31 Mar 2010

Screen Time: KICK-ASS

By Matt C

Cast: Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloe Grace Moretz, Mark Strong, Nicolas Cage
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Runtime: 117 minutes
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 31 March 2010

The buzz during the lead up to this film’s release was almost astronomically huge, with suggestions it would have a game-changing impact on the way superhero movies are received on the big screen. Turns out it doesn’t quite live up to those rather bold claims, but while it may not alter the way we perceive spandex-base action in cinematic form, it still manages to be a complete blast of pure celluloid adrenaline shot straight into the heart of the Hollywood blockbuster machine. We’ve all heard the stories of how the major studios baulked when Matthew Vaughn presented them with this project, so the finished product feels like an enormous “fuck you!” to everyone who told him “no” and showed him the door.

Mark Millar and John Romita Jr’s original comic book version of Kick-Ass ended up – due to the usual erratic scheduling which afflicts most Millar books - being published in tandem with the film’s production, meaning a lot of plot details surfaced online before they appeared in the comic. Fortunately they managed to get the final issue on the shelves before the movie debuted, or they’d be in a situation where ‘Based on the comic by Millar & Romita Jr’ wouldn’t be strictly true! It was definitely one of Millar’s best efforts in recent years, but Vaughn (working from a script by Jane Goldman and himself) seems to have treated the comic as a blueprint for something greater because, make no mistake, no matter how ridiculously enjoyable the comic was, the movie takes the premise and cranks it up to the next level. There are several deviances, additions and alterations to the way the plot progresses on screen, and generally they seem to be preferable to the way things played out in the comic (the exception being the inclusion of a romantic subplot, the films only real bum-note), and this ensures the whole experience is deliriously exciting and relentlessly energetic one.

Vaughn riffs on and references plenty of famous superhero flicks, from the ‘epic’ opening which brings to mind Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie, to various visual nods to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movie. Spider-Man also appears to provide the starting point for Aaron Johnson’s take on the titular hero, seemingly playing a warped, more ‘realistic’ version of Toby Maguire’s Peter Parker. Johnson gives Dave Lizewski an appealing air of vulnerability and exuberance, as well as wilful streak of almost suicidal stupidity. Mintz-Plasse is still too young to have escaped the shadow of McLovin’, but his character still works brilliantly, especially in his scenes with his on-screen father, Mark Strong, who turns in another deliciously villainous performance to add to his resume. Nicolas Cage has had perhaps one-too-many misfires of late, but goes a hell of a long way to redeeming himself with his inspired channelling of Adam West’s Batman as Big Daddy. They’re all great, but Chloe Grace Moretz is a real revelation. As Hit Girl, she’s a whirlwind of prepubescent profanity and bloodletting, going from sweetly innocent to unstoppable death machine in seconds. She steals every single scene she’s in, and Hit Girl is an icon in the making.

Hit Girl in kill-mode, slicing her way through her opponents is a joy to behold, and Vaughn really excels himself with his action sequences. Whether it’s Kick-Ass flailing about while getting pummelled, Big Daddy’s controlled rampage through a warehouse full of mobsters, or Hit Girl’s night-vision enhanced videogame style attack, every fight scene has a distinct flavour and rhythm, and Vaughn’s often inspired choice of music is always on the money.

Just like the comic before it, any allusion to realism quickly goes out the window, to be replaced by a frenetic, punk rock charge through a heap of superhero tropes. It mocks the genre conventions but at the same time displays an implicit understanding of them, an understanding that frequently betrays a complete adoration for spandex-based carnage. Kick-Ass may face strong competition in the Comic Book Movie Of 2010 stakes in a couple of months, but even if Iron Man 2 delivers the goods, Vaughn’s movie is still an absolute winner. 9/10


Anonymous said...

Evening all - for what it's review, here's my take on the movie...

James R: Well, a few months ago, I reviewed the last issue of 'Kick-Ass' and said that a movie outline, it was just fine, and I felt that the movie would build on this and make it more fun. So, was I right? Yes and no. On one hand, it is a triumph of a film, really fleshed out by fantastic characters (And I know everyone else has said it, but Nic Cage and Chloe Moritz are the undoubted highlight of the movie) and it was awhole lot of fun. I really enjoyed watching it.
I felt that it was missing someting at the core. I think thisis due to having read it befor I watched it. In the comics, Kick-Ass' romantic lifenever gets off the ground. That's the point. He's a geek - they don't get girls. This is how it goes. The romantic sub-plot of the movie felt badly bolted on to me, and it nagged at me as we watched. The conclusion to the comic was that Kick-Ass learns that he's not a 'Winner' - in fact, he's almost as pathetic as when we first meet him. But we do see that he's influenced the world andother people are dressing up a heroes now, and he's happy with that. In the film, his arc is that of the traditional Hollywood hero, and in a film that's aiming to eschew 'Classic' hero tropes, I felt that it was a bad fit.
All told, you obviously have to go and see it - it is wort the price of a ticket! But I think this will be loved b people who haven't read the comic - for those of us who were on board for the individual issues, you may find that it's fun, but it's not the greatest thing you'll see this year. 7

Tom P said...

He's a geek - they don't get girls. Now c'mon. I'm a huge Geek and had my fair share of Ladys in my teens! :)

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, the Guardian review today is a glowing 5 stars, and you don't get that from 'serious' film critic, Peter Bradshaw, very often...


- Rob N