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The first bonafide thrill ride of the year is also one of the truest, most unflinching adaptations of a comic book ever created for the screen.  Raw, gritty and gory as a Japanese horror film and as hip and cross-cultural as anything dreamed up by Quentin Tarantino, director Matthew Vaughn’s riot of fun and violence called Kick-Ass gains singular laurels in the comic fanboy hall of fame. 

For all the radioactive spiders, cosmic silver surfboards, mystical power rings and refugees from the planet Krypton, there’s nothing for crime-fighting like a good, old-fashioned can-do attitude.  A strong heart, sense of moral justice and a groovy costume are really all one needs to put right the world’s wrongs, just ask Bruce Wayne … and Dave Lizewski, New York high school student.  Reared on a steady diet of comic books and geek logic, Dave simply sees no reason why an able-bodied young man can’t perform the feats of derring-do he’s read about all his life.  So, with the snazzy green scuba suit he purchased online under his regular school clothes and a pair of eskrima sticks at his back, Kick-Ass makes his impressive debut against a couple of local toughs. Unfortunately, it’s only impressive because the beating that Dave receives would probably have killed a less tenacious teenager.  After a slow convalescence, including getting used to the metal plates in his head and permanent nerve damage, Dave, now self-dubbed Kick-Ass, won’t be cowed by a merely near-death experience.  Speaking of near-death experiences, in another part of town, a small tweenage girl is getting shot, by her father, at point-blank range.  So goes the training of young Mindy Macready, cherubic grade schooler, by her doting father, Damon who not only readies the girl for the pain of a bulletproofed semi-automatic shot to the chest, but pop quizzes the child in every aspect of warfare from makes and models of butterfly knives to the titles of John Woo films.  Wronged by a corrupt police force backed by a mafia don, the senior Macready has spent every moment of his daughter’s life honing her into an ultimate weapon of righteous fury.  For Mindy, it’s simply doing as she’s told like any good little daddy’s girl, but for Damon, theirs is a mission of vengeance.  Meanwhile, Kick-Ass’ blundering attempts at superherodom are caught on YouTube and the green-suited weirdo becomes an overnight viral sensation, complete with a MySpace page and a whole pack of enemies.  Unluckily for Kick-Ass, his enemies are the same as the deadly foes of the Macready’s who decide to unleash their own alter-egos as Hit Girl and Big Daddy.  The former, a tiny whirlwind of blood and violence who looks like she popped out of the pages of a Japanese manga in her Catholic school skirt and iridescent purple bob, while her protector “BD” resembles Batman gone to seed with a blonde Hulk Hogan ‘stache.  The three form a loose alliance to help out the clearly unqualified Kick-Ass should he ever need their aid.  Kick-Ass’ appearance has also spawned other costumed imitators, including those with much higher production values and better publicists like the scarlet-garbed Red Mist, whose offer to become Kick-Ass’ sidekick may not be all it seems.

Fabulous.  A truly entertaining piece of work that does not leave its audience bored for a second.  Not since the 1990’s heyday of Hong Kong cinema have I been so enrapt at the possibilities of violence such as exist in Kick-Ass.  Far and away, the standout of the piece is the technicolour-haired mighty mite, Hit Girl.  This is a character that no one but Asian filmmakers would have dared go near for fear of outraged Western reactions in creating a little girl so innocently ruthless and utterly unfazed by the eviscerations, throat slitting, broken bones, bullets through her enemies’ heads and the oceans of blood she leaves in her wake.  Mayhem is all she’s been trained for and all she knows.  Hit Girl is a character that makes sense in a comic and has been seen hundreds of times in manga and anime series, but has never been shown on film and kudos to director Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman for giving us such an unadulterated adaptation of Mark Millar’s amazing creation.  This is not to say that Hit Girl is a one-dimensional killing machine; while I would have been happy with that, Vaughn and Goldman actually bother to give her a soul and a touchingly devoted, if twisted, relationship with her Big Daddy and it’s the most affecting part of the film – outside of the splatters of blood coming at your head.  Thank goodness this wasn’t in 3D.

Chloë Grace Moretz as the anime character come to life is a marvel (no pun intended).  Sweet and bubbly-blonde as Mindy, as soon as the mask and purple wig go on, Moretz, like Hit Girl becomes a totally separate identity, complete with Clint Eastwood squint, on-the-money Elvis lip-curling snarl and the cocky assurance of someone who’s too young to have ever suffered real pain.  There’s an almost clinical sense of detachment to Hit Girl’s vicious dispatch of her foes at first that becomes more feral and far more personal later in the film once she receives a harsh introduction to the reality of life and death consequences.  While obviously not under the wig for all the stunts, Moretz does quite a bit of it herself and the young actress, who told me she trained in martial arts and weapons with Jackie Chan’s stunt crew and the guys behind 300’s fight choreography, handles it all believably – scarily so.

Kick-Ass might be Nicolas Cage’s finest effort since Wild at Heart (- or at least Ghost Rider).  Turning his recent family man persona on its head, Cage as Daddy Macready is one sick puppy.  Depriving his daughter of any semblance of a normal life for a tween, he instead drills her into a tiny, blood-numbed ninja, using the fearlessness that all children have to up the danger ante on his lessons to the girl.  Any doubts about what he is doing to his child are supplanted by his insistence that Mindy’s training is for her own protection from the evils he’s endured.  The occasional ice cream sundae makes up for that uncomfortable high-calibre slug to the chest every time.  Still, for as twisted a father figure as he is, Macready is so devoted to his child, that at one of the film’s most harrowing moments, Big Daddy, at his life’s peril, is too busy shouting out instructions to clear the girl out of a terrifying trap to be concerned for his own welfare.  Damon Macready is played with an emphasis on quirk we haven’t seen from Cage in a long time; delivering his lines as a cross between Adam West and William Shatner with some bizarre Nick Cage stream-of-consciousness riffing thrown in, which works perfectly for this unstable but brilliant character.

Relative newcomer Aaron Johnson makes for a cuter version of the Peter Parker nerdy teenager as our wannabe hero, Dave.  All curly hair, huge blue eyes behind wire- rimmed spectacles and a weedy physique, one must wonder what this kid was thinking running around in a scuba suit and no actual combat training.  Despite about ninety percent of him being hidden inside the Kick-Ass costume, Johnson’s physicality conveys Dave’s hesitation and doubt once his markedly unsuper shortcomings are brought painfully to light, the rage of discovering that his powerlessness makes him an easy mark for betrayal and finally the determination to work past it all and become a true hero.  Christopher Mintz-Plasse does nicely as Kick-Ass’ rival-cum-sidekick, Red Mist, who has the benefit of unlimited resources, including the souped-up MistMobile to cruise around the city in.  Mark Strong does his usual brilliant ominous bad guy as the mafia chief who balances his family life and life with his Family.

Reveling in the R-rating that shows respect to both its source material and its audience, Kick-Ass is an instant action classic you’ll want to see again and again on the big screen.  The film takes most of its cues and camera frames directly from its source material and the dialog here is wittier and just as comic book savvy.  The scenes of battle and devastation, as in the Mark Millar/ John Romita, Jr. pages, are brutal and breathtaking with precious little held in reserve for the squeamish and more snaps for that.  While the vision is pretty uncompromising, Vaughn and Goldman are clever enough filmmakers to keep the eye-popping violence and edge-of-your-seat action completely entertaining, even managing to add some heart along the way.  Kick-Ass sets a new standard for the art of making a comic book movie.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

April 15th, 2010





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(Courtesy of  Lionsgate)




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