Kick-Ass (2010)

Rating: ****
Release Date: 4/16/10
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Chloe Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong

A fascinating study in contrast and morality, "Kick-Ass" functions both as a vehicle for adolescent wish fulfillment and as a cautionary tale against those same wishes. It explores the moral choices each of us make, and how powerless we feel when society backs us into the corner. Vigilantism offers a way to fight injustice, and a mask gives a person the strength to back up their convictions, but it provides no protection. Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) learns this the hard way when he decides to become a superhero named Kick-Ass. He's a comic book geek and a loser at school, so naturally he escapes into a realm of fantasy. His first attempts at crime fighting land him in the hospital for six months, but that doesn't deter him. Eventually, a chance run-in with some street thugs gets posted on the Internet and he becomes a pop culture sensation. His popularity attracts the attention of fellow vigilantes Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz), as well as the town's leading crime boss (Mark Strong), and soon his life becomes a living nightmare of constant peril and pain. Kick-Ass finally gets a chance to become a REAL hero when he and Hit-Girl team up to wipe out the bad guys in a mind blowing assault of epic proportions.

Much like "Wanted" (2008), you could easily jettison the first half of the film and end up with a much better final product, but I understand the reasons for having to set up some sort of character background. It's just unfortunate that it's so tedious and uninteresting. Fortunately, Aaron Johnson's portrayal of Kick-Ass is dead-on, and he gives a surprisingly sincere and heartfelt performance. His fears and convictions are tangible and easy to grasp, and you can't help but feel his pain and despair. All of the actors give excellent performances, and the direction is skilled and thoughtful. The cinematography is great, the visual effects are superb, and the film looks gorgeous (apart from at least one wire stunt where they forgot to remove the wire in post).

Like most action films, this one works best when there's no dialog to get in the way, and the film's woeful attempts at humor are a constant irritant. The soundtrack is also obnoxious and inappropriate, which ruins a lot of the tension and pacing in the action sequences. That aside, the action scenes are outstanding and some of the best I've seen in recent years. Unlike so many other superhero films, this one doesn't pull its punches and the physical violence is shockingly brutal and bloody, reminding us of the frailties of the human body and the differences between real violence and fantasy violence. While Kick-Ass doesn't do much other than philosophize and repeatedly get his ass kicked, where the movie really shines are in the Big Daddy and Hit-Girl sequences. They're professional killers and they mean business. Eleven year old Chloe Moretz is absolutely wonderful, and every scene she's in is cinematic gold. Unfortunately, the trailer for the film gives away all of her best moments, but she's still a delight to behold in action. She handles her role with passion, conviction, maturity, and deadly seriousness, which puts most other action actors and actresses to shame. Nicolas Cage's big action scene is also quite satisfying and convincingly savage. The overall tone of the film is one of constant dread, which lends a nice sense of authenticity to the proceedings. Ultimately, if you can ignore the adolescent dialog and introspective narration, "Kick-Ass" is a surprisingly entertaining and well crafted piece of dramatic action cinema.