/Movie Review – Kick-Ass

Movie Review – Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass-Review-Logo-v5.1

– Summary –

Director : Matthew Vaughn
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Choë Grace Mortez, Nicolas Cage, Mark Strong, Lyndsy Fonesca, Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Clark Duke, Xander Berkeley, Garrett M Brown, Elizabeth McGovern, Yancy Butler, Michael Rispoli.
Approx Running Time : 117 Minutes
Synopsis: A young high-school kid takes on the criminal underworld by dressing as a costumed hero – Kick-Ass. Trouble is, with no powers or financial backing, he’s seriously up against it. So when he’s caught up in a war between a criminal kingpin and an ex-cop (and his daughter) who seek to bring him down, things are going to get very, very messy.
What we think : Spot-on caricature of super-hero films, almost a parody bordering on homage, Kick-Ass is a seriously violent and very un-PC film that will smack you fair in the mouth and ask you if you liked it. Terrifically entertaining, although a slight sag in the middle third pulls it away from a perfect score, this film will have you screaming with laughter, ducking for cover and punching the air with delight, all in equal amounts. A must see.

**********************

I was always told by my parents that “violence never solves anything.”

My parents never saw Kick-Ass. Nor are they ever likely to. Which is probably a good thing, because the violence and anarchistic behaviour displayed by Matthew (Layer Cake, Stardust) Vaughn’s latest flick is so bloody and graphic that at times you’re wondering if it’s right to be laughing at what you’re watching. Of specific point: Chloë Mortez’s character of Hit Girl, a deadly assassin-type character who despatches with bad guys like a girly-version of Rambo, blood and all. There’s plenty about Kick-Ass that people will be turned off by, and then there’s plenty to enjoy and laugh at: the trouble is, the people who think this is a detrimental film to Hollywood’s eroding standards will point the finger at Vaughn and comic-book creator Mark Millar for their glorification of the included violence. Bodies are dismembered, shot, burned and obliterated in a variety of gory, graphic and completely realistic methods by both Hit Girl, and her on-screen father Big Daddy (Nic Cage), surrounding the lead character of Kick-Ass with bodies and blood. It’s all supposed to be tongue in cheek, right? It’s a fantasy, an escapist concoction of justified rage against an insipid system of law that allows criminals to run rampant through our social landscape… isn’t it?

His Spider-Man rooftop pose looked just as good!

Young teenager Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is your typical young man, growing into adulthood and trying to “find himself” as a person. As a nerdy comic-book reader, he’s hopeless with girls, hangs out with his friends all the time at the comic store, and dreams of a better world. After a particularly annoying day at school, Dave wonders why nobody has ever become a real life superhero: considering all the people alive on the planet, why has nobody actually tried to become one? Sure, there are a deficit of Superman’s around the place, but surely somebody with some financial backing could become a crime fighting vigilante. So Dave does what nobody else has: he dresses up in a green wetsuit and becomes Kick-Ass, a non-super-powered hero walking the streets of New York seeking to strop crime and help the helpless. Dave, I must point out, is a glasses wearing nerd, and to reiterate that point, his first encounter with crime comes at a heavy cost: he’s stabbed and hit by a car, resulting in a large amount of metal plates holding his skeleton together (a reference to Wolverine’s Adamantium skeleton) and nerve damage allowing him a higher pain threshold than normal. Meanwhile, criminal kingpin Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) is having issues himself, with drugs going missing and his young son Chris wanting to get in on his father’s “business”. On the other side of town, ex-cop Damon Macready (Nic Cage) is teaching his young daughter Mindy (Chloë Grace Mortez) the art of self defence and assassination, using all kinds of weaponry and tools of the trade. Damon’s vendetta against Frank D’Amico for the death of his wife is the driving force behind the films main anatagonistic storyline, and soon involves Kick-Ass when Frank mistakenly assumes the young hero is responsible for the death of a group of his henchmen, and the destruction of his “legitimate” business frontage. Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) decides to become a hero himself, in order to gain the trust of Kick-Ass and double cross him, and so invents the character of Red Mist, a financially secure hero in the vein of Batman, with more gadgets and gizmos than James Bond himself.

You wanna say that AGAIN??

