Kick-Ass_ fits perfectly into the SXSW landscape as it is what we in the business call a “crowd- pleaser”. The trick here is that Matthew Vaughn’s film pleases a very specific crowd, and Austin seems to be the capital not just of Texas, but of the cynical fanboy (fangirl, fanperson). Based on the comic book series by Mark Millar, Kick-Ass tells the tale of a mild-mannered high school geek who gives into his fantasies of becoming a super hero. The story is tight enough, the visuals pop, and the gore is outrageous. Still this film is missing something pretty big: an audience outside of Austin.
Let me tell you what we have before I go into my opinion. In a cartoonish New York City, one ruled by organized (and not so-organized) crime, Dave Lizewski is a loser at the bottom of every food chain. He gets picked on at school, mugged in the streets and nothing but bored at home. On the brink of growing up, he decides to try his hand at being a super hero. After ordering a wet- suit online, he goes out to fight some crime and eventually becomes an internet sensation. Of course, there has to be some darkness to any super tale. Kick-Ass, as Dave has named himself, quickly discovers that there are villains more evil than he can handle, and heroes more well-equipped than he could imagine. Accidentally, he has thrust himself into a war for the ages: good versus evil.
The film balances two very different but overlapping genres with great finesse. It is a comic book adaptation and a parody of comic book cinema. As a comic book film, it ticks off marks on the list of required content. Bright colors and inspired production design, provided by cinematographer Ben Davis and production designer Russell De Rozario, make almost every frame feel like it lives on a page. Overlaid text boxes fill out the effect to the delight of hardcore comic kids. As a parody, it plays brilliantly. Its main cinematic inspiration is Sam Raimi’s Spiderman, which stands out as the biggest catalyst to our current heroically saturated film market. Pulling scenes, musical themes, narration and set designs from Mr. Raimi’s take on the hero, Mr. Vaughn is able to dance the line of homage and theft while building his own original language for this film.
Aaron Johnson delivers a nerdy, yet adorable as the title character. He fills Tobey Maguire’s spandex boots nicely. Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who the internet will never know by a name other than McLovin’, brings his endearing brand of geekery to the screen. Even the most trivial of statements out of his mouth had the Austin audience rolling in the aisles. Nicholas Cage, who spends a lot of the film spoofing himself and the heroes on which his character is based, provides some of his best comedic moments since Face/Off. Finally, the young Chloe Moretz brings her potty mouth into the mix. Kids dropping f-bombs always bring the yuks.
Kick-Ass’s violence is wildly vivid, perhaps to a fault. The filmmakers have gone above and beyond to deliver fast-paced action that warps your mind inside out as you try to process what the hell just happened. When you think there’s only one way to use a weapon, Mr. Vaughn and his creative team will take that weapon, put a string on it and grab someone’s arm and make them shoot their own face off. And the blood. Oh the blood. Heads explode, bludgeonings cause splatter, and limbs fly every which way. To put it lightly, it is an indulgent film.
That indulgence is really where the trouble lies. Kick-Ass’_s audience is extremely specific and, ironically, discerning. It is tough to please fandom, but it is even harder to please the fans and everyone else at the same time. When I say this doesn’t have an audience outside of Austin, I am speaking of the proverbial Austin; the state of mind where fanaticism, gore and comedy collide. This film delivers the laughs that the audience asked for, but how refreshing it could be to give us something we didn’t expect, or at least something that can be enjoyed by a bigger niche. I realize this is perhaps a cynical take on a generally tight film. After all, it _does deliver. You just need to know what you’re getting into beforehand. Odds are, if you’re headed to see the film, you’re hyper aware of what you’re being sold, in which case you’re really going to love Kick-Ass.