Friday, April 23, 2010


Posted as part of Operation 101010
Category: comedy / In category: 4 of 10 / Overall: 26 of 100

The brilliance of ‘Kick-Ass’: where to begin?

Do I talk about Matthew Vaughn’s diversity as a director, how he makes it three in a row after ‘Layer Cake’ (one of the few bona fide standouts in the slew of post-‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ Brit-crime movies) and ‘Stardust’ (an exuberant take on Neil Gaiman’s novel boasting Robert de Niro’s best turn in ages as a cross-dressing sky pirate)?

Do I talk about the cluster of terrific supporting performances, including Mark Strong, Dexter Fletcher and Robert Flemyng (who are rapdly shaping up as the Matthew Vaughn Regulars), as well as featuring a hallelujah-praise-the-lord-he’s-back-on-form Nicolas Cage?

Do I talk about how the film simultaneously celebrates and satirises the comic-book superhero genre, effortlessly walking a high wire between funny-as-fuck set-pieces and darker, more brutal moments?

Or do I just mention Hit-Girl?

As played by Chloe Moretz (twelve at the time of shooting), Hit-Girl is American cinema’s newest icon. Simple as that. The movie might be called ‘Kick-Ass’, after the alter ego of high school nobody and wannabe hero Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), but it’s Hit-Girl’s show all the way. And how could it not be? When you’ve got a twelve year-old assassin who casually drops the C-word before launching into some John Woo-style balletic action and taking down a room full of bad guys, it’s kind of hard to top.

Which isn’t to denigrate Johnson’s portrayal of Dave/Kick-Ass. Channelling nerdish delusion, heroic stupidity and hangdog melancholy in roughly equal measure, the only reason he never quite defines the movie is the sheer weight of expectation. Like I said, the very title is ‘Kick-Ass’, and yet the character – deliberately so – is reactive rather than proactive. Kick-Ass desperately wants to be pro-active; wants to be a superhero; wants to stop crime and win the girl and make the world a better place. It’s when he finds himself entangled with the considerably more disciplined, experienced and unflinchingly hardcore team of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl that (a) the reality of his ineffectiveness comes home to him; and (b) he inadvertently exacerbates an already hyper-tense situation.

The precise mechanics of the plot require little discussion. Narratively, ‘Kick-Ass’ doesn’t break any new ground or pull off any surprises. The late-in-the-game introduction of Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s strutting, show-offy Red Mist pans out so predictably you can almost chart it on a graph, peaking with the glaringly obvious and sequel-baiting last frame.

I’m noticing a trend on the internet to negative reviews of ‘Kick-Ass’, the most commonly cited criticism being that it never gets as down and dirty and subversive as the graphic novel its based on. In particular, the mainstream reviewers’ assertion that Vaughn’s film is a faithful adaptation of said source material has come in for a specific hammering, with many bloggers pointing up the differences. From what I understand, though, graphic novel and film were being developed in tandem – akin to Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘2001: A Space Odyseey’ and Stanley Kubrick’s film version – and therefore both versions diverge in some places and demonstrated complete fidelity in others. Ultimately, again like Clarke and Kubrick’s sci-fi opus, Matthew Vaughn’s film and Mark Millar’s comic book are two takes on a shared vision; they differ, but complement each other.


Bryce Wilson said...

I'm afraid I might have been one of those harping on the changes. Though I think in my defense it was a bit more philosphical, as in "Wow sometimes narrative conventions are really conventions for a reason. Because Vaughn's way works a lot better." Interesting point on the 2001 comparison I never really thought of it.

Agree with you a hundred precent on Cage. I think its absurd how underrated his performance in this is getting. This is old school Nicholas Cage where you grin and go "What the fuck is he DOING!?!" rather then hold your head in your hands moaning "What the FUCK is he doing!!!"

I'd put this up next to his turns in Wild At Heart, Raising Arizona, and Moonstruck. I vastly prefer it to his turn in Bad Lieutenant which as much as I liked it seemed to serve as the epoch of latter day Nicholas Cage.

Bryce Wilson said...

Oh and this was made by a British filmmaker, with a British Lead, with British Money. As far as I'm concerned you guys get all the credit on this one.

I was very careful in my review to praise it as the best [I]English Language[/I] action movie since Kill Bill rather then best American Action movie since same.

Neil Fulwood said...

Thanks for your comments, Bryce, though I take a lot of the points you made in your review, particularly in regard to the critical community harping on about Vaughn's bravery in making the film outside of the studio system and in doing so being able to remain true to the source material. I think this in itself has probably created some of the backlash, because there's no doubt that the graphic novel is a hundredfold more subversive than the film.

Ultimately, though, I base reviews on how I feel as I watch the film. Sometimes my critical faculties are perking like radar antennae all the way through a movie and that gets reflected in what I write about it. Other films, I simply watch with a big dumb grin on my face and enjoy the hell out of them. 'Kick-Ass' was one of those movies.

The Film Connoisseur said...

I just saw this one last night! I had not read your review Neil, because I wanted to wait until I saw the film, I agree a lot with it. I mean, this movie should have called it self Hit Girl!

I enjoyed Kick ass too. Ill be reviewing it this week!

Buck Theorem said...

Hi there,

I couldn't believe they were going to adapt this; halfway through the comic and they announced the film and I thought "yeh, right." But they did it. Bryce is probably right that a little more convention works better onscreen - it's like a pop version of the grungy comic. I don't think the film suffers for this; I think it is easy to point out how the original is nastier and assume this means better (I thought this might be the case originally, but it isn't). The original comic is more bitter; the film more entertaining.

But Neil, I think the film IS more subversive within context of a blockbuster hit: young supermurderers, a slightly sweary title, hyperviolence that still falls close to plausibility and... Hit Girl. I don't think the comic was as subversive as it thought it was anyhow. That kinda thing is old hat ever since "Watchmen", "The Killing Joke", etc etc etc.

In regards to the film having been called "Hit Girl"... Amanda Marcotte has some interesting things to say on that:

First time commenter! Thanks for the site! (and, of course, my own thoughts on Kick Ass are on my own blog.)

Ciao, amigos!