Speaking of that comic book series, before I go any further I feel I have to tell you that I haven't read it. So I won't be going into a detailed comparison of how the film stacks up against its pulpy source material. That said I'll acknowledge that, as the saying goes, my ignorance may at least in part be the reason for my blissful cinematic experience. Being unaware of the comics, I wasn't burdened with scrutinizing every costume design, set piece, casting choice, etc. and evaluating how effective it was. That said, from a script review we ran some time ago from someone more in the know than I, it seems Kick-Ass doesn't stray far from the source material.
Time for the obligatory plot synopsis; I'll try to keep this brief and non-spoilerish. At the center of Kick-Ass is an average (maybe below average) teenager named Dave Lizewski who spends his days pining for a girl who doesn't seem to know he exists, reading comic books, and fantasizing about becoming a superhero. His fantasizing leads him to formulate a superhero persona (KICK ASS), procure a costume piece-meal, and even go out on "training missions". His first attempt at fighting crime ends badly, very badly. He fairs somewhat better on the second go-around, gets filmed by a kid with a cell phone camera and becomes an internet sensation. Eventually he encounters other, far more well trained and effective masked vigilantes: BIG DADDY and HIT GIRL. They have their own agenda, namely taking down drug lord/crime boss Frank D'Amico. What's the story behind BIG DADDY AND HIT GIRL, does KICK ASS join forces with this deadly duo, and does Dave get the girl in the end? I'll leave those questions unanswered for now, and move on to address what makes Kick-Ass punt some serious gluteus maximus.
First and foremost, the cast of Kick-Ass pretty much rocks top to bottom. There are a lot of talented young actors in this film (along with a few veterans), and I could spend time on each, but I want to focus on two of the main characters of the film.
BIG DADDY (Nicolas Cage)
Of late Nic Cage has become more liability than asset when he adds his, ahem, "talents" to a film. Sure there's Raising Arizona and Leaving Las Vegas and even The Rock, but there's also The Wicker Man and Bangkok Dangerous and Ghost Rider. Yet I have to say that Cage avails himself quite well in Kick-Ass, and actually redeems himself for his last role in a comic book adaptation.
What makes Cage so good? Hard to say, actually. For most of the film, my reaction to Cage's performance (both as BIG DADDY and his alter ego) was that he was quirky, odd, peculiar, insert-similar-adjective-here. Somewhere along the line I realized that this was pitch-perfect. Let me explain. First, a very minor SPOILER alert.
BIG DADDY is obviously modeled (at least in costume design) after Batman, and more than that the two characters share some of the same motivations as well as tendencies to recruit young sidekicks. In the case of BIG DADDY, his sidekick - HIT GIRL - is his daughter.
Now, in bringing up Batman, think about his alter ego Bruce Wayne, or for that matter consider Superman and Clark Kent. In both cases, the alter ego is theater. It's a performance meant to be seen by the public and convince everyone that the alter ego and the hero simply cannot be one and the same. The rich, idiot playboy persona of Bruce Wayne contrasts sharply with Batman, the World's Greatest Detective, the terrifying Dark Knight. The clumsy, bumbling, and mild mannered Clark Kent can't possibly be faster than a speeding bullet or more powerful than a locomotive. He's so "aw-shucks small town America" that he absolutely could not be the Last Son of Krypton.
The thing about Cage's performance as BIG DADDY's alter ego is that his quirky mannerisms and slightly off-kilter personality don't feel like a performance. He's a recluse; the only person he really interacts with is his daughter. I came away from the film with the feeling that (whether a creation of Millar in the comic or a stroke of brilliance from Cage) the just plain weird vibe I got from Cage's performance, entirely by design I'm sure, is the same kind of feeling neighbors of serial killers have. Again, let me explain.
Kick-Ass is a movie that, among other things is about people trying to be superheroes in the real world. Considering BIG DADDY's alter ego, without going into spoilers I'll point out that tragedy didn't just pay his life a visit, it crashed in his basement for several years. For him to get to a point psychologically that he's not only willing to devote his life to the pursuit of vengeance against those who wronged him, but also train his own daughter to be a whirling dervish of death that would make the Boy Wonder piss his tights in terror, well he's got to be pretty fucked up, mentally speaking. In his more darker portrayals, so is Bruce Wayne/Batman, but where the Caped Crusader has an almost superhuman ability to bury all that borderline psychosis underneath the mask of Bruce Wayne and appear normal and well-adjusted, how many people in the real world would be able to do that? How many, if willing, would actually want to devote the time and energy it would require? Or would their obsession take over, would it completely rule their lives such that they devote every waking hour to their cause?
And if a reporter were to go to such a person's neighbor and ask if they were aware that this individual was actually a masked vigilante who went around brutally murdering criminals, dontcha think that neighbor might just scratch their head and say, "You know, honestly I'm not surprised. I always thought there was something off about that man."
HIT GIRL (Chloe Moretz)
As good as Nic Cage and Aaron Johnson (Dave/KICK ASS) and the other actors are, Chloe Moretz hands-down absolutely steals the entire movie. Not only does she have some of the best lines of dialogue and the best action scenes, she nails them. Every single one of them. And let me point out that Moretz was born in 1997, meaning she was likely 11 or 12 during filming(!). A big reason for why Moretz kicks so much ass as HIT GIRL is that you see her and think "She's just a little girl; she can't possibly kick ass!" BUT THEN SHE MOST DEFINITELY DOES KICK ASS.
At a time when there is still a dearth of female action heroes, and more specifically female superheroes in film (come on, DC, make that Wonder Woman movie!), Chloe Moretz as HIT GIRL not only raises the bar, she sets the damn thing at a new height and dares anyone to try and reach it. True, Mark Millar desreves credit for creating the character, and Matthew Vaughn deserves credit for keeping her true to Millar's vision, but the HIT GIRL of the film would not be HIT GIRL without Moretz.
Girl power indeed.
A Few Words About All that Blood and Violence
Kick-Ass is rated R for a very good reason. It's full of adult language, adult (sexual) situations, violence, blood, gore, more violence, more adult language, and yes, more blood. This one is not for the kiddies (that goes double for you, lady who was sitting next to me at the screening with your son who was maybe, maybe five years old; had I more backbone I might have told you that in person. Why you had him there in the first place, and didn't get him out of the theater at the first sign of inappropriate content, is equally bewildering and appalling.)
All that said, I don't think all the violence and gore is necessarily a bad thing. I and most of the other adults in the theater were laughing and cheering and generally reacting to the violent action scenes as if we were watching Jackass 3: Midnight Mayhem. The violence in Kick-Ass is so over-the-top, so stylized as to be cartoonish. Watching a bunch of criminals getting decimated by BIG DADDY is just a more realistic looking version of this:
I could go on and on about the film, but it would all simply be a much longer way of saying what I said at the beginning of this review.
Kick-Ass kicks ass.