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Non-Review Review: Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass may be the action movie of the year. It will more than likely be the comedy of year. And it is currently among the best movies I’ve seen so far (and it’s been a very good March, might I add). Kick-Ass does what Watchmen should have, and takes superhero movies to the next level: working on the assumption that the genre is so well recognised that audiences will appreciate all the tiny little tropes, Kick-Ass picks apart the big budget superhero flick, but manages to avoid being mean.

Kick-Ass kicks... well, you see where this is going...

Okay, I mentioned Watchmen in the opening paragraph. The two may even seem comparable – postulating what the real world inhabited by superheroes may look like (though neither is truly ‘real’, in fairness, there is a large amount of verisimilitude). However, Watchmen as a graphic novel as an attempt to demonstrate the immaturity of the medium. While academics may argue that it has some sympathy for Dan and Laurie (as they save people from a burning building), it certainly paints anyone who’d walk around in a costume as a severely dysfunctional individual who can’t really make a difference (those people in the building probably die at the novel’s climax anyway).

Kick-Ass on the other hand, seems to admire the plucky courage of it’s would-be hero Dave. Sure, he gets his ass kicked a lot (“They should call him Ass-Kick,” Damien Macready suggests on watching the youtube videos of Dave’s exploits), and isn’t what anyone would call a dynamic do-gooder by any standards (mostly chasing stray cats), but his heart is in the right place. The movie gives him a nice moment when he saves a victim of an assault by three guys, as he wonders out loud what’s so wrong with him – surely it’s the three goons picking on one guy who have the problem or the dozens of on-lookers who do nothing? It’s a small moment, but it does suggest the movie has more than a bit of sympathy for its lead, even as it is more than willing to laugh at his less than adept efforts.

Perhaps there lies the movie’s charm. It recognises the inherent absurdity of the superhero concept (Dave, for example, won’t fling himself across high rooftops, even with a running start – he’s not that stupid), but the movie also plays some of the aspects of it entirely straight. For every ridiculously lame attempt by Kick-Ass to swing his baton around (it’s French for stick, we’re informed at one point) in a fight with three guys that goes spectacularly wrong, there’s a beautifully choreographed fight sequence which calls to mind the fluid work of The Dark Knight. Vaughn is skilled enough to make these moments work when they should and make them fail miserably when they need to, and it helps to prevent the movie from being too heavy or stupid for its own good. The superhero is absurd, but – if you play it too straight – the movie risks collapsing in on itself.

The movie is a very affectionate parody. You’ll recognise the shots – at one point Dave rips off his civvies to reveal his costume underneath like Superman – and the influences – like Christian Bale, Nicolas Cage changes his voice when in his Big Daddy costume… to an Adam West impersonation (it’s clearly… amazing, he should… be proud – all’s he’s missing… is… the “old chum”). The soundtrack is the best example. Much like Tarantino’s work, there’s little to nothing original here. Music is liberally borrowed from everything from 28 Days Later to Richard Donner’s Superman. Hell, even the original score is structured as homage. Witness a fight in the dark in a warehouse scored to chords more than a little similar to Hans Zimmer’s work on The Dark Knight. Kick-Ass loves these sorts of superhero movies, even as it mercilessly mocks them.

Sure, it does mock the hell out of its characters. Witness two superheroes head-bopping to Crazy in a suped-up (if you’ll pardon the pun) “Mistmobile”, the very epitome of lame. Hell, Big Daddy is one merciless parody of Batman, with Hit Girl serving to demonstrate how fundamentally wrong (and borderline abusive) the Batman-Robin relationship is, with the paternal figure using the child as a carefully fashioned weapon – Seduction of the Innocent somehow missed that problem. Still, as with everything else, it’s played so well that while it is parody it remains affectionate. While the movie may question Damien Macready’s use of his daughter, it doesn’t doubt that there isn’t a genuine love between the two (in fact, many of the film’s best laughs come from playing the duo as a super-sweet loving family).

The cast is amazing. Everybody is excellent. I want to tell you that, after a decade away, the fun and wacky (but in a good way) Nicolas Cage is back – but there’s so much more. Chloe Moretz, after a solid supporting turn in (500) Days of Summer, demonstrates she’s a talent to watch. Moretz is absolutely wonderful as the pint-sized assassin Hit Girl. It’s a shame that the performance, which is phenomenal by the standards of child actors, will be overshadowed by the controversy we’ll inevitably hear (and have already started to hear) about the movie. Mark Strong has a better screen presence than most villains, but he doesn’t even need a costume. The show undoubtedly belongs to Aaron Johnson as Dave, the guy who decides to try being a superhero. He has to anchor the film and maintain audience sympathy while doing the sorts of things which would get you declared insane. He pulls this off with aplomp.

If the movie has a flaw, it’s that it attempts to do far too much. It’s like an entire trilogy pushed into one film. There are certain leaps and omissions made. I can see the ending alienating a lot of people, particularly those expecting a brutal subversion for the superhero epic (which, without spoiling anything, it ain’t… mostly). I thought it fit well and underscored the movie’s affectionate attitude to these ridiculous types of stories. But these are small.

Matthew Vaughn has put together a pop culture hit here. Mark Millar’s work seems to be written for the screen, but I doubt Kick-Ass was as easy to pull off as the director made it look. Maybe Vaughn is the real hero.

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12 Responses

  1. I feel jealous. You, Ross and several other LAMBs love this and I just didn’t.

    http://bit.ly/9CKbw0

    • I can see it being a Marmite film – part of me thinks that the movie kinda missold itself. It isn’t quite “what if superheroes really existed in a grounded reality?” but “what if we took all the tropes and clichés of the superhero genre and applied them today?” – it isn’t half as deconstructionist as it led me to believe it would be, but it was incredible engaging and entertaining. But, yeah, this isn’t going to be everyone’s thing.

  2. I’m very jealous too. So many people got to see it before its actual US release… One of my most anticipated movie of the summer season.

  3. I can’t wait to check out Kick-Ass for myself. Hopefully it exceeds my high expectations.

    • As Fitz said above, I think it’s love or hate it (that’s certainly been my experience personally, talking to people). Far more people have loved it, though.

  4. “Kick-Ass” is out this Friday and I’m already there! I heart Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Chloe Moretz, both excellent young actors.

    • They both are – if people can look past the controversy, this could be a deserved breakout role for Moretz.

  5. This had a great blend of fantasy with action, and a bit of tongue-in-cheek appeal. Check out my review here: http://dtmmr.wordpress.com/2010/05/08/kick-ass-2010/

    • It’s a good film alright, but I loved the comedy element of it, myself. And Nicolas Cage.

  6. Kick-Ass was hilarious and smart parody (but as you pointed you in the review, it was many other things too). I liked Defendor with Woody Harrelson and Super by James Gunn with Rainn Wilson even more, though! 🙂

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