Review: Kick-Ass

“Tool up, honey bunny;  it’s time to get the bad guys.”

While a lot of attention will be paid to the kids (and how they act out) in Matthew Vaughan’s comic adaptation Kick-Ass, it’s Nicolas Cage as Damon MacReady, aka Big Daddy, who deserves the attention.  Coming across as a weird hybrid of Adam West and Bill Bixby (from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, not The Incredible Hulk), Cage makes a terrific domestic goody-two-shoes imbued with soldier-of-fortune mania.  Big Daddy wears a costume very close to the contemporary Batman’s which is part of the joke, but he’s a hoot to watch and gives the film its best comic punches.

The rest of the film is an uneven mix.  Action scenes are thrilling, but easily forgettable.  Characters are good-natured but bland.  And the excesses of violence and language used by a 10-year-old girl with an apparent bloodlust greater than the film’s villains seems giddily perverse at first, but soon leaves you somewhat queasy when you consider the implications of such behavior.

Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a very neutral kid.  He isn’t a complete loser but he’s also hardly noticed by anyone other than his closest friends, including pretty Katie Deauxma (Lyndsy Fonseca), who  looks right past him in high school hallways.  Dave asks the crucial, plot-driving question: why hasn’t anyone tried to be a superhero? And then, one day he just goes out and gets a diving suit and a pair of beat-down sticks, and tries his hand at fighting crime.

And he gets brutally, miserably beaten for his trouble.

Months later, all the nerve damage and numerous metal pins in his body make Dave impervious to pain, allowing him to take another shot at being a masked avenger.  Soon after some fortuitous YouTube footage propels him into the public eye, he comes into contact with Big Daddy and his daughter, Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), as well as Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who goes by the name Red Mist.  Problem is, D’Amico’s father Frank (Mark Strong) is the boss of all crime bosses in town, and Big Daddy’s number one target.

While Mark Millar’s comics (including the far different, far better Wanted) are often quite subversive and achingly graphic, Kick-Ass manages to get enough right that it can be very entertaining without straying too far from the core of the story.  The film never lags or feels silly; its darker moments are frequently jarring and funny, and its action hits hard and fast.  But there is that cautionary factor: do we really need a film where a pre-teen admonishes criminals with words that would make a shock jock blanch, just before murdering them by the dozens?  There is no remorse, no sense that she understands what killing means in any way, or is troubled by her actions.  She is a pigtailed terminator with a sassy mouth.  And that makes for great entertainment until you step away and reconsider it.  Then you feel a little uneasy.

At the same time, give Kick-Ass credit for not being a safe, PG-13 kind of action, and for allowing people’s emotions to be tied into their actions.  The film knows how to be gritty, violent and funny, and at the same time not seem completely predictable or overly clever.  Vaughan’s latest is a rousing film that all of geekdom should be quite happy with.  For everyone else, it will likely be a toss-up, depending on how much adolescent vengeance they can stomach.