Sunday, April 18, 2010

Film review: Kick-Ass (2010)

Comic book superheroes are big business in the film industry today with no signs of slowing down.  With most of the major comic book heroes already adapted into films (X-Men, Spider-Man, Superman, Batman), they've ventured into the lesser-known characters, and now into the new books that aren't quite household names yet.

Enter Kick-Ass, the alter ego of a high school student Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), your average American teenager.  Years of comic book consumption have left him with a taste of the superheroics, despite the absolute lack of motivation (his parents weren't killed in a back alley), superhero training (he's just an average student with no athletic skills) or powers (no radioactive spiders, gamma ray exposure, etc.). With his internet-purchased costume and his motivation, he sets out to set the wrong things right...but boy, is he going to get his ass kicked.

To help him along the way are two actual superheroes, the vigilante Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his young sidekick Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), who actually do have the training and weaponry to take down the bad guys, and are going to use it to take down the city crime boss. But as much as Dave is in over his head, he has to do the right thing, as even a lack of power does come with great responsibility.

Based on the graphic novel by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr, Kick-Ass manages to live up to its title and then some.  The source material plays out like a Hong Kong action flick, over-the-top in just about every manner possible.  Blood, gore, violence, curse words (yes, there's an 11-year old that uses the c-word), and sex.  Surprisingly, the filmmakers didn't wuss out when making this film, leaving it a much more faithful adaptation than Mark Millar's last graphic novel, Wanted. Indeed, director Matthew Vaughn had to finance this film independently, given the very objectionable things that his pre-teen actress was doing during the film.

In terms of the storyline, the filmmakers do make some creative decisions in order for this film to work and to satisfy some of the expectations of the moviegoing audience (ie: those that don't read comic books).  Overall, the film does follow the comic book faithfully, made simpler by the fact that the original comic book story is only 8 issues long, unlike other comic book films which need to pick and choose from 40+ years of comic book history.  The changes do benefit the film, however. Dave Lizewski is a lot more likeable than in the comic book (he's depicted as a creepy stalker) while Big Daddy and Hit Girl's origins are more conventional (Big Daddy's origin is much more mundane in the comic book). Sex is also toned down (but not by much), as they've eliminated the nudity of the comics and kept in all the violence and curse words.

More importantly, they also ramped up the action, which is surprising, given the unlimited "visual" budget of a comic book (why spend $100K on 3 weeks of processing in the render farm when you can pay a guy a couple hundred bucks to draw a page?).  The action in the comic books is already soaked with red ink, but the film goes on to add rocket launchers and Gatling guns (I won't spoil the rest).

The humour is also largely intact, partly owing to the witty dialogue and Nicolas Cage's intentionally dead-pan performance.  The over-the-top violence also leaves the audience laughing and cheering in disbelief.  And did I mention over-the-top violence and curse words?  The original comic book wasn't not meant for kids and this movie is definitely not meant for kids.  This is an interesting dichotomy, considering that the film does pander to adolescent fantasies, much like Wanted.  Regardless, leave 'em at home for this one, folks. 

As one of the better postmodern comic book movies to come out, Kick-Ass lives up to its title and then some, and in many ways is superior to its source material without diluting the original idea.  Definitely worthy of a night out.

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