Kick-Ass - Cinema Review

'inventive formula breaking stuff from people who could have chosen to play it much safer than this'

There is a very definite danger that, at some point, Kick-Ass is going to suffer an over-hype backlash. I was aware of it even before I set foot in the cinema. The snowballing feeling of effusive, star struck reviews was gradually beginning to build. I’d already seen one five-star review a month before it hit screens. Then The Daily Mail got involved. Conservative Middle England’s rag complaining about the film’s content can only be a good thing and each use of the word ‘outrage’ in their article must be worth a thousand ticket sales. There was a danger Kick-Ass was going to disappoint. So, cutting to the chase like a knife through the midriff, is Kick-Ass worth its weight in controversial column inches, megaton press coverage and the thousands of posters that currently seem to be papering over England’s cracks? Almost certainly yes.

It’s a long time since we’ve seen a superhero movie with this level of self-depreciating humour. In fact… we’ve never seen a superhero movie with this level of self-depreciating humour, which is one of Kick-Ass’ major strengths. Asked in a recent Q&A whether the film was a homage to comic books or an ass-kicking ‘piss take’ of those that take themselves too seriously, stars Aaron Johnson and Christopher Mintz-Plasse replied that it was both; an honest, self-effacing view of where comic book films were at the moment in relation to the ‘real world’ and an appreciation of their cult, influence and audience. Remarkably, Kick-Ass pulls this off with assured aplomb.

The humour, which is the key to the above success, is occasionally vicious and vitriolic. Striding down the corridor, resplendent in green wet suit, yellow rubber gloves and orange CAT boots, Kick-Ass aka Dave Lizewski (Johnson) is cordially greeted with, ‘what have you come as? A giant green condom’. Despite his best efforts, Dave is continually thwarted by persistent one-liners and his inability to do, well… anything. Don’t make the mistake of calling Kick-Ass an anti-hero (he’s not), rather he’s a ‘do nothing hero’ – a people’s champion by way of ‘good intentions’ and the minor ability to survive a vicious beating every so often.

Director Michael Vaughn plays all this out in a fantastically individual universe. Primary and definite, almost day-glow, colours are everywhere; Kick-Ass is green, Red Mist (Mintz-Plasse) is red, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) is Black, Hit Girl (Chole Moretz) is Purple, mob-boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) is Orange – in lesser hands this would look saccharine but in Vaughn’s it is established and accepted, a beautiful visual aid to a gigantic soundtrack/score which drags us along by the lobes. The word ‘pumping’ is overused when talking about scores but with Kick-Ass (like so many other overused words), it’s warranted, delicious synth and bass amalgamations rising and falling over crescendos of violence.

Of the controversy: there’s really very little here. In fact, I actually felt at some points that Kick-Ass pulled some punches. There is blood and an eleven year-old that swears and shoots but she's quite obviously positioned as part of a ‘damaged goods’ duo who exist in the kind of parallel universe where retired hero cops carry on fighting crime in a costume and mob bosses own the rest of the law. The blood too is nothing new or too visceral – the final scenes in particular, including the very final denouement, seem to shy away from overdoing it, not that Kick-Ass ever forgets its sense of gruesome fun.

Which all begs the questions; isn’t this another effusive review and why is there a star missing at the top? Put simply, Kick-Ass isn’t perfect, or as perfect as it could be. Despite its fast pace and near-constant humour it still feels overlong. Obvious areas could have been cut to tighten it up. The start for example, seems to take its time pointing out how much of a geek Dave is and the middle third takes great pains to show us several times that he really isn’t that skilled and that, as Big Daddy suggests, his more appropriate name might indeed be ‘Ass-Kick… ing’. The other problem is perhaps Johnson himself. He does a great job in creating Dave but maybe he’s just a touch too boyishly handsome to be convincing as the geek-who-can’t-get-the-girl. ‘The girl’ (Lyndsy Fonseca) too, was a slight problem for me – for all the films' smarts you would have thought they could have come up with something genuinely new to offer in this area although, granted, there is a nice modern and realistically teenage twist on the forbidden love trope. Towards the end there’s also a definite miss-step with Vaughn having Johnson break the fourth wall to engage the audience in a discussion about the history of film voice overs. It’s clumsy and not needed – we get the fact that the film is subverting a whole host of conventions, we don’t need it pointed out to us that, all the way through, it might have been destroying another.

Based on how much fun, how well made and how well acted the film is though, these are really minor problems and when Kick-Ass does suffer its over-hype backlash (and it will) remember this: this is a really quite small indie movie, doing something pretty new with a genre, created on a shoestring – how often do you get to say that? While Dave and co can’t quite beat the bad guys, they can pummel you with humour and intelligence into realising that Kick-Ass is inventive formula breaking stuff from people who could have chosen to play it much safer than this.

Look further...

'Kick-Ass is what Spider-Man would have looked like if it was directed by Quentin Tarantino using the cast of Spy Kids. In other words, pure awesome' - Cut. Print. Review (Anders Wotzke), 4 and 1/2 out of 5

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