Saturday, December 4, 2010

"Kick-Ass" (2010)

Starring Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz and Nicholas Cage
Written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn
Directed by Matthew Vaughn

I have a very shaky relationship with Mark Millar.  He seems to come up with great ideas, but then ruins a lot of them in the execution in one way or another.  I found "The Ultimates" to be a fairly enjoyable update of Marvel Comics' "Avengers."  But "Wanted" disgusted me, going beyond a mere deconstruction of superhero comics and into the realm of overt sadism. 

It was with some trepidation, then, that I approached "Kick-Ass," a film by Matthew Vaughn based on Millar's comic of the same name.  "Kick-Ass" is the story of a kid named Dave (Aaron Johnson) who decides he wants to try being a superhero.  Of course, the real problem is that Dave has no superpowers of any kind, and he's not particularly athletic in any fashion, either.  But he is driven, and dressing up in a silly costume energizes him.  He quickly finds that he's in over his head when he attempts to stop a car theft and gets stabbed in the gut and hit by a car. 

A little while later, he's almost fully recovered from this first encounter - now his body has several metal plates in it to shore up his bones, and nerve damage means he doesn't feel pain the way he used to.  He decides to continue being Kick-Ass, and finally gets his break when he defends a man from three gang members.  Several bystanders record the incident and put it on YouTube.  Even though Kick-Ass mostly gets his ass kicked, he does manage to drive off the gang members and come up on top.  Soon enough, he's become something of a celebrity. 

Meanwhile, we're introduced to Big Daddy and Hit Girl (Nicholas Cage and Chloe Moretz) a father and daughter who are working to bring down the criminal drug empire of Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong).  Big Daddy is a former cop framed by D'Amico and sent to jail.  When he gets out, he raises his daughter Mindy to become a fighter like him, training her in martial arts and weaponry and the like in order for her to help him take down D'Amico for ruining their lives.  They go around killing D'Amico's men and interrupting his organization at every turn.  Unfortunately, D'Amico begins to believe that it is, in fact, Kick-Ass who has become the thorn in his side.

Soon enough, while Kick-Ass is on a mission attempting to protect a girl, he gets drawn into the ultra-violent war between Big Daddy, Hit Girl and D'Amico.  D'Amico, becoming more and more frustrated, ends up taking a suggestion from his young son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).  Chris sets up his own superhero persona to draw Kick-Ass into a trap.  As the superhero life gets more dangerous, Dave begins to question his place in it - especially once he begins dating his dream girl, Katie (Lindsay Fonseca).  But ultimately, Dave begins to see the responsibility he has in all these events and has to rise up and become the badass he wishes he was... if he's going to survive.

I had trouble connecting with "Kick-Ass," despite how well produced it is.  The acting from the cast is fine, and the action sequences are really quite impressive, the whole thing is well-shot and edited and yet there's a disconnect somewhere between the material and the audience that I felt.  There are a lot of competing themes and storylines going on, and at the end of the day, something just doesn't gel.  The film starts out trying to play up the idea of superheroes in the real world, but by the end of the film, things have gone so far over the top and off the rails that it becomes what it was trying to deconstruct... and I'm not entirely certain whether that was a good idea or not.

Because, certainly, the action sequences the film presents are totally cool and really well done... but they're completely unrealistic in a movie that purports to want to be realistic.  It's this confusing kind of construction that I think works against "Kick-Ass," which, as I said, is otherwise quite well made.  Perhaps I'm just not getting it.  Sure, I had fun watching "Kick-Ass," but I think that it ultimately comes across as a missed opportunity.  It doesn't offend me the way the original "Wanted" comics did (the movie was almost entirely unrelated to the comics, and has its own problems).  But the muddled message certainly causes problems.

As I said, though, there's fun to be had.  The cast is into it.  Aaron Johnson makes an interesting teenage nerd who becomes a superhero.  He's a very Peter Parker-esque kind of presence, which is obviously what the filmmakers want to evoke, and in that sense it's a success.  Christopher Mintz-Plasse is probably always going to be stuck with "McLovin," which is kind of unfortunate because, like Michael Cera, he seems like a very nice guy.  His problem is that he can't seem to disappear into a role.  You're always aware that you're watching McLovin, with a lot of the same mannerisms and speech and movement. 

Nicholas Cage crafts two entirely separate performances within the same movie.  When he's out of costume, he plays Damon Macready as a bit shy, but a loving father.  In costume as Big Daddy, he suddenly begins to channel Adam West's 1960s interpretation of Batman, with overly dramatic, stilted speech.  Both are pretty damn hilarious, though.  As Hit Girl, Chloe Moretz gets to have tons of fun as a foul-mouthed, killer child.  All the best action sequences in the movie belong to her, as she expertly slaughters D'Amico's men while wearing a purple wig. 

There's all kinds of great fun to have in "Kick-Ass," but as a film, it's not quite a winner.  Something about it I couldn't connect with, even though I had fun watching the movie.