I’ll tell you something, 2010 has been a terrific year for comedy. We’ve had Pixar’s Toy Story 3, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s Cemetery Junction and Chris Morris’ edgy but tasteful Four Lions. Three really great comedy films that put the comedies of most other years to shame. Saying that, I suppose to have some great comedy, we also have to eat some bad shit too. Grown Ups, Magruber, Marmaduke and Vampires Suck come to mind as some the worst comedies in recent memory. Where our next film stands on the spectrum is to be found during the course of this review.
Kick-Ass is the new film from director Matthew Vaughan. I have not seen his previous film Stardust, although personally I wasn’t that fussed on Layer Cake, his debut film. I might go back to re-watch it, as it has been a good few years since I saw it. Anyway, Kick-Ass met for the most part positive reviews, although the film has sparked controversy due to its content. It is laden with vulgarities, notable for being a mainstream, 15-Rated film able to get away with the use of the c-word (‘cunt’ for further reference). Also, it is for a superhero film pretty violent. However, most of this controversy is being generated because this profanity and violence involves at various parts a young girl.
Chloe Grace Moretz, who plays Hit Girl was eleven when uttering the line “Okay you cunts, let’s see what you can do now” and performing kills with a various array of stabbing weapons and guns. Roger Ebert of the called the film “morally reprehensible”, and Chris Tookey of The Daily Mail declared, “This crime against cinema is twisted, cynical and revels in the abuse of childhood.” Firing straight off before getting into the film itself, I have no problem against the character of Hit Girl. To take an example of a similar case, both men speak very well of Taxi Driver, Tookey rating it 9/10 and Ebert listing it in his ‘Great Movies.’ Now, in this film, Jodie Foster plays an underage prostitute character that is a sexualised character. At the time of filming, Foster was fourteen, only three years older than Moretz in Kick-Ass. I have no problem with Taxi Driver or Jodie Foster’s age when portraying the character. However, I see this as double standards on the part of Tookey and Ebert, who need to get off the moralistic pedestal and stop declaring themselves Chloe Moretz’ guardian angels!
Anyway, post-opinions section (an opinion that wasn’t asked at that), lets get down to the synopsis of Kick-Ass. Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a teenager, who while juggling a crush for Katie (Lyndsey Fonseca), is disgusted by crime and people’s apathy towards it, wondering why no one has decided to become a superhero like those in comics. It is a pure escapist vision with which one can empathise, and Dave decides to become ‘Kick-Ass’, despite having no superpowers. After a failed first attempt at fighting crime that damages his nerves, increasing his capacity for pain, he continues his crusade, and after becoming an Internet phenomenon, realises he is not alone. During a raid on drug dealers, he is saved by Hit Girl (Chloe Grave Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage), a father-daughter superhero duo. Their main target in vigilantism is Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), a local crime boss. Upon damage being done to his business, he goes after Kick-Ass, with his son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) volunteering to become ‘Red Mist’ to lure Kick-Ass to his father. And so, our pieces have fallen into place. Lengthy synopsis yes, but no big spoilers.
To start with what is good about Kick-Ass, the acting must be taken into account. It is great to see a cast in a film that is all round on form. Aaron Johnson gives a perfectly likeable lead performance, in a role that could have made him the boring foil of the film. Also, Christopher Mintz-Plasse escapes the long shadow of his first film performance as Fogell aka McLovin' in Superbad, giving another worthy performance. As the film's lead villain, Mark Strong adds a fine presence. However, while these are all good performances, the best ones in the film have to be those of Chloe Grace Moretz and Nicholas Cage as the father-daughter duo of Hit Girl and Big Daddy. Both nail the unconventional relationship of a father and daughter who just happen to be a group of vigilante superheroes. There is a genuine chemistry between the two that makes their dynamic both very funny and very touching whenever it needs to be. Moretz gives a really great performance as Hit Girl, delivering a fully rounded performance that takes full advantage of the comedic possibilities of her age. It is certainly one of the best supporting actress roles of the year. On the other hand, we've good old Nicholas Cage. Now, say what you will about Cage and some of the bad films he has done, whenever he is good he's great. He is perfect as Big Daddy, doing the job of overacting 'dramatically' in the comedic context. The scene in which he and Moretz are practising what it feels like to be shot is a great example. He masterfully plays the doting, caring father, in a scene that in its very absurdity, reassuring his daughter that it will be ok for she is wearing body armour, is hilarious. A lot of people, in light of some recent performances where he is unintentionally funny, forget his great comedic talents when he is intentionally funny. Think back to Raising Arizona and then watch Kick-Ass, and you will realise how funny he is. In Kick-Ass, Cage gives one of the best supporting actor roles of the year.
