Kick-Ass

Matthew Vaughn creates heroic layers of graphic pulp

Rating: R

Grade: A

When Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) asks why no one has ever tried to be a real life superhero, the question, at first, sounds like the fantasies of a comic book geek a few years away from accepting the realities of life, as we know it. However, a funny thing happens as director Matthew Vaughn’s pulpy rendering of Mark Millar’s graphic novel Kick-Ass takes shape. Optimism and naiveté, the key ingredients that Dave suggests are the root of his transformation, infect us as well. It makes us believe it might be possible for a kid to slip into green scuba gear, pull a mask over his head, and start beating the crap out of bad guys in front of a populace eager to document his exploits on cell phones for YouTube viewers.

When Kick-Ass comes face-to-face with a couple of real-deal masked vigilantes named Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), who do more than kick ass in the name of justice, the film forces us to take a hard look at all the gun and knife play and the hip shocks of having an underage girl cursing and killing with glee because it’s not simply fun and games. It certainly isn’t true that with “no power, there’s no responsibility,” but what’s a geeky kid supposed to do? Let life and the bad guys keep kicking ass with impunity?

The film’s character and visual sensibilities are all over the map, from the straight-up comic book world of Spider-Man (whom Kick-Ass is clearly based on) and Batman (Big Daddy’s back story flips the script nicely and allows for Hit Girl to serve as a kicking Robin) to newer incarnations like Millar’s Wanted and even a healthy dose of The Matrix thrown in for good measure (have fun imagining Big Daddy as Morpheus, Hit Girl as Trinity and Kick-Ass as Neo). The film finds its own groove and place in the pop cultural landscape, in no small part due to the solid foundation of Dave and the everyday world he wanders around in. We feel the pull of his friends and father, the girls who never saw him until he developed self-esteem and confidence, and the internal conflict of wanting to do the right thing but struggling in the face of real danger.

Vaughn and his actors seamlessly stitch together the disparate fabrics of pulp and an almost John Hughes-like weave of teenage drama. Still, the real standout, in terms of performance, is Cage who has flamed out as a superhero already (his Ghost Rider didn’t even manage to achieve real campiness). Plus he has overacted and chewed enough scenery since winning his Academy Award (Best Actor, Leaving Las Vegas) to warrant a real intervention, which Kick-Ass feels like. His Big Daddy has been framed and imprisoned and he’s got something to prove, no matter the cost, and Cage convinces us that he’s still ready and willing to do the same.  That’s kick-ass.

Kick-Ass will be shown at Cinema de Lux 14: The Greene, Showcase Dayton South and more

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