April 19, 2010

Review: 'Kick-Ass' Kicks It

"With no power comes no responsibilities."

Much has been said about the film Kick-Ass and its content. Frankly, I think a lot of it is overblown. I did not find the film's content particularly intense or graphic compared to other hard R-rated films. Films with graphic content done well are often punished for their effectiveness, whereas, forgettable violent fare gets a pass for doing it blandly. However, make no mistake, Kick-Ass is bloody, gory, violent, often brutal, and sometimes a lot of fun with its awful language.

Based on the comic book series of the same name by Mark Millar (Wanted) and John Romita Jr., Kick-Ass is actually very well written by director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) and co-writer Jane Goldman. I was impressed by the script's plot structure and how it played on the cliched stereotypes of a superhero origin story.

The first act comically mirrors the story of Spider-Man and gives the four main characters (the titular Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl, Big Daddy, and Red Mist), who become masked avengers, very nice character arcs with the proper amount of depth and pulp. Vaughn and Goldman make drastic changes from the source material, starting halfway through the film and ultimately improve the story and provide more efficient, sensible storytelling. Compared to the comic, much more happens and plot and story are streamlined.

Everything said, I did have problems with parts of the film. No matter how artistically necessary it may or may not have been, watching a cute 11-year-old girl get beaten and bloody by a 40-year-old man was uncomfortable and hard to watch. That being said, the sequence was executed probably as well as it could have been done and it did not stand out as particularly graphic compared to the rest of the film. I would say it was unnecessary except most of the film is unnecessary and that is kind of the point.

The cast is quite good. British actor Aaron Johnson is believable as the earnest but woefully inept titular superhero wannabe. Chloƫ Moretz steals the show as the controversial Hit-Girl with her potty mouth and the sheer amount of killing she does on screen. Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad) is really pleasing as the eager Red Mist and shows his acting range beyond just McLovin. Nicolas Cage is in on the joke and is simply ridiculous in his Adam West impersonation, playing it straight for laughs and walks a fine line of do-goodery and absurd humour as Big Daddy. Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes) once again plays a (pardon the pun) strong villain as an all powerful mob boss.

Actually, my biggest problem was the film's anachronistic use of social media. Myspace, really? Characters frequently use and mention the terribly out-of-date social networking site without ever referencing Facebook or Twitter. I recall Myspace's use in the original comic when it was only slightly more timely, but since Vaughn changed so much else wisely, simply switching out Myspace for something more current would have been easy.

With Kick-Ass, if you have seen the previews, are familiar with the comic book and premise, most likely, you are in for some light, violent fun. The abundant amount of geek references to other comics, films, and media are delightful, particularly the film's closing line. There is a killer first-person shooter sequence and effective use of strobe light. In many ways, this is a fanboy's cinematic wet dream and it shows.

The cast and crew were clearly having a lot of fun in adapting the source material into a very slick film that offers a twist on the superhero genre that aims to walk the line of brutal realism and over the top camp that looks to subvert the comic book movie. Playing on expectations, Kick-Ass tears apart the superhero formula while adhering to it and being an entry in that genre. I will not venture to say that the film lives up to the title but it certainly comes close.

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