Those of you reading this who scoff derisively at the existence of yet another comic-book film should right now be second guessing yourself. This isn’t a clone of Iron Man, or Spider-Man or heck, even The Dark Knight. This film is a completely different animal, and one that plays just as well for those not versed in comic-book lore or cliché. It’s almost an anti-superhero film, a kind of “what if” superhero film in the vein of Mystery Men’s anarchistic look at real people, living real lives, as superheroes in a real world scenario. Like Mystery Men, Kick-Ass is almost a parody of the genre, bordering on the ludicrous, that if it wasn’t so pop-culture relevant would be a disaster. Matthew Vaughn brings an aesthetic to this film that’s so based on the 4-colour comic style it’s breathtaking. Even the interstitials, the on-screen “meanwhile, on the other side of town…” texts, are boxed like that in comic books, and the crazy camerawork and highly stylised shot design represents the post-mid-90’s full bleed comic art style that now permeates the industry’s mainstream brands. It’s a comic-book in movie format, violent gut-punches included, and every frame of this film is designed to emulate the style of a comic book. Vaughn has crafted a highly polished, Edgar Wright-styled action methodology, whilst maintaining a more relaxed “Secret identity” world for Dave when he’s not Kick-Ass. It’s subtly done, but eminently suggestive. When Dave puts on the costume, the world becomes high contrast, bright colour super-high-definition; it’s a visual style that really takes you into the world he’s envisioned.

Dude, you know you’re gonna make it onto YouTube, right?
The cast, especially Mark Strong and Chloë Mortez, do a sterling job in their roles, and there’s not a weak link among them. Aaron Johnson, who has appeared in films as diverse as Shanghai Knights, The Illusionist, and Angus, Thongs & Perfect Snogging, is perfectly cast as the inept, yet good intentioned Dave, whose journey as Kick-Ass is less about overcoming his own personal demons, but understanding the demons in those around him. While he does spend a lot of time in the film looking bewildered at what’s going on around him, oblivious to the threats and machinations against him, it serves to make his actions in the films final act, in which desperate times call for desperate measures, more understandable, more appropriate to the situation. Of course, one cannot condone wanton violence in any form in a public forum, lest one be tarred with the brush of a thick-skulled Neanderthal, but I would say here that Dave Lizewski’s final actions as Kick-Ass will long be remembered as both brave and incredibly dangerous: he seriously learns to kick… ahem… ass. Mark Strong, backing up here as the chief villain D’Amico after a turn as the main bad guy in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, is at his eye-twitching best. Director Vaughn is a long time producing partner with Guy Ritchie, so it’s no surprise to see him pilfer the latter’s acting talent for his own work: Mark Strong is rapidly becoming the go-to guy for hard-nut villainy. Nic Cage is also excellent (amazingly) in his role of Big Daddy, the rage fuelled ex-cop who seeks to exterminate D’Amico and his empire as retribution for the death of his wife (the backstory of which is gloriously 2D animated to accompany the voice-over narration of those events), and while his accent was at times hard to swallow, his characters emotional stability and core driving force were hard to fault. Second tier characters like Dave’s love interest Katie (Lyndsy Fonesca), and his two best friends Marty and Todd (Clarke Duke and Evan Peters respectively), are all there to keep Kick-Ass levelled out, a sense of reality in an otherwise unreal situation. The character development in these characters is done just well enough to keep the film grounded (most of the films latter-half humour is derived from their behaviour and responses) yet never dwells on them as essential characters.
You oughta see my OTHER room full of guns!!
If I had one bugbear with any of the casting in this film, it’s with McLovin himself, Chris Mintz-Plasse, as the double-crossing Red Mist, a young lad trying to please his father, and in doing so unwittingly becomes something of a character similar to James Franco’s Green Goblin in the Spider-Man films. He hates the central hero for how un-evil he is, and hates himself more for how much like his father he’s turned out to be. Mintz-Plasse wouldn’t have been my first choice for this role, and although he succeeds with it to a certain extend, the Red Mist character needed to be more conflicted than Mintz-Plasse is capable of. In my opinion. Instead, Chris D’Amico and his alter-ego comes across as a simpering whining kid, a kid who’s so used to getting his own way he can’t handle it when things don’t turn out the way he wants. I didn’t like Mintz-Plasse in Superbad, and I barely coped with him in this film. I understand why they cast him, I just don’t think he suited to part as strongly as the others in the film. [Edit: Although, if I can interject on my own argument for a second, he’s worth the price of admission when you consider the final line of dialogue in the film, delivered by him in one of the most fanboy friendly moments of the entire project!]
 

