SXSW Review: ‘Kick-Ass’

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Kick-Ass is approached with a keen sense of humor, surprising wit, and a delicate blending of virtue and filth in a way that turns the cookie cutter world of comics upside down.

Kick-Ass
Directed by Matthew Vaughn

With the rapid succession of superhero movies to hit the theaters, distinguishing oneself from the masses is easier said than done.  However, Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn does just that.  The premise seems almost frighteningly simplistic — what happens when the average person decides to become a superhero?  Yet this is no sophomoric tale.  Kick-Ass is approached with a keen sense of humor, surprising wit, and a delicate blending of virtue and filth in a way that turns the cookie cutter world of comics upside down.

Aaron Johnson, most recently known for his role as Lennon in Sam Taylor-Wood’s Nowhere Boy, plays our protagonist, Dave Lizewski.  Ever charming, he manages to play the awkward teenager to perfection, struggling with school, a lackluster social life, and a masturbation habit that one could only call incessant.  Dave’s friends, played aptly by Clark Duke and Evan Peters, create not only a support structure for the would-be hero, but some of the best one-liners in the film.  Still, the trio never seem bogged down by their sharp dialogue and deliver performances so effortless that one feels drawn in by their naturalness.  Sadly, at times, the over-reliance on narration by Johnson’s character detracts from the inherent familiarity of the characters, drawing us back for a moment into the role of outsider, rather than letting us feel a part of the film.

As a superhero, Kick-Ass fails, landing the none too athletic looking Dave in the hospital for quite some time with a near fatal stab wound and a plethora of other injuries.  Still, never one to be deterred, Dave again dons his Kick-Ass persona and, armed with a growing social network thanks to Myspace, finds his niche in the superhero world.  After a clip of a successful rescue lands on YouTube, Kick-Ass joins the ranks of online celebrity and quickly garners the attention of others.

Big Daddy and his calamitous daughter, Hit Girl, take Dave under their wing, teaching him the ways of their world and, it must be said, though Nicolas Cage delivers a hard-hitting performance, it’s Chloe Moretz who steals the show.  I, along with seemingly every other journalist at the screening, was taken aback by her performance, which combined amazing athleticism with a natural exuberance that counterpointed her venomous skills.  Crossed by Frank D’Amico, resident mob boss, Big Daddy has raised his daughter as the ultimate sidekick, yet it’s on she that the plot often seems to rest.  Cage is at his best when displaying his character’s perverse ideas of parenting, but it’s Moretz who takes center stage in all fight scene.  While she may look practically Lilliputian when compared with her foe, Hit-Girl again and again holds her own, all the while spouting profanity that could make a sailor blush.

In his role as villain of the film, Mark Strong gives us a foe that is equal parts sophisticate and criminal mastermind, though D’Amico still has a sense of humor that is evident throughout the film.  He makes a formidable opponent, yet it’s obvious from the way the story is taken that it’s all about the heroes.  Our last hero, with a connection to D’Amico, is Red Mist, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse.  Of all the heroes in the movie, he seems to fall the flattest.  While there are moments of greatness, overall, he never really makes the connection with the audience that the rest of the cast achieves.  Perhaps it’s the curse of McLovin’ that renders him somewhat ineffective in his role.

Overall, the film is remarkable in both its witty dialogue and character development.  In an age when the comic book genre of film often falls back on special effects, the writing of Kick-Ass is phenomenal and delivered by nearly every character in the film with such ease and believability that it’s easy to lose oneself in the film.  Though the action sequences are impressive and the pacing of the movie so precise that it never feels rushed nor drags, it’s the characters themselves that call to us.  The storytelling elements of the film are on point to such a high degree that one becomes emotionally involved with all the characters, rooting for them throughout, and it’s because of this that we find ourselves on the edge of our seats, amazed in the finale to find that Dave really has grown into a credible superhero who lives up to his name.

— Mimi Elliott

Visit http://sxsw.com/film for more info on the film festival.

 

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