The Movie Goat Reviews: Kick-Ass

It seems like every time I post here, I lead off with “it’s been a while.”  Well, until my life gets significantly less complicated (likely sometime in early 2012) that will continue to be the case.  But in the meantime, enjoy my sporadic ramblings and occasional movie reviews.  Most recently, I ended my pre-screen drought by catching an early show of Kick-Ass, the newest in a dwindling parade of comic-book based movies.

I’ll say this about Kick-Ass.  They need to hire a PR department.  Or maybe even just a temp to call around and take out a few ads.  For all the money they spent making this thing, you’d think they could afford a TV commercial or a movie poster or something…after a little bit of reading, I found out that most of the major studios didn’t want anything to do with it, which is not surprising for any movie featuring Nicholas Cage as the headline actor, an 11-year-old girl who spews obscenities and kills dozens, and the word “ass” right there in the title.

Fivel Goes West this is not.

Opens everywhere April 16th

I stumbled upon this movie months ago completely by accident, while trolling the Quicktime movie trailers page as I do from time to time.  The concept is solid.  A geek living in New York sees petty crimes going on all around him and, inspired by comic books, decides to put on a costume and try to fight back.  At first, you say sure, we’ve been there before, but if you think about it for a second, we really haven’t.  Aside from possibly Watchmen, every comic book hero has some sort of radioactive bug-bite or interstellar superpower or heaps and heaps of money with which to buy gadgets.  Kick-Ass’s Dave Lizewski has none of these things, and the movie takes a surprisingly realistic stance on what would happen to such a person if he tried to be a hero.  In his first heroic encounter, he gets beaten to within an inch of his life and stabbed in the stomach.  What follows is not your standard “limp home and put an ace bandage on it”, or even the unsettling “give yourself stitches, take two aspirin, and get better in a few days.”  No.  An ambulance comes and takes him to the hospital, he has surgery to fix his gut, and a bunch of metal plates and screws to take care of his broken bones, with a ton of nerve damage and months of recovery as the result.

The realism doesn’t stop there.  Even when the “Real” superheroes show up (a retired cop with a vendetta played by Nicholas Cage and his 11-year-old cop-trained daughter), they show as close a representation as I’ve seen of what it would take to be a vigilante in the real world.  Guns, knives, and tons of Kevlar.  Cage’s “Big Daddy” may look like Batman, but the similarities end there.  The movie trades Batman’s utility belt for semi-automatic handguns and body armor, and improbable karate kicks for pinpoint shooting accuracy and good old-fashioned punches in the face.

And speaking of Nick Cage…I have complained about him ruining movies in the past.  In general, whenever he gets on the screen (no matter if it’s an action movie, romantic comedy, or documentary) he seems like a guy who accidentally walked in to the women’s locker room at the gym and, profoundly uncomfortable, tries to awkwardly muddle by while he quickly searches for an excuse as to why he is there.  In this movie, that hasn’t changed, but the directors decided to write his character to fit that style.  Cage’s Damon MacReady is a socially awkward ex-cop who is likely very unstable due to the loss of his wife and a bunch of time spent in prison.  He’s so messed up that he raised his daughter to want butterfly knives for her 11th birthday instead of a puppy.  The daughter, played by more-or-less newcomer Chloe Moretz, puts in an excellent performance, including some of the best comedic child acting I’ve ever seen (it’s a lot harder than you’d think).  No matter how crazy the combat situations get (and they do get very crazy), the characters hit home in a way that no comic books ever have, for me at least.

The high school students act like high school students.  They make fun of each other like high school students, swear like high school students, smoke pot like high school students, and watch porn like high school students.  The main villain isn’t some mustached loner guy looking to rule the city and wipe out Truth, Justice, and the American Way, he’s a medium-scale drug lord who has a family and a legitimate business on the side and a decent network of cocaine, thugs, and connections in the NYPD.  Rather than ignoring cell phones and the internet as most hero settings do, this movie makes a commendable attempt to incorporate them, with Lizewski’s Kick Ass using MySpace and cell phone videos from bystanders to publicize himself.

I could go on, but you need to see this thing for yourself.

The Bottom Line: Using the words “genre defining” on a movie called “Kick-Ass” may be a little hasty (and wrong), but while it doesn’t define the genre, Kick-Ass certainly gives it a much needed shove in the right direction.  It’s nowhere near Oscar material, and some critics will pan it for this and other associated reasons, but it’s certainly fun, and in the end, isn’t that what comic books are supposed to be?