Way back in the year 2000, an event occurred in my small mountain-valley town that shaped and defined my social, cultural and financial status for years to come. A comic shop—was opened. Now while this may sound like a trivial, mundane event, it was something quite special to yours truly. You see, it had been almost ten years since I purchased a copy of The Mighty Mutanimals Mini-Series #1 from a Kwik-Way convenience store magazine rack. Nearly five years since the last comic store had closed down within understandable driving distance for my parents. And roughly one year since I had obtained a drivers license, a job and a hankering for a socially embarrassing, yet healthy and legal addiction. It was like the stars had aligned, and foretold the coming of Galactus.
For the next couple years, I eagerly spent hundreds of dollars of my hard earned money, feeding the geeky beast within. Foolish? Perhaps. But, even now as I think back at the wasted potential savings, I don’t regret those days. Home life was less than stellar and most of my friends from high school had dropped out, moved away or become hopelessly enamored with drugs and booze, so I spent a lot of time reading and watching poorly made movies about comic book heroes. It was an escapist’s paradise, and I was only too happy to kick-back and relax on the spandex laden beach of my bedspread surrounded in stacks of pulpy goodness.
And my obsession couldn’t have come back to me at a better time, as shortly after I began to amass my new collection, Marvel Comics unleashed The Ultimate Universe: a “ground zero” publication featuring Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Fantastic Four and a re-named Avengers, The Ultimates. Now while the publication did eventually, more or less, go to shit after four or five years, the initial 35-40 issues that retold and rebooted the lives and trials of my favorite childhood Super-Heroes was, in short, fucking spectacular. And (so far as I’m concerned), it’s all thanks to three men: First, Marvel’s visionary Editor-in-Chief, Joe Quesada. Second, Ultimate Spider-Man scribe, Brian Michael Bendis. And last, but certainly not least, Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four and Ultimates writer, Mark Millar.
Millar’s first 12 issues of Ultimate X-Men rocked my nerdy world. So much so, I made a vow to follow this man’s work until death. Or, at least until he made a bunch of sub-par shit… (MARVEL: 1985, strike one).
After the enormous suckcess of the loosely based (read: F.U.B.A.R.) film adaptation of Millar’s exquisitely dark and comical supervillain story, Wanted, went on to gross 300+ million dollars, it became clear that Mark’s catalog of excellent graphic novels would soon be snapped up by filmmakers eager to cash-in on his unique brand of storytelling: a nerd/loser with a mediocre/mundane life has something extraordinary/supernatural occur–cursing, sex, violence and anti-heroism commences. A formula so ripe for the cinematic medium, it’s a wonder it didn’t happen eight years ago. Which finally brings me to the topic at hand: KICK-ASS.
After the crushing blow to my fanboy balls that was Timur Bekmambetov’s Wanted, and learning that Millar’s next project, Kick-Ass (which hadn’t even been released yet), was chosen for a film treatment, I made a promise to myself to abstain from reading the comic. But it was not easy. Many times I found myself leering at Amazon.com. That shiny hard-cover. Those glossy-printed pages. On sale. Free super-saver shipping. ~Sigh~ But, I endured and I’m mildly proud to say, I succeeded in my avoidance and the metaphysical cart remained empty. For I knew that if the adaptation turned to shit, I would be blissfully unaware for at least a week or two, perhaps even enjoying what it had to offer on it’s own medium, through another artist’s vision. Which brings me all up to date.
And I’m happy to say (at least, as of right now), that Matthew Vaughn (L4yer Cake, Stardust), has pulled a directorial hat-trick and managed to submit yet another entertaining cinematic adventure.
Kick-Ass is the tale of a teenage nobody, a vengeful former cop, a pre-teen killing machine and McLovin. I have to admit that ever since the redband trailer that centered on Hit-Girl premiered on the web those many months ago, I’ve been every bit as giddy to see this flick as all the major geek-movie fansites told me I should be. I mean, what’s not to like about the premise of a team of underage would-be superheroes taking on RocknRolla’s Mark Strong? Very little, my fellow action fans. Now I won’t go so far as to claim I was lead into a trap, but I will say that I got less than I feel I was promised by the hype. A feeling I promise to further explain, a little later on. But first, allow me to discuss the facets I enjoyed. Of which, there were plenty.
The first forty-or-so minutes. Like Spider-Man, but with balls and a penchant for juvenile vulgarity and violence. Combined with Millar’s exquisite talent for narrative dialogue and a slew of great performances by Nic Cage, Aaron Johnson, Mark Strong, Chloe Moretz and even Mintz-Plasse, so pitch perfect to all their respective roles, I felt as though there was no way in which this film could find a way for me to leave the theater displeased.
Aaron Johnson as Kick-Ass was every bit as enjoyable and likeable as Peter Parker, only modernized and unfiltered, thus making him even more relatable to every guy aged 12-35. He swears, he’s obsessed with sex, is an authority on pop culture and longs to be adored. In short, he’s R rated awkward and he’s perfect. Yet the other ‘heroes’, Nicolas Cage’s Master Po-esq cop-turned costumed vigilante, Big Daddy and Chloe Moretz’s adorable, yet superlatively cold-blooded killing-machine, Hit-Girl are the real stars of the show. So let’s talk about them.
Being a longtime fan of his work, I have been and will always be a supporter of Nicolas Cage. In a time when the general populous turned on him for his questionable choice of projects, and even more so (though I still find it hard to believe) for his fucking hair… I stood by his side through thick and National Treasure 2. Why? Because the man is simply a fucking great actor. And while it may only be apparent in small gaps between mediocre garbage, the man has yet to give a performance that I haven’t found enjoyable to some degree. I bring this up because I’m sure that after his boisterous, Adam West-esq performance in this film, he’ll have reminded all those a-holes, who wears the Big Daddy acting pants ‘round this town, and they’ll all be only too happy to sing his praises until Season Of The Witch. And it is our job, fellow Cage fans, to out these people for the front-running bastards they are, “KRYPTONITE!!!”
