7 January 2010

Little Girls with Guns and Certifiably Insane Teenagers with Delusions of Grandeur: An Early Review of “Kick-Ass”

In the early days of November 2009 I received a phone call from a friend of mine, who was enthusiastically telling me that he had just received two tickets to a special preview screening of this year’s latest comic book adaptation, “Kick-Ass”. My friend, knowing full well a) how much I love comic books, b) how much I enjoy Mark Millar’s work (the writer of the Kick-Ass comic book) and c) how much I love the Kick-Ass comic book, decided to invite me along with him to the screening after he was approached in Forbidden Planet (the branch in Central London is the veritable mother ship of comic book stores in the UK) by a man with a clipboard simply giving the aforementioned tickets away. It appears my friend owes me a debt of gratitude after I immersed him into the world of comics, a debt that has now been paid in full! Even though I was at University at the time, mid-week, I still got a train over to London to see this bad boy – and man, was it worth it. Escorted into a BAFTA screening room near Piccadilly Circus, seated with around 70 of the similarly-approached public, with Hollywood execs being escorted in behind us, I was thoroughly gripped by the excitement of it all – this being my first preview screening.

Before I go into my opinion of the almost-finished cut of the film I saw, let me first introduce the brief history of the co
mic book, its writer and its fast track to the big screen. Currently only on it’s 7th issue, the first issue of Kick-Ass was released in April 2008 – for a comic this young to already be a feature film is unheard of. Unless, of course, the writer of the comic is Mark Millar, a Scottish-born writer whose other creator-owned work, Wanted, has been turned into the very successful film starring Angelina Jolie. When “Wanted” was a hit at the box office, Hollywood started going crazy for a number of other Mark Millar projects – the first to be completed, “Kick-Ass”.

Directed by Matthew Vaughn, of “Layer Cake” and “Stardust” fame, and starring relative newcomer Aaron Johnson (who can currently be seen in the John Lennon in-his-youth film “Nowhere Boy”, garnering rave reviews) alongside Nicholas Cage and a current favourite of mine, Mark Strong – this film knocked my ruddy socks off. The story centers around your average comic book reading American teenager, Dave Lizewski. Dave has suddenly found himself asking why no one has ever tried to be a superhero like in the comics, to which his answer is to buy a wetsuitand start prowling the streets dealing out his own brand of justice. His name? “Kick-Ass”. Of course, the irony of the situation is that it is he who gets his ass kicked, more often than not, what with having no training or outstanding physical strength. Along the way he gets caught up in the dealings of a mobster (Mark Strong) and his son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and two other vigilantes, named Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and Hit-Girl (the revelation that is Chloe Moretz). Violence, hilarity and genuine awesomeness ensue. I won’t give away too much of the story, as I don’t really need to.

What I will tell you is that Aaron Johnson is one to watch. Unlike a lot of other British teenagers, he can actually act – and not only that, but he can put on a thoroughly convincing American accent. Not an easy feat, as even Ray Winstone had trouble with that in “The Departed”. Johnson is entirely believable as one of those archetypal, Peter Parker high school nobodies, which makes for a nice change of pace when one of those archetypal, Peter Parker
high school nobodies finally gets fed up and decides to stop being a victim. Of course, the results are less than desirable for the character, but as entertainment, it’s, well... entertaining! It was also an easy pill for me to swallow – there’s got to be someone out there crazy enough to put on a costume and go out there and get his ass kicked.

Nicholas Cage turns in one of his better roles in recent years, as the certifiable ex-cop out for vengeance against the mob, but the real star of the show is Chloe Moretz as Hit-Girl, Cage’s character’s 11-year old daughter who he trains to fight crime alongside him. She has a lot of attitude, uses a lot of bad language, and kicks a lot of ass. It’s just insanely fun to watch a little girl kick, stab, shoot and punch her way through an endless supply of generic gangsters. Trust me, she’s probably the best bit of the film. Moretz is an insanely talented actor – I recently rewatched “(500) Days of Summer”, where she popped up as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s wise-beyond-her-years little sister, a role she was great in.

There isn’t really anything more to say of the directing than the fact that it’s just good. Nothing really special; Vaughn does the job and does it well. Although, the use of a
lot of bright colours really gives the whole affair a very tongue-in-cheek feel. There is one standout scene that I won’t ruin here, but it is very well constructed, in which Hit-Girl is attempting to rescue Big Daddy and Kick-Ass – I can say no more, but it’s awesomely done (even if Cage slightly hams up the acting).

The interesting thing I found about this not-as-yet-finished cut of the film was the soundtrack. I wasn’t sure if the soundtrack had not yet been composed, or if this was the way the film was meant to be – but instead of its own score, it had the well-known theme songs of a lot of other superhero and genre films. I recognised the themes from “Superman”, “Spider-Man”, “The Dark Knight”, and “28 Days Later”. The thing is, it worked really, really well. Because of the idea that this kid is so influenced by the comic books that he reads that he decides to become one, so too is the film so influenced by other superhero/genre films that it uses the well-known songs from them too. It’s awesome to watch Hit-Girl jump around killing bad guys to the Hans Zimmer “Dark Knight” theme. I’m hoping they keep it that way when the release date rolls around in April.

The story moves along at a breakneck pace, culminating in a very cool shootout in the mobster’s penthouse apartment that needs to be seen to be believed. What’s notable is the animated origin story of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, drawn in the style of John Romita, Jr – the legendary comic book artist who pencils the comic. Clearly influenced by the scene in “Kill Bill” before it, the version I saw was not yet completed (probably the only part of the film that didn’t look finished) so I can’t really comment. It did, however, look awesome, even in its principle stages.

One distraction was Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fogel/McLovin from “Superbad”). The character he plays, Chris D’Amico, is v
ery different from his iteration from the comics. In the film, he is very slapsticky; almost a joke character. Which, I guess I kinda expect as it is McLovin. I would’ve liked to see whoever plays Chris D’Amico (and his alter ego... Red Mist) be a little bit more badass, a better foil for Dave Lizewski. But at this stage, it’s nitpicking, as the character still kind of works in the context of the film. It just works better in the comics.

As for fans of the comics, you have nothing to worry about – the film is very faithful, up to a point, and the point at which they take it in another direction works. Let’s not forget, this is a film – not a comic. It can’t be exactly the same, and the creative liberties they have taken (which Mark Millar signed off on) are entirely understandable. They’re not even that drastic – I mean, we still have Hit-Girl calling some hoodlums “c*nts” and then killing them all with samurai swords, for chrissakes.

VERDICT: 4 asses kicked out of 5! Check it out when it’s released all over the world on the 16th of April! Don’t take your kids.

ALSO SEE: Any comic book movie ever made. “Kick-Ass” is, after all, a loving tribute to all of them.


Dan Woburn

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