 


Many people would now be aware of the controversy surrounding the casting of a then-11 year old girl in the pivotal role of Hit Girl. Her dialogue contains a fair amount of vulgar language, in particular the use of the C-word in one scene, which has caused the film’s director to defend himself vociferously. There’s also some controversy about the amount of carnage the young girl inflicts on grown adults in the film: she’s responsible for numerous murders, property damage and otherwise anti-social behaviour, and while you’d get the sense that the people she kills probably deserve it (?did I really just say that?) it’s hard to disconnect that these acts of extreme violence are being perpetrated by a girl who hasn’t even had her first period yet. I know the act of filming is a lot different in terms of emotional resonance to watching the finished product, but how this got past the relevant authorities in child protection is, in hindsight, a little staggering. Don’t get me wrong: Chloë Mortez absolutely nails her performance here: she’s both tender and hard-ass in equal amounts, and her character’s story is genuinely heart-breaking. She goes all Tarantino on the bad-guy henchmen in the last third of the film, and you can’t help but find yourself grinning like an idiot while she’s doing it. It’s fabulously gory stuff, completely fantastical and utterly unbelievable, but at the same time awkwardly inappropriate. Perhaps that’s the point: the inappropriateness of a young girl slaying adults five times her age in more blood than Tarantino has ever used in all his films put together, is somewhat hard to watch.  As a father, I’d be concerned about casting my daughter in something like this, but at the same time, I’m glad I never had to make that choice. If there’s one performance that truly stands out in this film, it’s Mortez’s.

Gemima wasn’t the only one dressed like a freak. She liked him.

The film isn’t without it’s flaws, however, and it’s for one reason alone that I drag the film down from a perfect 10 to a 9. The middle third does tend to drag a little, as Vaughn attempts to get all his ducks in a row for the final showdown. It’s not a bad thing to slow the pace down and get allow your characters to develop, but for some reason that didn’t seem to matter as much to me as getting to the next action-packed bloodbath. The character development is all well and good, but I think the pacing did tend to drop a little as the heroes and villains regrouped for their final assault. The film does move along at a rapid clip in it’s opening twenty minutes, and the final half-hour is something truly amazing to behold, but the middle 45 minutes felt a little bogged down by comparison. Still, the film doesn’t ever become boring, and I’m really only nit-picking to keep my credibility as a serious film reviewer. The films editing was done primarily with Oscar winner Pietro Scalia at the helm, a man whose work I’ve admired since I witnessed Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, both films he did for Ridley Scott. Here, Scalia delivers a well honed, highly polished editing job that encapsulates the style of the comic book, as well as the pacing of one, with a genuinely cool result. Musically, the score by Stardust composer Ilan Eshkeri, as well as  Henry Blackman, John Murphy and Marius de Vries, are also perfectly specific to the genre of film: alternately villainous and heroic, a teen-centric melancholy and a man-sized unholy chest-thumper: Kick-Ass’s score does the job well.

Good thing I didn’t call myself the Green Goblin. THAT would’ve been awkward!!

Some people will find this film offensive. Those are the kind of people who will watch this film just to be offended, and pretend to be offended even if, secretly, they actually enjoy it. I should have been mortified to sit there and enjoy watching a twelve year old girl murder and defenestrate a dozen or so bad guys in the name of vengeance, but part of me gave in to the vicarious thrill of the film’s cartoonish, comic-book ethos. It’s pretend folks. There’s nothing serious about this film at all; if you want serious, I suggest watching any film by James Gray. Dammit, Kick-Ass rises above the pretensions of controversy with a solid story, engaging characters, and a definite attitude in it’s creative intent and direction: a fact many lesser filmmakers might want to consider the next time they decide to make a film filled with violence. I loved it, and if you enjoyed films like Kill Bill then I think… no, I know you will too.

9-Star

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Normally detesting these kinds of bios, Rodney’s keen love of film more often outclasses his ability to write convincingly about them.

Never blessed with a body worthy of a porn star, nor being the heir to a wealthy industrialists fortune, nor suffering the tragedy of having his parents murdered outside a Gotham theater, Rodney is, contrary to popular opinion, neither Ron Jeremy, JD Rockefeller, or Batman.

As a serious appreciator of film since 1996, Rodney’s love affair with the medium has continued with his online blog, Fernby Films, a facility allowing him to communicate with fellow cineasts in their mutual love of all things movie.