Movie adaptations of comic books are tricky. Things that work in comics do not always work in film, and vice versa. As a result, changes need to be made appropriately. Filmmakers have to weigh the value of faithfulness to the source against creating a stronger film. Like Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen (2009), Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.’s Kick-Ass primary weakness as a film is how well it adapts the story from the comic book.
Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is an average American teen, mildly bored with life and reader of comic books. Dave decides to make his life more meaningful by getting involved in his community, helping out at homeless shelters, joining extra-curricular programs at school, and working up the nerve to talk to girls. Wait… no, that would be an appropriate response. No, Dave goes the saner route of buying a SCUBA outfit, and fighting crime as the superhero, Kick-Ass.
Shockingly, on his first real patrol, Dave is stabbed and run over by a car.
After “months of healing” are over, Dave goes right back out and fights crime again-albeit more successfully-and is broadcast on YouTube. Kick-Ass becomes a sensation, inspiring a father and daughter vigilante team to also don super-hero costumes as Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage), who go on a mission to destroy local mob boss, Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong)-enlisting Kick-Ass to help...with graphically violent results.
Like the original comic book, the film’s tone is uneven at best. At varying points, the film is about the realities of trying to be a vigilante, dealing with high school awkardness, an epic revenge drama, a shoot ‘em up, a commentary on fame and mass media, a satire of super-hero films, a mob film, and an absurdist comedy. While Vaughn’s strong visual sense makes the film a pleasure to watch, and the film is at no point boring, the constant shifting between various genres left the film with no real identity. Which in Vaughn’s defense, is very faithful to the comic book.
Also faithful to the comic, Kick-Ass is actually the least interesting character. At minimum, he needs to anchor the ludicrous story of Hit-Girl, Big Daddy, and Frank D’Amico. In the comic book, Dave’s constant narration provides this anchor. Unfortunately, in the film, he becomes lost in his own story, struggling to keep up with the other personalities on screen. This is not a shock considering the acting talent he's up against. Nicholas Cage, as always, delivers an interesting performance combining his normal insanity with more than a little nod to Adam West. Mark Strong demonstrates that he possesses probably the best American accent in all of England.
Then there’s Chloe Moretz.
Moretz steals the show playing an 11-year-old, unstoppable engine of violence. Her least disturbing aspect is her foul mouth. Much, much worse is how she brutally dismembers at least thirty armed mob enforcers. Granted, the audience won't feel bad for the guys getting killed, but when it’s a cute little girl, it’s at the very least...disconcerting. The most amusing audience reaction to Hit-Girl was when someone finally managed to hit her. Everyone was shocked and horrified that the little girl got kicked in the face. You know, after she spent the better part of the film lopping people’s legs off and crushing them in hydraulic presses, I may be jaded.
Overall, Kick-Ass is an intriguing addition to the growing library of super-heroes on film. It’s visually gripping, action-packed, and entertaining; and while it's not a “realistic” portrayal of what someone trying to be a super-hero in real life like Mark Millar said it would be, it does have a sweet jetpack. If nothing else, he doesn’t call the audience assholes at the end for reading his comics.