Flashback: on 2010’s Kick-Ass

I’ve got a bit of a secret. I wasn’t 100% honest when I compiled my Top Ten Films list of 2010. Oh, I still believe that my #1 and #2 choices were the finest examples of film-making from that year. Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” is a mesmerizing mindfuck featuring a brave, tortured, Oscar-winning performance from Natalie Portman. And runner-up “True Grit”, the superior remake of one of John Wayne’s most celebrated starrers, is an absolutely astonishing western from the great Coen brothers. Its final stark scenes most likely representing the best American movies had to offer at the start of the new decade. Both of these works are from American masters, and I’ll never forget the difficulty I had in trying to determine if my #3 choice was a better film than either while compiling my 2010 standouts. Finally, I had to appease myself with a compromise. “Black Swan” and “True Grit” were my picks for the very best films that year. But my personal favorite movie of 2010 was(and still is)the phenomenal “Kick-Ass”. But, boy does it have its detractors.               Current titan of film critics, Roger Ebert, awarded “Kick-Ass” one out of 4 stars while calling it “morally reprehensible”. The consistent(but decidedly middle-brow)Leonard Maltin, while praising certain aspects of the film, ultimately gave it a negative review claiming it made him feel “queasy”. However, overall notices were quite positive, with maverick director Quentin Tarantino and internet critic Walter Chaw(a brilliant writer and my go-to guy for over a decade now)citing it among that year’s best films. Which begs the question—what are naysayers like Ebert and Maltin complaining about? Their main bone of contention, almost unfailingly, centers around the character of Hit-Girl played by Chloe Grace Moretz. Hit-Girl is a foul-mouthed martial arts expert who’s handy with a gun or a knife and everything in between and above. She also happens to be just 11 years old. Shocking? Yes. Morally reprehensible? Now hang on just a minute. I greatly respect Mr. Ebert. More as a film historian than a film critic. But if you’re going to take a moral high ground against a particular film—you better be pretty damn consistent. And a quick and easy perusal of Roger’s own website reveals a number of films that many found objectionable when dealing with children receiving the highest level of praise from Mr. Ebert(2008’s “Let the Right One In”, 2004’s “Birth” and 1998’s “Happiness”, among others). So, I believe Roger Ebert is way off-base and behaving fuddy-duddyish. You can’t have it both ways, Rog.               So, what exactly did I love so much about “Kick-Ass”? Where to begin. Right in the opening scene I realized we were headed someplace special when a dive off of a skyscraper became the opposite of what you thought it was supposed to be. In fact, unlike most comic-book films, “Kick-Ass” is FULL of surprises. Just when you think you know exactly where it is going it takes another sharp turn. And often those turns are dark, violent…and absolutely glorious. You see, “Kick-Ass”, unlike the billion-dollar garnering “The Dark Knight” from 2008, actually had the balls to go rated ‘R’. That choice alone cut into at least half of the film’s box office. Matthew Vaughn certainly posits much of “Kick-Ass” amongst the high school set, but he did not direct a kiddie film. I am crazy about “The Dark Knight”, btw, but let’s face it—almost all superhero films deliver a cut that assures a PG-13 to maximize that domestic AND worldwide box office tally. Matthew Vaughn made an artistic choice that sailed with most critics as well as making “Kick-Ass” a minor hit in theaters and a major cult favorite on DVD and cable television. Also, the cast is uniformly superb. Aaron Johnson is perfect as Dave “Kick-Ass” Lizewski as a sort-of Peter Parker without spider powers. Christopher Mintz-Plasse shows he has more up his sleeve then McLovin’ when his Chris D’Amico character dons the costume as partner/rival “Red Mist”. I knew Chloe Grace Moretz was destined for super-stardom as she ably stole the film from her much older co-stars with her mixture of innocence and attitude as Mindy “Hit-Girl” Macready. Her performance deserved an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress—I kid you not. And goddammit I am wild about the loony Nicholas Cage and what he pulls off as Damon “Big Daddy” Macready—“Hit-Girl’s” trainer, protector, and loving ex-cop Dad. From his goofy, aw-shucks persona as he pumps bullets into his little girl’s chest(she’s wearing a bulletproof vest, sillies)to his dead-on Adam “Batman” West cadence whenever he’s attired in his “Big Daddy” garb. His final action scene in the film is so awesomely scripted and choreographed as he yells fighting instructions to his progeny as he is strapped to a chair in the dark. It was one of 2010’s most pulse-pounding moments in the cinema. And the wrap-up of said scene—which powers the finale into motion—is lump-in-the-throat touching and tear-worthy. And the “Flying Home” sequence, with music by Marius Vries, is my top movie thrill of that entire year—or even most years. It encapsulates in roughly 90 seconds, with its score, its pace and its audacious choice of transportation, everything a young boy(can’t speak for the gals)ever fantasized about when dreaming of being a real-life superhero. I sometimes play it on YouTube when I need a quick pick-me-up(I warned you on my About page that I was a geek).               I really believe that “Kick-Ass” achieves a certain level of genius in its best portions. It takes chances, it goes out on a limb and it never cops out. Make no mistake…it is a bloody, violent ride. But it’s a rousing ride too…and I wonder if the rising star director Matthew Vaughn can ever top it. I think that 2008’s “The Dark Knight” was a great film and one of the greatest of the last decade. But 2010’s “Kick-Ass” is the best and purest comic-book movie that I’ve seen yet. And I am confessing it here for all to see. Just put the kids to bed and experience it for yourself.            Grade: a no question about it absolute A


2 comments on “Flashback: on 2010’s Kick-Ass

  1. Piss and vinegar and humor. That’s my man! Nice job!

    And, it’s true, when Nic Cage plays off the rails it makes up for the other 95% of what he does anymore.

  2. Thank you, Brian! You have known for a while how passionate I am about this film, and I’ve been wanting to write about it for some time now. And yes—perfs like this one and 2009’s “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call-New Orleans” remind us of just how incredible Cage can still be! ML

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