Monday, April 19, 2010



"What the f*ck have you done lately?"

That line comes from Mark Millar's comic book series, "Wanted." In a nifty, self-aware way, it's at the centre of the film KICK-ASS which is also adapted from a Millar comic series. The mantra of a group of kids who know they are capable of more, it's a shot to the chest for any of us who stand on the sidelines and don't have the guts to stand up for what's right. And it gives a shockingly violent movie a lot of heart.

The film starts with Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), an unspectacular teenager yearning to be something more. Inspired by the comic books he surrounds himself with, he decides to go vigilante and fight crime as a superhero. Small problem though—he has no powers and no training. During his first act of justice, he gets pummeled within an inch of his life. The up-side is that to save him, doctors had to graft a lot of steel plates onto his skeleton, leaving him rather impervious to pain.

His next time out goes much better; not only does he win the fight, but he gets massive YouTube exposure thanks to gawkers with their camera phones. Dave is now much more than a mere mortal; he's Kick-Ass, here to save the day, your cat—whatever you need.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to Damon Macready and his daughter Mindy (Nicolas Cage and Chloe Grace Moretz). After being framed and sent to prison during his daughter's infancy, Damon has grown a tad overprotective and angry. He wants vengeance on Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong), the mob boss who set him up. He reaps his vengeance by becoming "Big Daddy," loading up on weapons—lots of them, legal and wildly illegal alike—and thwarting Frank's business at every turn. Oh, and he trains his daughter to help him.

Know those girls that would rather play hockey than play with dolls? Mindy is like that; but replace the hockey stick with a butterfly knife. She becomes Hit Girl and with Big Daddy, reaches out to Kick-Ass to make him a better hero.

The three of them start taking on Frank's goons, leaving him with precious few resources. So Frank turns to his son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who suggests the only way to find a hero is to become a hero. Chris follows the Kick-Ass formula of grassroots heroism and becomes Red Mist, an internet phenomenon in his own right, hoping that Kick-Ass, Hit Girl, and Big Daddy will take the bait and reach out to him. Maybe then he can crawl out from under his father's massive shadow.

Aaron Johnson draws us in as the titular character, Kick-Ass. His body language perfectly captures a kid whose guts have decided to do something extraordinary but whose brain still isn't convinced. He's that guy you see on the high dive at the pool, arms wrapped around his torso, taking ages to decide whether to jump or take the climb of shame back down the ladder.

Great as Johnson is, he is damn near upstaged by Moretz and Cage. It's their relationship that makes the film a winner. They kick ass better than Kick-Ass kicks ass, but behind the cowls and capes, they are a father and daughter whose relationship is very loving and very real. Cage hams it up appropriately (often doing his best Adam West meets William Shatner), but there is never a moment where we doubt his devotion to his daughter. He isn't putting her through this to follow in his footsteps; he only wants her to be able to protect herself. You can see in her eyes that she knows this isn't completely normal. But she loves her dad, and he hasn't let her down yet, so she follows his lead.

These characters are all reasons enough to see the movie, but it's watching them come out and play that makes this an intense experience. Despite being less than two hours, the film is loaded with action sequences, all of which are expertly choreographed. Hit Girl is at the centre of the best ones which is what makes them slightly more unique. Not since Gogo Yubari swung her mace in KILL BILL has a schoolgirl amassed such a bodycount.

Much has been made of how the film earns its R rating. Hit Girl uses language that would make a sailor blush, the violence is pretty intense—bodies cook, limbs are lost, bullets fly—and none of it has artistic merit. But I don't believe that makes the film overly exploitive. It is based on a violent comic book after all. It just means that the film isn't for young kids.

Intensity aside, what KICK-ASS does best is get the human element right. Kick-Ass' ambition, Hit Girl's devotion, and Red Mist's isolation all work. These kids are not caricatures; they are very human and very relatable. You look at their faces, and you can see the unrest and desire. Deep down in all of them, they know they'd rather be the one in the middle of the fray than a spectator standing on the sidelines with a camera.

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