows a lot about comic books. He is virtually invisible at school and he nurses a crush on Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca). One day he decides to become a superhero. His motivation has nothing to do with revenge; his mother died of an aneurism, not a gunshot in an alley.
Kick-Ass quickly becomes popular after cell phone footage of him taking on two gang members makes the Internet rounds. His vigilantism quickly catches the eye of a powerful crime syndicate leader (Mark Strong) after he learns several of his men died. He thinks it was Kick-Ass when it was really the more powerful father-daughter superhero combo Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz).
Kick-Ass is an ultraviolent movie. Throats get slashed, people get shot in the head, among other things. Yet, director Matthew Vaughn does something that not only softens the edge of the violence but makes it funny. He uses soft, light music as well as some well-picked rock music tracks from such artists as Joan Jett, in the more violent action scenes.
Many comic book movies are grounded in fantasy. Not Kick-Ass. The situations the characters encounter are realistic, especially during the fight scenes. While Batman often overpowers even the most dangerous henchmen with ease, the thugs Kick-Ass fight always have the upper hand. Even when Kick-Ass does win, he has to earn it but not without a lot of bumps and bruises.
The emphasis is mostly on the characters, as opposed to the action. Dave leads a typical teenage life full of angst, which quickly becomes exacerbated when he begins donning the costume. Everybody at school, including Katie, thinks he’s gay after he concocts a cover story to hide his secret identity. He has very few friends. He starts doubting himself when he sees Big Daddy and Hit-Girl do a better job at fighting bad guys than he feels he ever can.
There are many moments of humor, many of which involve Big Daddy and Hit-Girl. In one scene, Damon Macready (Big Daddy) trains his daughter Mindy (Hit-Girl) to withstand gunshots. To demonstrate, he takes a gun and shoots her in the chest (Mindy, of course, wears a bullet-proof vest). In most other hands this could be reprehensible and sleazy but the direction of Matthew Vaughn and the acting by Cage and Moretz make it funny.
Matthew Vaughn, the director and co-screenwriter of this picture, has proven himself to be mostly adept at handling complex stories. His first picture was Layer Cake, which was loved by many people but not me. Stardust I liked better for the same reasons I liked Kick-Ass. Both movies are adaptations, contain multiple, meaty storylines, are populated with three-dimensional characters, and contain a unique take on their respective genres. I can’t wait to see his next film, which hopefully will kick some ass.
A Lionsgate release. Director: Matthew Vaughn. Screenplay: Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, based on the comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. Original Music: Marius De Vries, Ilan Eshkeri, Henry Jackman, and John Murphy. Cinematography: Ben Davis. Cast: Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloe Grace Moretz, Mark Strong, and Nicolas Cage. Running Time: 117 minutes. Rated R.