Monday, 6 September 2010

Kick-Ass (Matthew Vaughn, 2010) DVD Review

"What the hell just happened?" is the question most viewers will be asking themselves after a first viewing of Kick-Ass. Granted, they have a point. What he hell did just happen? Did Hollywood just distribute a superhero movie where an 11-year-old girl, uttering the C-word, gets her ass kicked by an Italian-American mob boss? Lets start at the beginning...

Adapted for the screen by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, Kick-Ass is based on a series of graphic novels by Mark Millar (the genuis also behind Wanted, Timur Bekmambetov, 2008). Slyly making fun of superhero culture (the basic premise has Spider-Man written all over it) the film takes place in a universe where one man, Dave Lizewski, wonders why nobody has ever tried to be a superhero. One stabbing later and he's answered his own question but this doesn't stop the young crime-fighter. After becoming a YouTube sensation Kick-Ass (Dave) meets up with some real-life superheroes - Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and their affairs with the aforementioned mob boss Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong). To say any more would be to spoil a few hugely effective plot twists but lets just say that, apart from being as brutal and uncompromising as the British press have suggested, it's absolutely brilliant.

By all accounts Kick-Ass should have been a failure of epic proportions - a dark, parodic comic book movie, totally tongue in cheek but also brutally ballsy. Indeed, it's so subversive and cultish, so uncompromising and violent, so weird and stylish that it may fly right over the unsuspecting heads of the British public, who simply won't 'get it' on their first watch. You don't necessarily have to know the (brilliant) source material, which this is pretty faithful to, but you probably shouldn't be expecting The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2010) or even Watchmen (Zack Snyder, 2009). What you should be expecting is a movie that has no problem putting an 11-year-old girl up against a 45-year-old man and letting her take a kicking. Some of the critics didn't like it, probably because of the vital context in which we should be embracing it - it's all a bit of a laugh. Kick-Ass, for all its oddness, is still a superhero movie. It's still a movie in which one man tries to make a difference, win the girl and take down the bad guy. It's a genre movie. It just has about five different genres. We should be more concerned about having fun with a piece of pure popcorn entertainment than starting a moral panic...

The performances are largely terrific - Aaron Johnson invests Dave with a geeky gawkiness, both pathetic and likable in the early stages, but admirable in the latter. As he grows in ability we root for him more and more, even when me makes mistakes (some of them life changing) - by the end, the film rests on his victory. Chloe Moretz is a revelation as the foul-mouthed, purple-wigged, knife expert Hit Girl, a 4ft whirlwind of death... with a penchant for ice cream. She looks the part, plays it with a dry world-weariness and totally convinces in the action scenes - especially in the heart-wrenching rescue of Big Daddy, the films most breathtaking scene. Cage is on fantastic form as the mustachioed avenger, clearly having a blast with the young Moretz - his final scene showcasing some of his best work in years (although admittedly, the last few years have been rough). Christopher Mintz-Plasse also comes a step closer to shedding the McLovin skin, looking surprisingly effective with a sword. Finally Mark Strong has great fun chewing the scenery as mob boss Frank, barking orders and [SPOILER]getting to take part in one of the coolest death scenes in recent memory[END].

Everything else about the production shines as well - from the perfect visual style (and some great lighting) to the slick direction, but special mention must be made for the score. Tracks such as Strobe and Flying Home perfectly capture the tone and sense of adventure of the story - it almost acts as a narrative in itself, taking familiar genre cues and then adding electric guitars and swelling orchestras, combining to a sometimes dark and sometimes vibrant sound mix. 'Strobe' perfectly underpins the films key sequence, an emotional blow so effective that Kick-Ass holds the honor of being the first superhero movie to make me cry. But tracks like 'Flying Home' just make you want to soar above the city... and you'll be humming it for days.

DVD Extras: A fun commentary with director Matthew Vaughn and a 20 minute documentary about the evolution and creation of the graphic novel, and its translation to the screen.

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