KICK-ASS tells the story of average teenager Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a comic-book fanboy who decides to take his obsession as inspiration to become a real-life superhero. As any good superhero would, he chooses a new name—Kick-Ass—assembles a suit and mask to wear, and gets to work fighting crime. There's only one problem standing in his way: Kick-Ass has absolutely no superpowers whatsoever.
His life is forever changed as he inspires a subculture of copy cats, meets up with a pair of crazed vigilantes—including an 11-year-old sword-wielding dynamo, Hit Girl (Chloë Moretz) and her father, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage)—and forges a friendship with another fledgling crimefighter, Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). But thanks to the scheming of a local mob boss Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong), that new alliance will be put to the test.
Most of the superheroes I grew up with had their beginnings back in the 1960's, and over the 25 years between their creation, and when I became a comic geek, said characters went through plenty of changes. Peter Parker, the incredible Spider-Man, was no longer a kid. Hell, he was married, for chrissakes. Batman had gone through a few Robins in his time. Superman, well, he was always a superpowered asshole that didn't change much, only he got put in place by some villain created solely to kill him (hooray!). New characters introduced in the late '80's to early '90's just didn't connect to youths in the same way the older heroes did. X-Men fans can count more than a few attempts to create youth classes (including, most popularly, Generation X and The New Mutants), to appeal to younger audiences. They struck out pretty hard.
Several companies had to reinvent their most famous characters, along with their backstories as a whole, in order to reconnect with younger audiences without forcing them to catch up on some 40-plus years of backstories, intricacies, and nuances. In the Marvel Universe, these were the Ultimate titles (Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men etc). Once again, the target audience could read the monthly (now super high glossy) strips and put themselves in the hero's shoes, and see them struggle with the same things they would, only with familiar characters! They could once again connect, and imagine their life if they were somehow blessed (or cursed) with a power or two.
"How come nobody's ever tried to be a superhero?"
That' a question only a comic geek would ask. A comic geek like Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), who, along with his fellow geek friends, get bullied and mugged somewhat regularly. That is, until one day, when Dave decides to create his own alter-ego. Purchasing a wetsuit and making a few small alterations, Dave hits the streets as Kick-Ass! After a horrific failure in his first outing, Dave becomes a worldwide sensation when he saves a random stranger from a life-threatening assault, and it gets caught on video. Superhero fever breaks, and soon a few others join the fray: the dangerous, foul mouthed, pre-teenage Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) and her father, the weapons fanatic Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage). When a fourth hero enters the mix, the mysterious, rich Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, 'Superbad'), Kick-Ass finds an ally so much like him that he feels accepted. But being a hero isn't all about the fame and the girls. It means you make enemies, and the drug pushing Frank D'Amico (an unrecognizable Mark Strong) wants nothing more than to eliminate the super pests standing in his way.
Adapted from the eight issue Marvel/Icon comic, created by Mark Millar, drawn by John Romita Jr, 'Kick-Ass' stays fairly true to its origins (of course, there are some changes from paper to film, it's to be expected), and paints the comic genre with great love and respect, and for that, I love and respect it. We get comic panels every now and then, for expository jumps, and even see a sequence of the film shown in comic form, much like how 'Kill Bill: Vol 1' changed things around by throwing in an anime chapter. This is a world existing in our world, where superhero comics, television shows, and movies are a part of society (not like some alternate universe where it never existed before it was brought up within the film, a growing paradox in my favorite sub-genre, the zombie horror), where heroes advertise on Myspace. It's a world probably too much like our own, with such sensationalized violence and carnage, with little remorse.
That has to be emphasized. 'Kick Ass' is over-the-top violent and gory, in every way the 'Punisher' films wish they could be, without feeling campy. Brutal, disgusting kills are the norm, even if they aren't Kick-Ass's method. But for every bit of violence, including that inflicted by and upon a little girl, there's a good laugh or piece of social commentary that puts it back in the realm of the acceptable and believable. Perhaps the most interesting bit of commentary is the manner in which we see Big Daddy when he isn't in costume. He's a loving, doting father, but he's taught his daughter the wrong, so very wrong way, and their relationship is truly something marvelous, solely for its daringness.
