What happens when an average, geeky teen dons a wetsuit and ski mask and embarks on a quest for justice? What happens when his scuffle with thugs goes gangbuster on Youtube, making him a city hero overnight? And when a pre-pubescent girl can wield a machine gun and dirty words with the startling ease typically reserved for braiding hair and gossip?
Welcome to Kick-Ass: An electrifying, wildly fun film that challenges every superhero stereotype with aplomb, and hinging on a few running jokes that manage to keep from getting stale. The film, which arrives in theaters Friday, is based on the eponymous graphic novel from Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., which chronicles the misadventures of Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), an awkward high schooler whose life changes when he decides to become a costumed crusader. As a comic-loving high school student, Dave leads a pretty conventional life, in which he hangs out with his nerdy friends, reads comics and, in his own words, is “invisible to girls” — and especially to his big crush, Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca).
As Kick-Ass, his costumed alter-ego, Dave does his best to fight local thugs, one black eye at a time. Once his heroics go viral, though, he inadvertently gets entangled with the city’s baddest bad guy amid a drug deal gone wrong and a lot of bloodshed. The violence is all comic-style, but there’s still a big body count. Dave’s naivete spurs an encounter with a pair of skilled superheroes, the father-daughter team Hit-Girl (aka Mindy Macready, played by Chloe Moretz) and Big Daddy (aka Damon Macready, played by Nicolas Cage), who have real crime-fighting acumen and a vendetta on their hands, not to mention an arsenal of guns, plethora of knives and a bottomless, unexplained supply of money.
That Mr. Macready has trained his daughter to take bullets with kevlar and play with butterfly knives is initially as shocking as it is hilarious. Cage and Macready play up the ridiculous dynamic by being as conventional as possible in every other way. Even more shocking is that Cage is actually great, delivering dryly witty lines with a straight face while letting his darker side bubble up just enough so as not to creep out his daughter. It’s Damon’s earnest daughter, however, who steals the show, both as the spunky Mindy and the ruthless Hit-Girl. Yes, it’s totally jarring to see an adorable girl dropping adult epithets and spraying lead at grown men. But it’s also refreshingly daring, doing away with convention in one fell swoop while rewiring the basics of well-trodden subject material.
While Kick-Ass is caught in the crossfire of competing agendas and grudges and a new nemesis is born (get ready for the sequel!), Dave is finding new courage without his costume, and his city is rallying around him (even if they don’t know it’s him). Like any superhero, he’s suddenly reeling in the ladies, loving life and generally unaware of the danger he’s in. Kick-Ass makes a big impression with its stylized aesthetics and bold storytelling, but what makes it a more tangible experience isn’t its superheroes, but its everyday hero. Dave’s day-to-day grounds the movie, lending it that extra grist that fleshes it out into something more special than a gimmicky action flick for fanboys.
Directed and co-written by Matthew Vaughn, the film is one of the most original of the year. There isn’t often something to cheer about in real life. But Kick-Ass isn’t a bad stand-in until Dave Lizewskis everywhere start investing in green wetsuits and tapping in to their inner heroes.