KICK-ASS – Movie Review

Kick-Ass MovieLast night I had the opportunity to attend an advanced screening of KICK-ASS, the movie adapatation of the comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., directed by Matthew Vaughn. It's the first "comic book movie" of 2010, and the speculation around this movie has been intense since the very first issue of the comic was released and the news that the movie was being fast tracked was released.  With the bombastic reputation of Mark Millar combined with the bloody, violent and crass issues released, one could only wonder how they would even begin to adapt this comic book to something suitable for movie theater audiences.  Sitting in my seat in the theater before the movie started, I recalled all of our questions and musings, and then cleared my mind so I could take it all in.

For this review, since we're still a long way from the movie's release date on April 16th, I'm going to approach this spoiler-free.  I don't want to ruin the movie for anyone and there will be more than enough time to dissect the various details of the movie once it hits a wide release.  That said, I will be discussing key elements of the movie and similarities and differences between the comic and the movie, which could get close to possibly spoiling it, if you interpret it that way.  I just want you, the reader, to know that I'm really going out of my way not to spoil this movie for you.  If you're slightly concerned at all with matters such as this, then I would advise you to stop reading now and come back in April after you've seen the movie.  Now with that out of the way…

For those who didn't read the comic books series, here's a quick synopsis of what the story is about.  Teenager Dave Lizewski is a typical American kid: a bit dorky but not a total nerd.  Invisible to girls and the "cool" kids, he's got a few close friends. They read comic books and try to avoid getting mugged.  His mother passed away, so he's alone with his father, and he yearns for something more.  For whatever reason, inspired by the good he reads of in comics, decides to don a costume and hit the streets to fight crime.  As the title suggests, he get's his ass kicked, a lot.  The comic was a realistic representation of what would happen if a normal person, like you or I, decided to try the superhero thing.  Reality hurts when your head hits the pavement.  But he persists, becomes an Internet sensation, meets other "heroes" and gets mixed up in some pretty hardcore dealings with the mob.  That's the main gist of the story.

A trapping with comic book movies is how closely the movie compares to the original source material.  Recently we've seen the Zach Snyder/Robert Rodriquez/Frank Miller school of direct translations such as 300, Sin City and Watchmen, where the movie is nearly a shot for shot translation of the comic to the movie, complete with the exact same dialogue and specific shots.  Then, in the middle of the spectrum, we have the Bryan Singer "inspired" by movie, that utilizes elements of the source material but is a unique story and approach to the characters, as Singer did with the two X-Men movies (say it with me: "there is no third X-Men movie").  And finally, all the way over in crazytown, we have comic book movies that leave your head scratching, wondering what comic book the movie producers actually read, because that sure wasn't the comic you read. Catwoman instantly comes to mind here.

The last Mark Millar comic book movie, Wanted, fell somewhere between the "inspired by" point and crazytown.  Do I need to remind you of the "Loom of Fate"?  Luckily for us, Matthew Vaughn has taken the "inspired" by approach for KICK-ASS, which was not only a good decision, but was executed as well as I could have imagined.  I'll tell it to you straight, this is not a literal translation of the KICK-ASS comic.  They tinkered with the story in places, adjusting when and how we get introduced to characters as well as details about the characters and their origins.  These weren't tinkerings for the sake of tinkering, but rather changes to make KICK-ASS as a movie work better not only in execution, but for a wider audience.  With every change they made from the original source material, I totally understand why and for the most part was absolutely fine with, with the exception of two changes that I'm not sure I would have done, but again, I understand why they did.  Basically Matthew Vaughn took Millar and Romita Jr.'s comic book, absorbed the essence and vision of the story, and then made a movie that rang true to that essence and vision.

One of the characteristics of the comic book that was often mentioned was its violence.  Millar dreamed up some immensely violent scenes and Romita Jr., doing some of the best work of his career, depicted them with bloody realism.  We wondered how on earth could they fit all this violence into the movie?  Well, they didn't.  Surprisingly, the movie is way less violent than the comic.  Not to say that there isn't violence, that I didn't look away numerous times from the screen because blood makes me queasy, but there was a dramatic scaling back of the violence, more than likely to stay within the guidelines of the MPAA, which I totally understand and the lesser violence did nothing to detract from the shocking imagery and feelings that come from that level of violence.  This was not even close to the most violent movie I've ever seen.  When there was violence though, it was effective.