In this section, I will deal with the work of both Matthew Vaughan and Jane Goldman, as director and screenwriters, but in the context of the nature of the film. I must compliment them both on the fact that they have released a comedy that pulls no punches and has no barriers. The dialogue is razor-sharp and well-written, with some really terrific comedic scenes the result of it. Also, contrary to the opinions of critics such as Ebert and Tookey, I find that conversely in a film that has no morals (or need of them), it is less reprehensible than most other 'moral' comedies. Comedy is a genre where you are meant to have no boundaries and should not be told 'you can't say/do that.' In this sense, Vaughan and Goldman have succeeded. With the lack of boundaries, we have the freedom to enjoy and indulge in the film's wicked sense of humour. Life would be boring if we took everything seriously, so well done to Vaughan and Goldman for not pulling any punches.
In another case of blanketing together things into one topic (partially because of laziness), I would like to complement the films action scenes by mentioned cinematographer Ben Davis, editors Pietro Scalia, Jon Harris and Eddie Hamilton, and the work of stunt coordinator Bradley James Allan and his stunt team. Allan is a great coordinator, having done stunts for films such as Hellboy II: The Golden Army (still one of 2008's best films and horribly overlooked), Avatar, and, erm, A Nightmare On Elm Street. Remake. Scratch that last one, but here we have someone who knows what he is doing. In Kick-Ass, his imagination is let loose and choreographs some of the best action scenes seen in a film this year. Certain scenes bring to mind Luc Besson's work, particularly Nikita, but there are also some amazing martial arts action scenes as well as those with guns. Now, saying that, we would not be able to see these action scenes if it were not for smart editing work. Scalia, Harris and Hamilton ensure that we are able to have enough time to register the visuals shot. Davis gets some really interesting camera angles at various points. All-round, each of these aspects display great imagination and inventiveness, and give Kick-Ass some genuinely great action scenes.
What Kick-Ass does right it does a great job of, however, it is by no means a flawless movie. To make a start on these problems, the film has a running length of 120 minutes, and to be frank, it is about twenty to thirty minutes too long. This is the kind of film that could really have benefitted with a running length of under 100 minutes. Not every scene is as funny as it should be, and it does get very tiring. The film goes on and on and on, and I would lying if I said that I didn't want it to finish far earlier than it did. I'm sure that Vaughan felt that he was putting out a great work all round, but if I was there as outside consultant, there would be a lot to cut.
This brings me on to my next point. One of the reasons the film is too long in because it tries to do too many different things. It is not that the humour is bad, but there is too much and it is a case of bombardment on occasion. As a result, the film is a bit of a mess, reminding me of Inglourious Basterds in this regard. It tries to be a spoof, an action film, a satire, a teen-smut comedy etc and it does each of these genres without each them being entirely developed. Kick-Ass is at its best when it manages to successfully meld genres. Furthermore, there seems to be a confusion of genre in the film. At certain points, it goes without a gag or action scene for long stretches, and the gags are rarely incorporated into the action scenes, often happening after the dust has settled. This lack of efficiency would be an explanation for the overlong running time.
Kick-Ass is a flawed film. It is far too overlong, and tries to do too many different things while often only glazing on their surface. As a result, the great comedy film in waiting never quite emerges from its shell gloriously. However, the film has a lot of good going for it. It boasts some great acting, especially in the case of Chloe Grace Moretz and Nicholas Cage. Also, through the efforts of editors, the cinematographer and the stunt team, we are given really terrific action sequences to digest. Finally, it is hard not to admire a film that has no limits with regards to its comedic scope, and Vaughan and Goldman obviously played their cards right.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.7/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Tired (this time I know drink and too many movies are doing the job!)
Big P.S. – Kick-Ass has one of the best soundtracks of the years, and I forgot, but I have mention it before posting. The main Kick-Ass orchestral theme is one of this year’s better use of orchestrals. Also, the original Kick-Ass song by Mika and produced by RedOne on the end credits in very catchy. Finally, with John Murphy’s In A House – In A Heartbeat getting a remix, The Prodigy, Elvis Presley, Ennio Morricone, The New York Dolls, Gnarls Barkley and a version of Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation, this is a terrific compilation of songs.