Review: Kick-Ass

Director: Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay: Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn
Based on the Comic Book Series by: Mark Millar
Producers: Adam Bohling, Tarquin Pack, Brad Pitt, David Reid, Kris Thykier & Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Chloe Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong
Year: 2010
Country: USA & UK
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 117 min

Riding a crimson wave of controversy and hype Kick-Ass finally reached our shores this week and the question on everyone’s lips is does it deliver what the trailers and title promises? Well I can safely say yes. I really enjoyed this film a lot, but it’s not without it’s flaws, which I’ll go into shortly. Meanwhile I’m going to try my absolute hardest not to crack the obvious pun.

For the three people that don’t know what this film is about, Kick-Ass is the story of a teenage loser, Dave Lizewski, who is fed up of the fact that there are so many real bad guys in the world yet no real superheroes, so he crafts a costume out of a mail order wet-suit, buys a couple of truncheons and heads out to help those in need as his alter-ego Kick-Ass. His first attempts don’t go particularly well, but after an onlooker captures him successfully laying out some vigilante justice, the footage gets put online and Kick-Ass becomes an internet and subsequently full on media sensation. This of course pumps Dave up to follow his dream, but he soon realises that there are much more effective superheroes and much more dangerous bad guys out there as he gets embroiled with the war raging between the deadly father and daughter team Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, and mob kingpin Frank D’Amico.

There’s a hell of a lot of fun to be had here and walking out of the cinema I was prepared to give the film a 4 ½ star rating, but after a long discussion in the car home with my fellow cinema-goers it was easy to find faults. The main issue that came up was the inconsistent tone or themes of the film. There’s a regular bounce back and forth between playing on the idea that being a superhero couldn’t really happen in real life and then showing us some of the most ludicrously over the top fantasy violence that I’ve seen in a superhero film. The first half an hour or so sticks to it’s guns, showing Dave’s feeble attempts at fighting crime, ending up hospitalized after his first confrontation, but it’s when Big Daddy and Hit-Girl get suited up that things go off on a tangent. That’s not to say that these sequences are bad, in fact they’re generally the most memorable, but it’s the mixed messages that I found a little troubling. Elements of Dave’s story get unnecessarily silly too later on, mainly in his relationship with the high school sweetheart, which is difficult to buy into when the rest of his actions are portrayed in a more realistic fashion than those of the other characters.

All that said though, the film rockets along and as I watched it none of these things really bothered me. There’s a rich vein of humour throughout and I was laughing out loud quite a lot in the theatre and although I felt the film had a bit of a split personality itself (maybe that was the idea?), both sides are equally effective in delivering what they promised. The stacks of trailers I’d previously seen show quite a lot of the film’s highlights, but there were still a lot of unseen gems to enjoy. The cast are all likeable too, especially Nicolas Cage who manages to reign in his usual tics and eccentricities yet still comes across as particularly unhinged. Also, although I had some issues with Dave’s love interest as mentioned previously as well as some far fetched plot contrivances (Kick-Ass becomes a huge sensation much too quickly and with little reason), most of the non-superhero content was still pretty engaging and contained more wit and verve than most blockbusters.

The set-pieces were where the film really shone for me though. As I’ve mentioned before I’m a big action junkie and this film pulls out all the stops when it comes to violence. There’s a great balance of brutal bone-crunching and blood-letting mixed with physics-defying superhuman acts. Yes, there are a couple of John Woo/Matrix-esque moments (especially the library scene which featured in some of the trailers), but the fact that it doesn’t take itself so seriously keeps it feeling fresh and exhilarating. In particular there’s a scene involving a gun fight in the dark and some strobe lighting that really stood out for me. The gleefully over the top finale caps things off nicely too, although watching the 11 year old Hit-Girl get hit back once or twice is quite shocking. It’s strange how watching someone so young killing hordes of bad guys is hilarious and can’t be taken seriously, yet the instant it turns on her it’s quite disturbing.

Kick-Ass is a wildly entertaining film that doesn’t always know what it wants to be, resulting in a film that threatens to be messy, but is so well executed that, as bumpy as the ride can get, you won’t want to get off.

And I managed to avoid the obvious title puns!

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I really enjoyed the film and agree with most of your review. I have to say though that it is completely believable and definitely not a plot contrivance that Kick-Ass would go viral – we live in a world where a "dramatic hamster" can get millions of hits on YouTube.

Marc Saint-Cyr

I'm really looking forward to this one (so much, in fact, that I just might see it during my trip to Paris when it premieres over there). I'm kind-of expecting it to be like Kill Bill: Vol. 1, in that it'll be a big, fun, stylish, bloody ride.

David Brook

I wouldn't say it was totally like Kill Bill: Vol. 1. The action set-pieces are a blast in the same sort of way, but there's the whole superhero origin vibe to it adding a different feel along with lots of respectful parody (I see Kill Bill as more of an homage than a parody). It's great fun though, I thoroughly recommend it – like I said my rating was teetering between 4 and 4 1/2 stars.

David Brook

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I totally understand it going viral and getting massive on YouTube, but to be regularly mentioned on TV news, have all manner of merchandise named after you in every store and be a widely recognisable celebrity is a bit much. Obviously it was done to keep the plot moving so it didn't bother me too much, but they could have at least had him publicly catch a few more criminals than he did.

He said, she said

I completely agree that this film had a bit of a split personality – I said a similar thing in our review. It wasn't sure whether it was making a comment on society obsessed with superheros or trying to be a superhero movie. Maybe that was the point… but I don't think it should have been.

Andrew James

Nicolas Cage is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors of all time. The guy really knows how to ham it up. Love it!

Other than that, I've seen this same movie three other times before and I think this sub-genre is wearing off. My "unenjoyment" of the film also stems a little bit from some of the hype and my expectations though.

I'm surprised you laughed out loud a lot. I'm not sure I cracked more than a smile just a few times.

More to come on this week's Cinecast.

Kurt Halfyard

Oh, Andrew. Are you ever going to get a beating on this weeks Cinecast.

Andrew James

Not really interested in beating anyone. The movie is either your cup of tea or it isn't. If you find things in there genuinely funny, then bravo. I found almost all of it not funny. Granted I don't read comic books, but I know enough about them and have seen enough super hero movies to understand what I was watching, I just didn't think much of it all that clever.

Actually clever is exactly the right word and is exactly what this film was missing. Instead of being clever, it used obvious jokes about MySpace and teenage fantasy fulfillment that isn't really anything new is it? Hell, if you've seen "Can't Buy Me Love" (and anything in between), then you've essentially seen this movie.