As far as the cast goes, they were fantastic.  After seeing the trailer, I had some misgivings about the casting of Dave/Kick-Ass with Aaron Johnson.  I didn't get the feeling that he WAS Kick-Ass from the trailer, but after traveling with him through the movie, Johnson nailed it.  He was able to translate the complex feelings of teenager-dom with the feeling of helplessness that evolves into a spirit of action.  He was the anchor for the movie and did a great job.  But, as you can probably guess from what you've seen from the movie so far, Chloe Moretz as Hit-Girl steals the show.  Every time she's on screen, in that purple wig and mask, she's electrifying.  And it's not just the vanity of a little girl cursing and killing people, but even the quiet character moments and emotional moments, Moretz totally delivered.  The audience cheered when she was on screen and you were able to connect with her on an emotional level.  Nic Cage, as Hit-Girl's father, Big Daddy was great.  I could see a lot of people critcizing him, saying the way he played the role was hokey, but I thought that it balanced with the few glimpses of seriousness that he did show, especially during his origin sequence. This was one of the changes that happened that I'm not sure about. I loved Big Daddy's origin in the comic book, and the one here in the movie was a bit…safer.  When Nic Cage is having fun, he's a blast to see on screen and when he was in costume as Big Daddy, you can see him having fun, most likely living out his dreams of superherodom as well.  Mark Strong and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as the villains were great.  Strong playing the mob boss who wants to stop these super heroes, and Mintz-Plasse (McLovin!) as his underappreciated son who dons the Red Mist persona were able to create a father-son dynamic that made sense and was expanded much more than it was in the comic.  Plus Strong delivered a good presence as an Italian-American mobster, unlike the one in Punisher: War Zone which made me want to puke.

There is one aspect to the story that I want to address, again without spoiling it, so I'm choosing my words carefully.  There is a point in the movie where the action and the story takes a left turn from the original text.  Much like the left turn I experienced when I read the first Scott Pilgrim graphic novel, I didn't see this coming at all.  Like the lack of the giant squid in Watchmen, I could see fans of the comic crying foul at this left turn, but I won't agree with them.  The left turn was wild, insane, and SO true to the spirit of a Mark Millar story that it just made me laugh and continue enjoying the movie. Knowing that the movie is true to the spirit of the book helps to not freak out over this point in the movie and just embrace it and let the momentum take you through the rest of the movie.  After analyzing this decision, again, I understand why they chose to make these changes to the story and what's amazing is that it absolutely doesn't detract from the story and at the end of the movie, we end up in a very similar place as the comic book, so for me, it works, 100%. And besides, I don't think I've laughed and screamed as much when one specific moment occurs during the climax that definitely was not in the comic. Good on them for building on and possibly going further than the comic did in this area.

One of the biggest things I took away from this movie was that I really wish Matthew Vaughn had directed the X-Men movie as originally planned.  Maybe he wasn't ready at that time, but KICK-ASS is evidence that he can make a really good superhero movie.  I thought his direction and the visual look of the movie was exactly what it needed to be; bright and primary color based when it needed to be, dark and gritty at other times.  At no point was there anything in the craft of the movie that made me question his decisions (except for maybe the fictional New York City geography that made my head scratch, but I understand that's what happens when you shoot a movie set in New York City, in Toronto). I thoroughly enjoyed his use of music, with songs dropping in at the right moment and helping to craft the mood, and in other times providing a juxtaposition for the violence being shown on screen leaving you to find yourself enjoying the scene that much more.

There was even a moment of comic book fan glee as we see the origin of Nic Cage's character, Big Daddy, depicted in a very cool 3-D motion comic-esque execution with art by John Romita Jr., and inked by Tom Palmer.  Not only was it cool to see Romita Jr.'s art on the big screen but they were able to enhance it even more with the effects applied to it.  It was definitely a fun little moment for comic fans and great nod to the creators.

Is KICK-ASS a perfect movie? Well, I'm not sure how it measures up against The Dark Knight or the original Superman movie, but it comes damn close.  Then again, it's a different kind of super hero movie.  This is a modern, realistic take on the genre that was true to the insanity of Mark Millar's imagination.  Also, it was WAY better than Wanted.  I absolutely loved it and I cannot wait until I get to see it again.  I don't think I've had this much fun while watching a superhero movie, much less any action movie in a long while.  If you were to ask me if you should see it?  Absolutely.  As comic book fans, there's a bunch of easter eggs that you can spot, but they're never delivered at the expense of the movie in general.  If you have friends or family who aren't in comic books, that's fine, bring them.  This movie was cleverly done, in a way that makes it enjoyable and accessible to both groups, die-hard fans like us, and everyone else.  That's no easy feat, but if you ask me, it was perfectly executed.

