Wednesday, 24 March 2010

'Kick-Ass' review: Does exactly what it says on the poster

As I mentioned yesterday, I was lucky enough to attend the UK premiere of Matthew Vaughn’s ‘Kick-Ass’ on Monday night and I had a really great time. Some of this was down to the atmosphere of being part of a big and enthusiastic audience watching a yet-to-be-released film with its stars (and on a massive screen to boot), but most of it was down to the fact that ‘Kick-Ass’ is a brilliantly entertaining film. Probably the most entertaining film I have seen so far this year.

I have not read the Mark Millar comic book on which the film is based, so I couldn’t possibly comment on whether the film remains true to its source material, but I can say that this film is a damn sight better than the last film I saw based on one of his books. ‘Wanted’, which starred James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie as a couple of arsehole assassins, was a truly hateful movie and has some parallels with ‘Kick-Ass’ in that both are ultra-violent and depict a world in which violence is morally fine, so long as the people you are killing are deemed “bad”. Both also have a central character who is basically a weedy outsider (McAvoy in ‘Wanted’ and Aaron Johnson as the title character in ‘Kick-Ass’), but whereas ‘Wanted’ seems to preach that physical weakness is contemptible and has its hero using violence as a way to put himself above others in society (by the end of the film he is superior to his old workmates), ‘Kick-Ass’ is less troubling, as its central nerds are celebrated by the film. In fact in ‘Kick-Ass' the title character is more often the one whose ass is being kicked and, whereas ‘Wanted’ seems to have a nihilistic hatefulness about it, ‘Kick-Ass’ celebrates its naive heroes who are basically determined to protect people and right percieved social wrongs.

Now, even though I found it a lot less distasteful than 'Wanted', there are all sorts of problems with ‘Kick-Ass’ from a political point of view (none of which are too dissimilar from last year’s horrid ‘Harry Brown’ which Vaughn produced). The film has an uncomplicated view of crime (bad people commit it) and an equally uncomplicated view about how to deal with crime (the mass murder of criminals), not to mention that the film’s hoodlums are pretty much all played by ethnic minorities and are of low social class. British actor, Mark Strong, plays his villain as a prototypical Italian mob-type, whilst Nicolas Cage (an Italian-American actor) plays his hero as an ethnically “white” everyman figure. But everything in ‘Kick-Ass’ plays out like a Warner Brothers cartoon (with ‘Kill Bill’ levels of violence and swearing) and is injected with a lot of humour. Whereas ‘Wanted’ is self-consciously “cool” (in a way aimed at pubescent boys, with leather jackets, guns and sexy women belonging to socially retarded geeks) and promotes a violent attitude towards society (not necessarily physical), ‘Kick-Ass’, with its geek heroes, is always more self-effacing - with one of the vigilante’s portrayed by McLovin’ from ‘Superbad’ (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) - and somehow ultimately better natured.

Now I’ve catered for my conscience I can get to writing about the things I really enjoyed about the movie, which was one of very few recent films in which I didn’t check my watch (it packs a lot of great stuff into just under two hours), as it held my attention throughout. For starters, whilst Mark Strong, Aaron Johnson and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are pretty good in their respective roles, Nicholas Cage and the thirteen year-old Chloë Moretz give brilliantly funny performances as the films two stand-out characters: the father and daughter pairing of ‘Big Daddy’ and ‘Hit-Girl’. Nicolas Cage displays suburb comic skills (previously seen in ‘Raising Arizona’ back in 1987 and, more recently in 2002’s ‘Adaptation’) whenever he’s onscreen, with his character (a softly-spoken, gentle father who turns his daughter into a violent, gun-obsessed killer) switching to an Adam West impression when adopting his ‘Big Daddy’ persona. This is not only a playful nod towards Batman of the 1960s, but also possibly a humorous take on Christian Bale’s much-derided change of voice when he dons the armour of the Dark Knight in Christopher Nolan’s films (whatever it is in homage to... it is hilarious).

The action sequences also remind me of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. Of course, they are formally more similar (as is the film's visual style and design) to Tarantino’s ‘Kill Bill’, but they remind me of ‘The Dark Knight’ because that film represents the last time I really enjoyed action sequences in a cinema. The set-pieces are played out like the very best Warner Brothers cartoons in that they are imaginative and funny in the way they choose to deal pain to all involved (the dispatching of a key villain literally caused me to burst into spontaneous applause). I don’t want to spoil any of the set-pieces themselves here, but they are really impressive and varied (unlike ‘Wanted’ or ‘The Matrix’ in which all the sequences blur into one burst of slow-motion, bullet-time gunfire). The champion of these set pieces is, unquestionably, Moretz’s ‘Hit-Girl’ who really does kick ass whenever she is onscreen (in a manner recalling a miniature version of ‘Kill Bill’s ‘Gogo’).

The Daily Mail will no doubt continue to hate ‘Kick-Ass’ for it’s bad language (the ‘c-word’ coming from the mouth of a thirteen year-old girl will do that) and over the top violence, even though the film’s politics aren’t altogether incompatible with that paper’s own. But putting those issues behind me, I have to admit that ‘Kick-Ass’ was terrifically good fun and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes to go to the movies, sit back and get entertained. It is equal parts funny and exciting and (if it performs at the box-office) may provoke a new wave of independent movie blockbusters.

'Kick-Ass' opens on Friday nationwide and will be played at the Duke of York's in Brighton (where I work). It is (somehow) rated '15' by the BBFC (even though a little girl says 'cunt' and kills almost everyone onscreen in a tidal wave of bloody violence). Jon and I will podcast on it soon, so stay tuned for that.

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