May as well be honest: I was really looking forward to this movie. I’m not sure why. I’ve never read the comic, and I find the book’s writer to be rather obnoxious. It just seemed like the first big summer movie of the year, and I was in need of something fun to tide me over during the wait for Iron Man 2. The director, Matthew Vaughn, not only made the slyly enjoyable Layer Cake and the underrated fairytale Stardust, but he had the good sense to bail on X-Men 3. I trust this man’s judgment, and his ability to deliver stylish and entertaining flicks. Put him with this cast and this concept? Surefire fun. Or so I thought. For much of Kick-Ass, he delivers. Sadly, somewhere in the middle, the film begins to lose its way.
The story begins like most of these stories begin. Nebbish high schooler Peter Parker Dave Lizewski, played by Aaron Johnson, dreams of being more than he is. One day, as he sits reading comics with his friends in some kind of weird comic book shop/café/diner mash-up that could exist only in the movies, an idea strikes him. “How come nobody’s ever tried to be a superhero?” he wonders aloud. His friend Marty (Clark Duke) responds, “If anyone did it in real life they’d be dead in like, a day.” It’s true. Reality would be most unkind to Batman, despite what Christopher Nolan would have us believe. Undeterred, Dave goes home and makes himself a costume. He names himself Kick-Ass and prances ridiculously around his bedroom, quipping at himself in the mirror. He’s going to make a difference! He’s going to get the girl! Yeah!
The movie is at its best in the opening act. Johnson is oddly charming and the movie is quite successful in satirizing the first Spider-Man film. There are a few somewhat serious moments in Dave’s origin, but the concept, “What if superheroes were real?” is explored in a light and comical way in a reality that is still markedly different and more cartoonish than our own. Things only get more cartoon-like as Dave’s actions inspire a wave of wannabe superheroes, and a few villains as well.
Most of the film’s buzz is based around Chloe Moretz’s performance as Hit-Girl, a 12-year-old foul-mouthed killing machine. Much of your enjoyment of the movie will be based on how inherently funny you find a little girl saying “cunt” and brutally murdering a bunch of grown men to the tune of the theme from Banana Splits. Personally, she never really felt like a real character to me — just a gimmick. It’s fun for a bit, but the effect wears off around the third time she’s on-screen.
Much better than her is Nic Cage as her Batman-inspired father, Big Daddy. Cage seems to be channelling Adam West every time he’s in costume, to hilarious effect. As bad as he can be at times, in the hands of a director who knows how to make proper use of his eccentricities there are few actors as magnetically watchable. Cage pumps the movie full of life while Kick-Ass becomes a passenger in his own film, taking a backseat to the Big Daddy & Hit-Girl Show.
Somewhere around Cage’s exit, the movie starts to fall apart. Don’t get me wrong, the finale is still enjoyable and full of over-the-top violence, but it feels like the movie forgets itself. It passes over plenty of perfect opportunities for satire in favour of a more serious approach. Maybe that’s part of following through on the “What if…?” scenario that the movie presents, but I don’t want “realism” from this movie. Perhaps that’s the point, but I don’t buy it. The movie starts out promising to be a superhero farce and ends up falling into all of the same trappings of the genre. A movie like this shouldn’t take itself seriously, but this one does, effectively forgetting what set it apart in the first place.
Vaughn has made a good looking movie with a kickin’ soundtrack and a solid cast. Unfortunately, in terms of tone, he’s all over the map. Did I enjoy myself? Ultimately, yes. It’s summer escapism and I had a good time with it. But the movie ends up feeling slightly disappointing. It could have been much better, because for a while, it was.
6.5/10 | C
[Reviewer’s Note: I found myself taken out of the film during the finale, in part because of the tonal shift, but also because Roger Ebert decided to be a jerk and totally spoil it within the first few paragraphs of his review. I usually read Ebert before I decide to see a movie in theatres, as he tends to present enough information for me to know whether I’ll like it or not, regardless of if he did. I stopped reading his review towards the end of the fourth paragraph. Reading it in full now, he touches on some of the same complaints that I have here, but I still disapprove of his method. It’s one thing not to like a movie — it’s something else to totally wreck the effect for everyone else. Seeing Christopher Mintz-Plasse respectfully tell him to get over it and move on via Twitter made me smile as much as anything in the film did.]