KICK-ASS opens in theaters on April 16th and I strongly recommend you go see it.  It's fun and true to the spirit of the original comic book and fans of super heroes in general.  Personally I can't wait until everyone sees it and we can discuss the specifics because I know that you, the iFanbase will have some great observations and opinions.  So we'll be sure to come back here in mid-April as we celebrate the opening of KICK-ASS

In case you haven't seen it, here's the trailer to the movie for you to get a sample of the feel for it:

You can see more clips, as well as the restricted trailers at the KICK-ASS website.




  1. Oh I can’t wait, awesome review Ron.

  2. lol i remember the days when the ifanbase had to wait until the actual release of the movie in order to find out what you guys thought of a movie now u guys are gettin invited to preview screenings and what not……nice review ron im lookin forward to seeing the movie

  3. There was a huge test in SF. Sonia tweeted about it too. Also, Mr. Richards, I envy you.

  4. There were screenings in other cities as well last night, not just SF

  5. I meant test screening.

  6. Love the review Ron.

    Yay! An awesome movie coming out on birthday weekend! Makes up for not having The Losers out. (that is coming out in July right? I lost track.)

  7. Glad you enjoyed it, I continue to be excited about this.  Your reference to one of the characters as a "villain" might be a bit of a spoiler to someone who hasn’t read the comics yet, however.

  8. Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloe Moretz, and Aaron Johnson are going to be in Austin next weekend. My girlfriend and I got wristbands to go to the even. Can’t wait!

  9. I am pretty excited about this.  Just picked up the HC a week or two ago to read Kick-Ass for the first time and I enjoyed it. 

  10. And the stellar reviews for my movie roll in!  I’m going to be BIG TIME!

  11. Awesome! Cannot wait for it to come out. I for one am glad it deviates from the comic (one of the few things Wanted had going for it) as this just adds to the experience for me. I’m looking forward to seeing just what these deviations are…

  12. I used to go to screenings all the time. Then summer ended and all that went out the window as fall quarter started.

  13. CAN. NOT. WAIT. for this one. The review just got me more pumped than I was after seeing the first trailer. Nice to hear the changes don’t detract from the flick, and the thought of seeing JRJr’s art on the big screen… geek-gasm.

  14. I’m guessing that the left turn has to do with Big Daddy and what happens to him…

  15. I also hope that not too many fans will be crying foul over the changes. The pacing of a story in a single movie is much different that the one of an episodic comic series, and if it was a strict shot-for-shot translation, the pace would seem weird while watching it. What’s more important is that Vaughn got the feel of the series down, and to me, that’s just as important (maybe even more so) that strictly being 100% faithful. I can’t wait for this.

  16. @Ron stellar review.

     Having just read the HC for the first time, I couldn’t be more excited for the movie. Actually, I assumed that the movie would be just plain awful, but it looks like we may have another comic book gem on our hands.

  17. I can’t remember who made the comment (some filmmaker or writer) that the key to translating a book to screen is to capture the essence of the book.  The best example I can think of is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  So I’m glad to hear it keeps true to the book.

     Left turn?  I found the change in Watchman more than acceptable, if not better to interpret for the mainstream.  It was very consistent with the concepts given at the end of the book.  Personaly I would argue that it was better in some sense but that’s personal.

     Excellent review. 

  18. ron, i love you, mate, and the review was great. A lot of thought and detail

    However, i will eat my hat if this movie get anywhere near The Dark Knight or Superman

  19. Great review. Look at you being the Hollywood hotshot now. Going to see big films before being released and all. That’s why I love ya Ron.

    I still don’t think I wanna see this….at least for awhile. The situation I made a long time ago still works for me. If I see this at a Wal-Mart, Blockbuster, or anywhere else and this is uber-cheap; I’ll probably buy it. But I wasn’t in love with the comic and I just don’t think this is at all for me. Glad to know it isn’t downright terrible though, at least that’s healthy for the comic film genre.

  20. Really can’t wait to see this movie… sounds like a good adaptation of the comic! So was it just the poster or did Big Daddy look very Batman like? Especially with the mask.

    Maybe Marvel will tap Matthew Vaughn for some of the X-Men Origin movies.

  21. I, too, am pretty pumped about this movie and I didn’t exactly love Kick-Ass as a comic that much. So it doesn’t really make sense that I’m this excited. I don’t know exactly but between the red-band trailer and the review above, this looks like it is going to be a lot better than the comic. 



  22. Awesome, I just picked up the HC and am going to read it as soon as I get off work!

  23. The reason Matthew Vaughn didn’t do the xmen movie was because he could see that he wasn’t going to have any control over it. If it panned he’d get all the blame but if it was a success the producers would get all the credit. The great thing about KickAss is that it has an independent sensibility which allows for idiosynchrasies. Vaughn put his money behind KickAss so that what you see is what he wants you to see. Would he get the chance to do that with xmen, not then but maybe now?