The theme of Kick-Ass is a bit hard to discern, but it’s probably something along the lines of being capable of heroism without having any special powers. That’s the position that compels high schooler Dave (Aaron Johnson) to buy a catalogue hero-suit and defend bullies from bigger bullies, and saving the odd cat from the stupid high place it decided to investigate.
Woven into Dave’s slow learning curve of becoming an agile but wholly mortal superhero is a demented father-daughter team known as Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) who bond over bullets, hot coco and multi-coloured marshmallows, and butterfly knives. The pair’s goal is to bring down one Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), a thoroughly evil (but stylish) mob leader whose son Chris wants to enter the family biz.
As Kick-Ass becomes the focus of attention (getting blamed for the father-daughter’s hits on D’Amico’s money), Chris dawns his own superhero suit to become Red Mist, an superficial aide in Kick-Ass’ crime fighting spree which will end once Chris brings Dave into the deadly hands of his brutal father.
Based on the comic book by Mark Millar (creator of the equally weird Wanted), Kick-Ass is a demented and morally bonkers film that director Matthew Vaughn clearly made as a fan; it’s so respectful of the source material that it’s most controversial element – 11 year old Hit-Girl, and her glee from killing – is intact. The film was independently financed because no studio would touch it, and realistically, this film shouldn’t exist because the characters are so wrong – and yet it’s a perfect work for making few commercial concession to create a watered down comic book film for the PG market.
Kick-Ass is for fans of dynamic and atypical comic tales, and that’s why it didn’t make a major splash in theatres, but that’s inconsequential because the film will find its audience on home video, and like Wanted (2008), will evolve into a cult film.
The Blu-ray’s extras include a 2 hour making-of documentary that chronicles the film’s lengthy realization, but it’s also a view into the obsessive mind of Vaughn, who refused to settle for anything less than the best. The original production designer was sacked, three editors (including Ridley Scott’s fav, Pietro Scalia) worked their magic without disastrous results, and four composers were engaged to work together to create the film’s generally fluid score. (Once can hear too much of John Murphy’s 28 Days Later theme, but the appropriation works, albeit naggingly.)
Even with a finished film, Vaughn had trouble finding a distributor until Lionsgate and Universal stepped up, neither of which mandated any changes to soften the film’s strong character.
As a character piece, Kick-Ass succeeds because the titular hero isn’t particularly good at what he does; he just bumbles his way into trouble, but he’s so likeable for wanting to be a hero in a stupid green suit. The father-daughter team share a tight bond, but while Big Daddy just wants to make sure his daughter can look after herself, it is unsettling to see a child slice, dice, and blow her way through hardened killers to reach her target, Frank D’Amico (who in turns beats the crap out of her).
The action is first-rate, the effects nicely blend Toronto, New York, and Pinewood locations to create a kind of fabled big city New York where only a kingpin can establish a crime empire, and the tension between the three character strands are expertly channeled into recurring clashes before a loud finale that establishes a new heroic team, and sets up the characters for a potential sequel.
Lionsgate’s BR is loaded with extras, and while the feature-length doc could’ve used some trimming – the colour timing session with the filmmakers is horribly dull –every aspect of the three production stages is given due attention. For film score fans, Murphy gets the lion’s share of screen time, and the lengthy segment on the score’s creation shows the rare oddity of four composers working together in spite of each one clearly thinking ‘This has the potential to be a grandiose mess.’
The other extras are equally informative, including a lengthy featurette on the comic book’s creators, writer Millar and artist John Romira Jr., who discuss their working relationship, and Millar’s own amusingly ridiculous fantasy of becoming a superhero in a small Scottish town – a desire that obviously shaped the character of Kick-Ass.
Perhaps due to Vaughn’s stubbornness, Kick-Ass is a surprisingly sharp comic book translation with humour, heart, and beautifully vicious violence.
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan