Editor’s Note: This review was published in March as part of our SXSW 2010 coverage. With Kick-Ass hitting theaters this week, we’ve decided to republish it — you know, because it’s topical.
I’m a notorious note-taker. Not enough movie bloggers are these days. Perhaps it has something to do with the rebellion against taking anything seriously, the anti-critic mentality. I don’t mind — I fancy myself more a critic than a rebel any day of the week. Deal with that. I’m telling you this, in lead for my review of Kick-Ass, because there’s something significant about my notes situation as the credits rolled Matthew Vaughn’s high-energy comic adaptation. There was only one note to be written, and it came only at the end. My Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles notepad was blank, except for three words: “That was fun.”
The story is this. An idealistic young kid (Aaron Johnson) decides that superheroes very well could exist, if only someone had the balls. He creates an alter-ego named Kick Ass and begins getting his ass beat by criminals all over New York. Yet while his success rate is low, his exposure is high in a very short period of time. He catches the eye of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), an insane former cop who is training his daughter Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) to take down the mob one slice at a time. He also catches the eye of a nasty, drug-smuggling mob boss (Mark Strong) who sets out to show the world that being a superhero “ain’t good for one’s health.”
That’s the quick version. The long version involves expertly weaved sub-plots about Hit-Girl and her father, the mob bosses son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who just wants to be part of the family business, and Kick Ass’ quest to fight his way up the skirt of his school-yard crush (Lyndsy Fonseca). It’s a story that deviates a bit — especially toward the end — from the books, but captures the spirit well.
Vaughn accomplishes all of this expert weaving and dodging through so many converging storylines with the help of comic creator Mark Millar and the sure-hand of Jane Goldman, with whom he collaborated on Stardust. He also gets help from a cast that knows the score. Nicolas Cage is controlled insanity, Aaron Johnson is naivety and gung-ho-ness incarnet, and Mark Strong is a looming, aggressive and genuinely frightening villain. But all of their performances seem supporting to that of Chloe Moretz. Fresh of her role as the sweet, straight-talking little sister in 500 Days of Summer, Moretz lights up the screen as Hit Girl. She’s crass, aggressive and whip-smart. It’s a brave choice for any 13-year old actress — a movie in which she says all the naughty words our parents taught us not to say, even the “c” word — but she commits to the role and drives it home with charisma that is far beyond her years.
Like the most recent Mark Millar adaptation, Wanted, Kick-Ass is vulgar and wanton in its relentless ability to kill minor characters in creative ways. Many people die in this movie — many at the hands of the young, purple-haired Hit Girl — and every one of them is interesting and fun to watch. It’s also got that dark humor that makes Millar such an interesting read, which once again translates wonderfully to the screen. What differentiates Kick-Ass though, is the high irreverence and electric, neon infusion of fun. Sure, it is violent, it is vulgar and the story is off-the-walls at times. But in the end, Kick-Ass is a relentlessly fun R-rated movie experience. The performances ooze with personality, the violence is inventive, the soundtrack is a kick in the pants and the entire film swaggers in, knocks you around, and leaves you feeling violated — in a good way. Sure, this movie can’t see through walls, but it just might kick your ass.