The performances within are fairly solid, with each performer being convincing in their role. Honestly, Johnson is unbelievably good in the titular role, playing the enthusiastic, but utterly lost soul who realizes more and more he's in way over his head. His body language and facial expressions are right on the money. After seeing 'Kick-Ass,' and being sucked into his performance, I'm somewhat bummed to know he didn't land the role of the new 'Spider-Man,' but ah well. Mark Strong was superb to the point where I did a slight double-take when I realized who he was in the film, after seeing him in 'Body of Lies' and 'Sherlock Holmes.' As a devoted Nicolas Cage fan, of course I paid great attention to his performance, and knowing he played the role in homage to Adam West's Batman, I found his performance hilarious, even if it was sadly not as utterly insane as I prefer him to be.
Comic movies took a turn for the serious in recent years, particularly after the heavy hitting one-two punch of 'Iron Man' and 'The Dark Knight,' but 'Kick-Ass' shows that films based in comic lore don't have to be dark and brooding, or overly theatrical, or even deep, to be entertaining and enjoyable. By balancing equal parts humor and extreme violence, 'Kick-Ass' manages to capture the audience's attention and leave them hanging on every word, the mark of a great film.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Kick-Ass' arrives on Blu-ray in a standard three-disc flipper keepcase (with a slipcover replicating box art, with different spine artwork), spread across a Region A locked BD50 disc. There are no pre-menu trailers, but there were a few load screens (due to some of the high def exclusive extras, which we'll get into shortly). Oddly enough, the menu screen defaulted to background sound off the first time I put it in my player. Perhaps my system remembered me turning off the noises for 'Ladybugs.' That, or this one wants to be mute, unless prompted otherwise.
The reason this disc is Region locked is due to distribution being held by other companies overseas. Said companies will be offering this title with a few packaging variations, though. In the UK, there is a Steelbook version, as well as a limited edition collector's box set. In Germany, there is a different, more plain (and more attractive) Steelbook. Considering region coding on this release, it is only safe to assume those releases are Region locked, as well, until anything otherwise is announced.
With an AVC MPEG-4 (1080p, 2.40:1) in tow, 'Kick Ass' is a film that is visually enthralling, though the very same elements that make it a fun watch are also the main elements that hold it back. Very much like 'Repo! The Genetic Opera,' extreme over-saturation can utterly obliterate clothing detail and facial features. It isn't DNR making every face so gorgeously smooth, it's the design of the film (and is even acknowledged in the A New Kind of Superhero supplement on this disc). Throw in a heaping mass of noise, inconsistent black levels and some crushing issues, and you have a transfer that is held back, and that's a damn, damn shame, as this one is otherwise quite sound. The picture is so amazingly deep and three dimensional, there is no arguing if this is worth a purchase for the video upgrade. Up close and far away, detail levels that aren't affected by the heat of the picture are intense and quite splendid. Grain levels are kept in check (except for one establishing shot which is beyond out of place), and colors are quite surreal.
There is one small error in the transfer (which is likely inherent in the source), at the 1.39.54 mark, in the hallway sequence in the third act, where a frame has a fairly massive horizontal blue streak flash across the screen, as thick as Hit-Girl's mask. It appears much like a noise pattern, and was hard to miss, as brief as it was, giving me that awkward double take moment of "wait, what was that!?!" Blink and you'll miss it, but I sure didn't.
Lionsgate gives 'Kick-Ass' their benchmark DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, and it's a fine track, to be sure. Dialogue has no problems whatsoever, in clarity, volume, discernibility, or prioritization...save for a few random Nicolas Cage lines that escaped me, for whatever reason (perhaps his awesomeness puts him in a plane of existence where we can't fathom every word he speaks. Who knows?). Soundtrack and score elements had appropriate range, and some nice bass thumps and bumps. Gunshots localize properly, and have a nice high pitched pop, and in the "flash action" sequences, they have great presence and movement. Directionality is proper, with nary a misplaced noise. The highlight of the track has to be the bass levels when Hit-Girl first hits the scene. The only thing standing between this track and domination over all other Blu-rays? Activity levels. Simply put, this film isn't excessively active in all channels at all times, awesome as it does sound. Some rooms just don't feel as crowded as they should. Still, a great sound experience.
'Kick-Ass' is very much like a dark and twisted take on the first film in the 'Spider-Man' trilogy, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Infusing humor into the genre in a way that 'Superhero Movie' failed to do, this film manages many tones and characters, all with the perfect amount of attention, crafting a tight, immersive tale that does the comics proud. With restricted video, solid audio, and some awesome extras, this three disc release comes with the highest of recommendations.