16 April 2010



"With no power comes no responsibility." So says the protagonist of the superb new superhero movie Kick-Ass, based on a comic book series by Mark Millar (Wanted).

But is that true? Shouldn't we all feel a responsibility to try to make the world around us a better place?

That is the mindset of New York City teenager Dave Lizewski (an amiable Aaron Johnson), a comic book geek who wonders why there are no real-life superheroes. He also thinks he'll look cool as a costumed crime-fighter.

So he orders himself a green and yellow wetsuit, which is baggy and not remotely cool on his skinny frame, though he thinks otherwise. Armed with a pair of batons and calling himself "Kick-Ass," he hits the streets in search of evildoers.

He ends up in the hospital.

After rehabilitation and with damaged nerve endings that increase his tolerance for pain, he's quickly back at it again. An amateur video of him thwarting a bit of gang violence turns Kick-Ass into an Internet sensation. Messages from people needing help come pouring into Dave's new Kick-Ass MySpace page.

Dave's longtime crush (Lyndsy Fonseca) also notices him at the same time, but there's one problem--she thinks he's gay. Desperate to spend time with her, Dave plays along.

In what could have been another movie on its own, those superheroes Dave believes do not exist are alive and well in New York, in the form of doting father Damon Macready (Nicolas Cage), aka "Big Daddy," and his 12-year-old daughter, Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz), aka "Hit Girl."

Big Daddy bears more than a passing resemblance to Batman (at times, Cage even adopts Adam West's stilted line readings), with one key difference--guns are his weapons of choice. He kills, and so does Hit Girl, though she often does it up close with a knife. If it sounds ludicrous, it is. It's also wildly entertaining, with some of the most creative action choreography since The Matrix.

Hit Girl steals the show, overshadowing even the titular character and becoming the first iconic screen figure of 2010.

You might question the morality of having a child as a murderous vigilante--go ahead. The movie presents Big Daddy as a man who is clearly deranged and setting his daughter up for a similar fate in life. It's a tragic story that makes a kind of twisted sense after writer-director Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Layer Cake) introduces their back story in a clever fashion.

Theirs is a revenge tale, and the target is millionaire crime boss Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong, also the heavy in Sherlock Holmes).

D'Amico's son, Chris (Christopher MIntz-Plasse, aka "McLovin" from Superbad), one of many inspired by Kick-Ass, adopts his own superhero persona, "Red Mist." His aim, though, is not to fight crime but to show his father he is ready to assume a role in the family business.

Kick-Ass has a lot going on, a lot of moving parts, and Vaughn keeps them all in order, maintaining a tone that balances action and comedy without employing all-out parody. In production notes, Johnson provides a fitting description of the movie: "Superbad meets Kill Bill."

Kick-Ass feels like the kind of film Hancock might have become had it not been positioned as Will Smith's latest summer blockbuster offering and held to a PG-13 rating.

As a new property (most of the comic book series was written at the same time as the movie), Kick-Ass is an unknown commodity, lacking the name recognition enjoyed by many other superhero sagas. That is part of its appeal; it feels fresh, with an edge about it that allows you to think anything can happen to any character at any time.

Much was made last year about Watchmen representing a new kind of comic book movie. But it was so self-reverential that it was unable to be about anything other than itself. Kick-Ass comes to us with no pretensions, as both satire and credible entry in the superhero genre, taking its place among the very best comic book movies.

A word of warning: This movie is much darker and a whole lot bloodier than I had expected, and easily earns its R rating.

Greg's Grade: A

(Rated R for strong brutal violence throughout, pervasive language, sexual content, nudity and some drug use - some involving children. 117 minutes.)

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