Comic bookwriter Mark Millar often has the word “re-imagining” associated with his name. From his radical Superman riff, “Red Son”, to his transformation of “The Avengers” into “The Ultimates”, Mr. Millar knows how to keep loyal comic readers on their toes. With his graphic novel “Kick-Ass”, Mr. Millar has found a story all his own: what if a teen comics fan, with no superpowers, decided to don a costume and fight crime? It’s a fantastic concept. So much so that you’re left to wonder – as the oh-so-self-aware characters in the film do at length – how it hasn’t been done before (sadly, no one ever remembers 1980’s similarly themed John Ritter movie “Hero at Large”). Whatever the reason, Mr. Millar’s concept was quickly picked-up by Hollywood and given a cheeky and, yes, kick-ass adaptation.
In one of many call-outs to “Spider-man”, “Kick-Ass” opens with a “that’s me…” voice-over during which our would-be hero, Dave Lizewski, gives us a tour of his typical teenage woes (lack of coordination, no luck with girls, etc). The zingy script, by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn (who also directed), nails the mind of a teen – particularly one of the male variety; it’s like the “Juno” of superhero movies.
Early in the film, after one mugging too many (the film’s New York setting is a bit old-fashioned), Dave decides to emulate the masked heroes of the comics. He orders a scuba wetsuit online (of course) and hits the streets. Dave (whose alter ego moniker gives the film its title) learns the dangers of his chosen hobby very quickly: he is immediately beaten, stabbed and hit by a car. In a clever twist, Dave’s hospital stay results in deadened nerve endings and the insertion of several metal plates in his body, giving Dave a moderate advantage in his crime fighting.
Still, Dave – and therefore Kick-Ass – is just an awkward teen. So while his heart is in the right place, he doesn’t have the physical acumen to back it up. When his exploits are captured by omnipresent cell phone cameras, Kick-Ass becomes an overnight internet phenom – he’s also nursing a full-on crush on a high school classmate (Lyndsy Fonseca).
“Kick-Ass” has no shortage of bloody violence, particularly when Dave hooks up with a father-daughter team that takes the film to another level. Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage, nailing Adam West’s cadence) and Hit Girl (unbelievable 11 year-old Chloë Grace Moretz) are the “real deal”: a crime fighting duo with the tools and training to match. The two are after a drug dealing mob boss (Mark Strong), and they mow down scores of baddies in gloriously over-the-top fight sequences.
Despite grounding the film in reality, it’s here that the filmmakers veer off – particularly the super-cliché mafia villains. Still, the fight scenes are so much fun and the actors so well-cast that it’s hard not to have a great time.
There are so many ways this movie could have gone wrong. The tone, the humor, the writing. But “Kick Ass” nails each one. In particular, the film lives or dies by the casting of Hit Girl and, it’s worth mentioning again, little Ms. Moretz does the job of an actress thrice her age. The young actress has been vocal about idolizing Angline Jolie in “Wanted” – also adapted from a Mark Millar comic series – funny, then, that this movie is far superior. Of course, those of you squeamish about seeing an 11 year-old girl blow-away numerous villains and say the C-word (among other things), well, you’re probably not in the theater anyway.
This is a movie made by superhero fans for superhero fans – and perhaps for a new generation of comic book readers. There are a plethora of superhero in-jokes to keep diehards happy: from an opening credit sequence that harkens back to the original “Superman” to a perfect riff on Peter Parker’s “with great power…” mantra. This is a movie that gets its subject and its audience. It’s sure to inspire sequels and knock-offs until, one day, it too is re-imagined. And the cycle of Hollywood continues.