Kick-Ass: The Movie: The Review
"Kick-Ass," the big screen adaptation of the comic by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. had its world premiere last Friday at the South by Southwest Festival. It officially opens in theaters across the U.S. on April 16th, but ComicsAlliance is bringing you an early review of the movie. Be warned that that even if you've read the series, spoilers await in the review of the film that follows. So if you're comfortable with that, or if you simply can't contain your curiosity for a whole month more, read on.
Before I dive into the review of "Kick-Ass", the movie, I feel it's only right to talk about my feelings toward "Kick-Ass" the eight-issue comic mini-series. I was not a fan. I thought the title presented two interesting concepts: First, there was the idea of taking an ordinary guy who wanted to be a super-hero and seeing how dangerous and brutally violent attempting such a career would be in our own world -- treating it in the grimmest, most realistic and unforgiving manner possible; then there was the idea of having fun with people who were inspired by comic books to be super-heroes -- depicting the bloody consequences in the most ultra-violent, over-the-top way imaginable.
Unfortunately, these two perspectives worked in direct opposition to one another, meaning the more that Millar and Romita attempted to play up one, the harder it was to take them seriously when they tried the other. The end result was that the book was pulled too far in two different directions that snapped back on each other, and ultimately collapsed into a heap back in the middle where it started.
"Kick-Ass" the film avoids this by relying far more on the ridiculous, darkly comical violent approach. The serious moments are still there, but they are, frankly, the weaker and more forgettable parts of the experience. "Kick-Ass" is not groundbreaking. It will not redefine superhero films as we know them. It certainly has challengers to the claim of the most "realistic" superhero movie ever made. But all of that can't take away from the fact that it is an entertaining, big dumb action movie with several impressive fight scenes, a number of excellent performances, and a good amount of laughs thrown in.
Nicolas Cage gives the film's standout performance as Damon "Big Daddy" Macready, a self-made super-hero and one of the allies of main character Dave "Kick-Ass" Lizewski. Cage is the only actor in the film able to convincingly pull off both the comedic and serious tones it attempts. Also worth noting is Chloe Moretz as Mindy "Hit Girl" Macready, the ten-year-old daughter that Damon has lovingly trained into a merciless killing machine. Her moments on screen induce more combined laughs, cheers and gasps than any other cast member. And Mark Strong ably portrays crime boss Frank D'Amico, played mostly for laughs but able to be truly evil when the role calls for it. There are several entertaining bit performances by D'Amico's goons, all of whom find new and entertaining ways to get killed off over the course of the movie.
You've probably noticed that I haven't mentioned Kick-Ass himself yet. That's because I'm about to, and it's not going to be positive, as most of the problems with the film revolved around him. This is largely because in his role as narrator, he's given the bulk of the story's unsuccessful attempts to portray a serious message, whether it be a condemnation of humanity's general unwillingness to help strangers, the harsh brutality of violence in real life, or concerns about the idea of force as an easy solution to complicated problems.
It's also due to the fact that, like in the comic, I get the feeling that I'm expected to empathize with this guy, and it's not happening. They show us that he's miserable because his life sucks, and then we see him getting injured a lot. What we don't see is any particular reason to care about him. Like the comic, the movie still feels too much like it's pandering to a stereotype with the character of Kick-Ass. If every time the title character of your movie is on screen I'm waiting for him to leave so I can watch the other characters, I'm afraid that the film cannot be considered a complete success.
There are,of course, some differences between the print and cinematic versions of "Kick-Ass." While some are merited, trimming unnecessary side elements out of a movie that clocks in at slightly over an hour-and-a-half, they're not all for the better. Again, one of the most negative changes revolves around Kick-Ass. In the original work Dave pines for the beautiful, unattainable girl at school. He pretends to be gay in order to become her best friend. Later, when he reveals that he is not gay and that he is actually Kick-Ass, she becomes furious with him for being such a creep and has her friends beat him up. In the movie when Dave makes the same pair of revelations, they immediately have sex.
Mark Millar, in a Q&A follow up, acknowledged this as much less realistic and described the rationale along these lines: When someone pays $10 to see a movie, they want to see people sleep with each other. Although the expression he used to describe this involved four letters rather than four whole words. This raises two questions: First, where is Mark Millar seeing movies where it still only costs him ten dollars? Second, how quickly did he give up on the whole "realistic" idea he was previously so excited about when told the other option was more palatable to an audience? And it further cheapens the character when we learn that this relationship with the girl makes him want to retire from being Kick-Ass because "he has something to live for now," suggesting that his previous actions came less from a desire to help others than from a death wish.
It's a fundamental change like that which highlights the biggest difference between the comic and the movie: "Kick-Ass" the book baited the audience with the premise of wish fulfillment before slapping it in the face and telling it how ridiculous and small minded such fantasies were. "Kick-Ass" the movie makes no real attempt at being anything but an extravagant wish fulfillment fantasy rendered onto the big screen with glorious action sequences that are generously decorated with flourishes of blood. Which isn't necessarily a negative. It's good fun for an hour and a half that doesn't ask you to think too hard. Ultimately, the movie's biggest enemy may be its own hype, which claims that "Kick-Ass" will guide us to a new promised land of super-hero movies unlike any seen before. The actual journey "Kick-Ass" takes you on will bring no great revelations and lead nowhere surprising, but will certainly present all manner of wonderful sights along the way.