Year Released: 2010
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 117 minutes
Click to Expand Credits:
The year was 1981 and after repeated weekly viewings of “The Greatest American Hero” and way, way too many comic books, a 9-year old Don R. Lewis decided he too could be a super hero. Snagging a long piece of green material for a cape and donning an old Lone Ranger type mask, he rushed to the backyard to save someone from something. The only thing missing was some kind of weapon but that situation was soon remedied by a pit stop at the woodpile to grab a hatchet. The best place to see if anyone needs saving is from a high perch so using the hatchet as some kind of climbing aid, young Mr. Lewis climbed a pine tree to see if anyone needed saving. About six feet up the hatchet, which was stuck into the tree above his head, came loose and clocked our hero square in the forehead causing a ton of blood and even more embarrassment. Since that day, his days of being a hero were over.
Matthew Vaughn’s new spin on the superhero genre “Kick-Ass” starts in a similar fashion. In the film, self-described common, everyday geeky teen Dave Lizewski (Johnson) decides he should try to fight crime. His reasoning is simple; it seems super cool and he can’t figure out why no one else has tried it. Plus, what self-respecting young boy doesn’t at one point or another aspire to be a superhero? Dave buys a cheap wetsuit and some martial arts fighting sticks and recasts himself as Kick-Ass, a hero with no discernible skills or powers other than the desire to do good. He then goes out and promptly gets the living shit beat out of him. After a somewhat speedy recovery Dave is reborn as a little bit smarter hero who, due to some reconstructive surgery, can withstand an ass whooping like few can. His heroism in breaking up a gang fight is captured on video and sent to the internet where Kick-Ass becomes an overnight sensation.
His courage and audacity captures the nation’s attention as well as that of local crime boss Frank D’Amico (Strong), who wants him stopped and a pair of local superheroes, and the father and daughter team of Big Daddy and Hit Girl (Cage and Grace-Moretz), who are intrigued by this amateur. Obviously the film is right in the wheelhouse of comic book geeks and as a recovering one myself, I can say it works on many levels. However the film also has major pacing issues, is pretty damned boring and saddles the audience with the least interesting character in the entire film, Kick-Ass. As a result I felt the film was simply o.k. when it could have been much, much better.
Look, I get that the film lays out the fact that Dave Lizewski is just a normal, everyday teen and that’s fine. But that’s also nothing new as iconic characters like Peter Parker and Bruce Banner are also everyday dudes who are forced into action when they become imbued with special powers. And when they are, they become far more intriguing but this creates a conflict within them and that makes for compelling storytelling. In “Kick-Ass” our hero thinks it might be cool to try and be a hero so he does it and that’s supposed to be enough to carry a film. Hell, Charles Foster Kane started similarly when he thought it would be fun to run a newspaper but he was provided with excellent backstory and brought to life by a terrific actor. Kick-Ass as a character is just kind of “there” and as a result the film is too. An even better example would be M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable,” which sets up a tight little backstory on its lead character David Dunn and as such, we care about what happens to him. Not so here with Dave Lizewski or his alter ego Kick-Ass.
Before you “Kick-Ass” fanatics get up my ass I should also point out that I totally get that the film is a pastiche type of affair that is simultaneously creating a superhero while commenting on superheroes themselves and the comic book as a storytelling device as well as trying to subvert all that. And that’s all well and good but for God’s sake, does it have to be so lifeless in the first half? I get that Dave is no one special or out of the ordinary but that’s not interesting either aside from the fact that it’s different. “Look! Here’s a guy with nothing interesting about him! Let’s follow his boring, day-to-day life!”
The best parts of the film are undoubtedly those focusing on Mindy and Damon Macready and their alter egos Hit-Girl and Big Daddy. In a twisted series of events, Papa Macready forces his daughter into a truly deranged lifestyle centered on vengeance for her dead mother. They train hard, do exhaustive research and stockpile weapons for the day of reckoning they so badly need to come. All of this is done with a very sweet topping of father-daughter love and the storyline is fascinating. One second you’re appalled at what this man is doing to his daughter and then next, you’re nearly misty-eyed at their affection and need towards each other. These are creative and interesting characters that I couldn’t get enough of. But just when their storyline starts to thrive, we fall back into the Kick-Ass storyline about Lizewski trying to score with a girl or hanging with his equally boring friends. Yawn. As if that frustrating back and forth wasn’t bad enough, there’s a third storyline that gets even less play and is also vastly more interesting than the Kick-Ass one.
Wealthy and powerful crime boss Frank D’Amico is as twisted as Damon Macready and he rules New York with a bloody fist. His son Chris (Mintz-Plasse) leads a safely sheltered life but even as dorky as he is, he aspires to take over for his father someday. Yet his father babies him and relegates him to the outer regions of his work and life. This has an affect on Chris that forces him into the hero business as well and he recasts himself as Red Mist. And just as in the storyline with Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, right when it starts getting good we flounder back into the boring world of Kick-Ass.
I’m all in favor of the controversy the film has garnered as well because I love films with difficult and rather despicable characters. Nic Cage as Damon Macready is exactly this kind of character and it’s a very cool, difficult storyline to navigate. Even though we all would agree training an 11-year old to kill isn’t morally straight, we understand why he’s doing it and can either reconcile and accept it or be totally turned off. Even those choices teeter-totter though and I find myself constantly wondering what I might do in the same situation. Plus, Mindy is really, really good at what she’s been trained to do and when Hit-Girl goes into action, we get a glimpse at what “Kick-Ass” could have been; a post-modern, ass kicking superhero movie. But at the end of the day the film trudges through a dull and trite first two-acts before finally kicking into gear in the third when it’s too far-gone to salvage. I was hoping “Kick-Ass” would be a film that inspires more creative and original takes on the superhero genre but instead it’s just an o.k. spin on it that could have (and should have) been much more. Like “Watchmen” before it, this is a movie playing with the comic-book genre but due to lack of character development and too much leaning on source material, it becomes just another missed opportunity.
Posted on April 18, 2010 in Reviews by Don R. Lewis
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