Saturday, 3 April 2010

"Kick Ass" - Review

I adored this film. I'm not a fan of the source material , even though I adore John Romita Jr's art-- Mark Millar is a heavy handed writer and I felt that he didn't serve the subject matter as well as he wanted, and that a really great concept suffered for it. Every writer worth his salt knows that just because they have a great idea or concept in mind, doesn't mean they have the means at that moment in time to deliver on that. Sure, it feel immediately dated by references to myspace-- heck, it's pretty much a co-star in the film-- but it's still a concept worth mining hard.

Matthew Vaughn is an immensely talented director, and he made the story sing straight off the page and onto the cinema screen, and Jane Goldman took the b est of the comic book series and made it one of the tightest film packages I've seen in a long time. The cast was one of the best assembled for one of these projects-- and by that I mean a superhero -- and Aaron Johnson was inspired for the role of Kick-Ass. He emotes like no one else, and he doesn't devour scenery ala William Shatner in that regard. For a character stuck behind a mask for a good chunk of the film, you could really follow his evolution emotionally, thanks to the way his eyes reacted, wide and tight, to the events on the screen. The influx of British actors in minor supporting roles-- gang-members and the entourage of Frank D'Amico, the villain of the piece and played by Mark Strong, was brilliant, and the amount of times I smiled knowingly at Vaughn's casting choices was a bit of fun that I don't know if others could share. That's neither bad nor good, I have to admit.

Kick-Ass is the first post-modern superhero film.Others have come close, but none have truly subverted the conceits and tropes of the genre-- I'm thinking Mystery Men and The Specials here-- but where Goldman sticks closest to the original series is where this is done best. Kick-Ass goes out, intends to save the day, gets stabbed and then hit by a car for his trouble. This is what would happen if you really were a superhero-- or a hero hero, because let's face it, you're not a superhero unless you've got some kind of special ability. Johnson instils such vulnerability in his character that I was on the edge of my seat for the most of the film, and I did not mind one bit. The first half of the film holds the most promise. Dave Lizewski is a complete nobody, the girl of his dreams only pays him attention when she thinks he's gay, and he plays along because that means he gets to spend [creepy] time with her. A lot of content from the first issue is washed over-- we don't see him borderline stalking Lyndsy Fonseca's Katie Deauxma, the girl of his dreams.

But the second half is where it starts to fall apart, and I believe it's because the film diverges from the source material. Lizewski gets the girl. He tells her the truth about being both straight and Kick-Ass, and she doesn't beat the living heck out of him. In the comics, this reveal is saved for one of the penultimate scenes of the final issue, where Dave tells Katie that he's straight, and he loves her. She openly rejects and humiliates him in front of everyone at their school. Tonally, that shifted it from post modern to... pre modern. It became Spider-Man 1-3 or Superman Returns-- it fitted into a pattern that all superhero films feel the need to hold to. The guy gets the girl. We needed to root for Kick-Ass, so give him a girlfriend, give the viewers someone to see cry over him during the most brilliantly done sequences I've ever seen ever.

I have to make a point though-- even in the second half, where I was all "well, this isn't what I expected" it still defies expectations. Instead of wanton torture, the gangsters plan to reveal his, and Big Daddy's (more on him in a moment) identities. Live camera feed, live on television and on the internet. It's daunting. Our heroes are beaten all to heck. And that leads to the greatest rescue sequence of all time.

Yes, Hit-Girl saves the day.

Big Daddy and Hit-Girl are brilliant. Chloe Moretz is a force of nature, and I am so pleased they didn't age her up as executives wanted. Her being 12 (and her character 11), and saying "cunt" in her first appearance, is just... wow. It boggles the mind. I know it sounds juvenile to love that, but the character is wonderful, and she portrays her better than anyone could have imagined. And what's there to say about Nicolas Cage? The man mainlines Adam West into his performance as Big Daddy, and it made me so excited. Every inappropriate pause and twisted syllable, and Cage makes Big Daddy the greatest Batman you will ever see on the big screen. I'm serious, he's dangerous, he's deadly, and he's not going to take shit from anyone-- and don't you ever even consider laying a hand on his daughter. Big Daddy is Batman, duh, and Hit-Girl is Robin, and they're the greatest superheroes you could ever imagine. This is revisionist film making, isn't it? It takes every brilliant thing from the public consciousness when it comes to superheroes, and makes it into something new and glorious. There's an extended scene with Big Daddy taking apart a warehouse full of men, and I have to say... every five minutes in this film there was a crowning moment of awesome that had me punching the air in victory.

Even their combined origin is heart breaking-- animated in the style of series penciller John Romita Jr-- with Nic Cage's past as a "super"cop revealed, and his downfall due to D'Amico having him framed for drug dealing because he was too god damn honest to become dirty and become D'Amico's inside man... that was harsh times. I won't ruin the rest, but it was nice to see that all these characters had facets to them that you might not otherwise think to learn about. Good stuff.

The other "superhero" of the film (and by the end, the supervillain) is Christopher Mintz-Plasse's Red Mist, and here's where I was tripped up. This is real life heroes, correct? Costumes and dress up, but still, based in "reality"... so why doesn't Dave recognise Red Mist for who he really is? Why doesn't he realise that Red Mist is the guy he tried to befriend so very early on in the film? His mask isn't at all that obscuring of his very obvious features, so why would Kick-Ass, so self aware of the genre as he is, not even catch on? Naivety isn't a mass band-aid for a lack of verisimilitude. Even Nic Cage's Big Daddy puts on fake handle-bar moustache extensions to make his identity a little less obvious. Oh, and also to make him look piss brilliant.

On a less obvious note now, the soundtrack and scoring was brilliant, the song use during certain scenes freaking immense, and I swear to God I heard pieces from The Dark Knight, as well as familiar cues from 28 Days Later. This, as well as the abundance of tracks from The Prodigy and other great bands, make it a film full to the brim with self-referential and overtly meta musical commentary. What more can you ask for? Oh, wait, I'll get to that now...

Yes, it was violent, yes there was swearing, and yes, it was ugly as sin in parts-- befitting the subject matter-- but it didn't lose sight that it was a superhero film, and I was bowled over by how effective it all was. So I was disappointed that it didn't keep with the tone of the comics 100% (how many times have you wanted the hero to not end up with the girl? How come Peter Parker ends up with Mary Jane Watson!? It makes no sense) but the emotional resonance of the film made sure I didn't meander in that thinking-- plus the idea that having a girl at home gives Dave a reason to stop being Kick-Ass just rings true on so many levels, and makes his narration all the more heartfelt-- oh, and it also gives quite a few comedic moments for us to enjoy. "I'd fuck his brains out" being but one.

I could go on and on about this film. In fact, I might post an addendum some time down the line, because I swear I've forgotten something important. I would see this film again. And I will. This is the best superhero film I've ever seen, and I think you have to see it to believe it.


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