Toss a rock anywhere and you're going to hit a comic-book movie, probably a superhero-centered one. It's inevitable. The films themselves have gone through their own Silver and Golden ages, and now the landscape is filled with both the good and the bad. One of the latest has been the heavily hyped Kick-Ass, adapted from the Mark Millar title of the same name. It's an amalgam of a dozen other titles, subverting the usual themes and comic codes. It's quick, action packed, smart, and funny, but still feels like just another superhero movie, albeit one with tons of F-bombs and bloody corpses. I'll pick my own brain here to figure out why, and will fail.
7 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed star rating out of five
Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) doesn't understand why ordinary people haven't tried to become superheroes. He's a horny teenager with focused angst issues. Emulating comic books is a dream for him. Apparently he never read Watchmen, or half of the Batman comics where people just all-out hate superheroes and their backward attempts at helping people. Dave's father hasn't gotten over the death of his wife. Dave's friends, Marty (Clark Duke) and Todd (Evan Peters), are virginal comic fiends like he is. He's in love with a girl named Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca) that is amused by his existence. You'd have had to have slept under a series of rocks not to recognize this kind of storytelling.

I usually try to avoid explicit comparisons between a film and the work it's adapted from, but I judge my own exceptions. For all Dave's life that has nothing to do with the straight-up action stuff, the movie is far behind the comic, which subtly fleshes the softer stuff out. Director Matthew Vaughn started production on the Kick-Ass film as Millar was finishing writing the third issue, so the comic and film stray wildly on particular details. I'm not faulting the shortcuts that were taken, I'm just saying the film presents only a shade of an emotional core to Dave's story. Much of this, especially Katie's involvement, is extremely trite and underdeveloped, considering we're spending so much time with this kid. The filmmakers had to realize after so many viewings that voiceovers are the absolute worst, especially from teenagers who aren't really learning anything.

So, let's pretend the film begins when he first dons his internet-bought wetsuit and officially becomes Kick-Ass. He gets shanked, hit by a car, and left hospitalized; he asks the EMTs to keep his costume a secret, so the story is that he was found naked. Surgery gives him a body that feels very little pain, due to lots of plates and screws and nerve damage. I never saw anything like that on Discovery Health. Instead of avoiding trouble, he finds it again, stopping a public mugging in progress. He soon becomes an internet star. Internally, he's feeling like a rock star. Conversely, due to his assumed nudity on the street, people think he's gay, which starts a friendship with Katie, because she's always wanted a gay friend.

The story branches out to include a revenge plot against a drug kingpin, Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong), whose son, Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), is a schoolmate of Dave's. Chris is a comic geek, too. Small world. The revenge aspect is fueled by father/daughter duo Damon (Nicolas Cage) and Mindy MacCready (Chloë Grace Moretz), known in their costumes as Big Daddy and Hit Girl, respectively. Frank had a hand in ruining Damon's life, so it's Damon's mission to ruin his, down to raising Mindy to be a deadly assassin whose only response is cunning violence. Kick-Ass gets drawn into this bloodfest both by his own stupidity and through a dastardly plan concocted by Chris D'Amico, who poses as a fellow super-hero named Red Mist.

It should already be obvious where this movie goes wrong, and it's a shame. Because Kick-Ass works amazingly well when all pretensions are dropped and it just becomes a knife 'n' guns cartoon. Big Daddy and Hit Girl are crudely ludicrous, but I couldn't get enough of them. Cage adopts an Adam West inflection when he wears his Batman Begins-lite suit, and it made me laugh every time. It's almost embarrassing. Even when he's just Damon, it's like he took a popper to the nose before the cameras started rolling. Moretz is going to be a superstar in the next few years. Her line readings still sound like line readings, especially when cursing is so prevalent, but it doesn't matter. It takes a lot for me not to immediately hate children when they're supposed to be overly confident.

Keeping on the acting front, Johnson is also as solid as can be, despite the dullness of Dave as a character. His eyes come alive when he wears the green mask, and it definitely adds to it. Mintz-Plasse blazes through this film with established un-cool coolness. There's no reason that Dave shouldn't be able to recognize him as the barely-masked Red Mist, but that's movie magic. The scene-stealers of Kick-Ass are Mark Strong and his gang of cronies. Don't get me wrong, Frank D'Amico is a mean mother, but there's an absurd playfulness that flows between these guys that would work so much better in a movie with balanced moods. I think Matthew Vaughn has been there before.

Having directed Layer Cake and produced Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, Vaughn, who also co-scripted, brings insane gusto to the action sequences that stack like dominos here. If that's your thing, then every ironically soundtracked battle scene will blow your socks off. I became a total fanboy each time a weapon was brandished and the film slowed. It goes against my expectations, but Vaughn never displeases me. It's always too much, yes; punching a child repeatedly in the face will never win over everyone. But if you forget about all the times Dave's lame-duck narration tries to place these events in the real world, you might be able to have fun with it. Tell me you've never wanted to punch a specific kid in the face, and I'll throw the first stone. And it'll probably hit this movie's sequel.

For the visual dazzle and slapstick violence, definitely put this movie in your collection. But for character arcs and interesting twists, check out the comic. Either way, Kick-Ass has a story that deserves to be heard. Marginalize your expectations and check it out.
7 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed star rating out of five
Three discs come inside this extra-laden set: the Blu-Ray, the DVD, and the digital copy. I like how the dual-packs are becoming the norm, but I wish it would lower the price of standalone Blu-Rays. Whatever. All the special features are exclusive to the Blu-Ray disc.

Choose how you'd like to watch this film. You can watch it normally, or in "Asskicking BonusView Mode," which is trademarked. It's an interesting though useless mode of viewing if you plan on getting into the other features on the disc, I think. It's a visual commentary intercut with many behind-the-scenes interviews that correspond to what's going on at the time. Obviously, the commentary can be listened to on its own, and I think (but am not positive) that most of the behind-the-scenes footage is in the massive making-of documentary. But be sure and listen to the director's commentary anyway, because Vaughn is kind of drunk and blathery while still giving lots of interesting facts about the cast and production.

The two-hour-long "A New Kind of Superhero: The Making of Kick-Ass" is too long, of course, but there's no denying the sheer amount of background knowledge it provides. The first part, "Pushing Boundaries," goes over the comic and Matthew Vaughn's snapping up the chance to direct it. "Let's Shoot this F*****" is obviously about the shooting and casting and all that. It's the longest and most involved. "Tempting Fate" covers the Comic-Con appearance. And the most boring is "All Fired Up!" It's all about the score and effects and is ALL TALK. It's sort of interesting, but sounds encyclopedic. I can't believe that Aaron Johnson is British.

"It's On! The Comic Book Origin of Kick-Ass" is an extended interview with Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. going over concept and execution of an idea that began with Big Daddy and Hit Girl. I'm so glad it didn't stay that way. (Blunt sarcasm.) I actually enjoyed this mini-documentary more than the one about the movie, although the 20 minutes felt long. Everyone involved with the comic ends up getting a few words in. Congrats to those guys for putting out quality.

Finally, ignoring all the tech-savvy features that come on Blu-Ray discs, there is a large gallery called "The Art of Kick-Ass." It's filled with photographs, character and costume designs, trailers, posters, commercials, and everything like that. Of course, everything looks amazing in high-def, as does the film.

I had a really good time with this set, though it could have been better.


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