On to Big Daddy’s daughter. I must admit, I was trepidatious at first with the idea of a killer child being used for comedic violence. Though not because of the questionable moral situations, mind, but because it’s an idea that seemed almost too easily likable in a premise that seemed oh so eager to exploit said instant fanboy likeability. And now after seeing the final product, my conclusion is that I was right to worry. HOWever, pleased that my reservations could have unfolded far more negatively. To extrapolate, Hit-Girl’s been catching flack due to the situations of extreme violence and adult humor surrounding her character. This, I see, is a positive. But it also makes her come off as a gimmick. Even in the film one of Kick-Ass’s friends proclaim his perverted love for her openly, simply because she is sooo badass. This, I see, is a negative. But THEN, the filmmakers counteracted my feelings of disgust toward her character by having nearly every badass, brutal and heartbreaking event that happens to her, never exploit the fact that she was just a little girl. In short, she was never a victim of her gender or age, only ever of skill, timing and circumstance. This, I really liked. Plus, Chloe is one cute wittle girl.
And so long as I’m writing about great performances, I feel the need to mention the film’s lead villain, Frank D’Amico, played by Mark Strong. I’m convinced that Strong will go down in history as one of the greatest “hey, it’s that one guy!” villainous actors of this generation. Every time I see this guy, he’s spectacular. For this flick, he takes on the role of a lethal, yet loving gangster/father. And while I’ll refrain from spoiling his connections to the other characters, I will say that he is bringing it back to the 80s. The character of D’Amico is straight-up Peter Dellaplane from Action Jackson. That’s right, Strong channels the Coach. He has a staple 90’s action movie actress for a wife (Yancy ‘Hard Target‘ Butler). A son whom he loves and goes to great lengths to protect. A crew of ex-football player lookin’ goons. And a fucking karate dojo in his house. And [SPOILER] he even gets an over-the-top 80s-style overkill death. [END] Fantastic.
Other shit I really dug. The color scheme was great and looked straight out of a comic book. Everything was bright, pastel and slightly cartoonie. Fit the film to a T. I loved the nods to John Woo, Batman, LOST and 1 Night In Paris. The costumes, they looked as though the people who wore them, made them. And the fact that they actually showed Daddy applying his dark eye make-up. I didn’t expect that, it was a nice touch. That shit has bugged the hell outta me ever since the end of Batman Returns when Batman pulls off his mask to show Catwoman he’s her boyfriend and his huge shoe-polish eye-rings magically disappear.
But, sadly, Kick-Ass wasn’t all rainbows and regular bowel movements, it also had it’s fair share of murky unpleasantness and occasional irregularities. The bulk of which began when shit got so abnormal within the context of the established world. So much so that I started to lose interest. To me, up to and through the scene where Kick-Ass saves the man in front of the dinner, the film was perfect. But it was right after this that the narative began to divide my interests instead of blending them. The problem being, there are two distinct and interesting tales here: the first, about a young man so buried in his own teenage wasteland he abandons his logic and self preservation to make a difference in the world and a name for himself. And second, a comically over-the-top, yet touching tale of a father-daughter hit-squad on their path to revenge and ice-cream sundaes. It’s half Watchmen meets Spider-Man and half Léon meets Batman (1966). Two ideas, both great on their own, that became an amalgamation of kooky comicbook saturation overload.
Here are some examples.
– After the first scene with B-Daddy and Hit-Girl, it officially becomes their show. From that moment on, I started to care less and less about Ass’s plight. And by the time his unnecessary love story became more than just a comedic break between violence and an actual factor in the story’s events, I all but checked out of his story. The balance was too far off, man.
– One of the more clever aspects of the film, was that nobody actually had superpowers. In fact, Kick-Ass barely has regular powers. And this was his charm. For instance, during his first foray in fighting crime, he ends up in the emergency room. But by the end of the movie, Hit-Girl is so far beyond mortal skill, what with her ability to reload guns by chucking the clips and slamming them home MID-AIR to the sounds of Joan Jett’s pseudo-punk complaint rock, that all established laws became forfeit to what “looked cool”. Also, if Hit-Girl has anything, it’s a GREAT reputation. Fuck that song.
Which brings me to the soundtrack… It was too much. Made worse by the fact that I know Mathew Vaughn can assemble a great track list. L4yer Cake, for example, was awesome. Like when George Harris’s character beats the shit outta that guy in the diner to Duran Duran’s Ordinary World. Or the score on Stardust. Fucking great. I mean, WTF was with that scene where Kick-Ass and Red-Mist jam to Gnarls Barkley? That shit had to have originally been an outtake. But, the audience sure did laugh, so maybe I’m the asshole. Whatever, I hate most music and this was a small complaint. Most of them are.
In closing, I dug Kick-Ass. It wasn’t great by any means, but it was fun. And a hard R. And even though it makes me feel like one of those chuckle-head d-bags that filled half the theater, I really like hearing little kids say cunt. Sue me. So do I recommend seeing it in the theater, shit yeah. Aside from the fact that you’ll be actively helping R-Rated action films earn money and thus a greater chance of being made in good numbers AND keep Nic Cage from having to sell his well-deserved estates, you’ll also get a really entertaining super-hero comic book movie. And when you REALLY think about it, how many of those have you seen? Be honest. Yeah, not many. So give it a shot. The Cage’s wallet will thank you.
7 outta 10