Monday, April 26, 2010

Review: Kick-Ass (dir. Matthew Vaughn)

When you've been hearing about a movie as long as most of us in the geek community have been hearing about Kick Ass (which has been for awhile, but really kicked into gear after the presentation at ComiCon last July), it starts to become a movie that is either awesome because you've got yourself so geared up for it, or tremendously disappointing because nothing could ever live up to the hype.

Luckily, it's a really tremendous comic book movie. Co-writer/director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust) presents a fully-digested consideration of comic books, fan culture, and the meaning of superheroes, a kind of less-serious version of what Watchmen (the film) wanted to be. With a keen eye for iconography and completely lacking in fear to face up to the absurd (the costumes make no attempt to hide their homemade quality), Kick-Ass is truly the first superhero film of the new decade.

More after the jump...

First, let's talk aesthetics, an issue absent from most of the films Kick-Ass is competing with, but absolutely note-perfect in Vaughn's film. His widescreen compositions involving the various vigilantes are frequently stunning, and instantly iconic in a way Christopher Nolan's compositions involving an already-iconic character never are. His editing, alongside a veritable squadron of editors, moves easily and seamlessly between the kinetic and the operatic, often employing a wide range of musical accompaniment - that a whole section of what purports to be a summer action film is cut to the overture from The Barber of Seville is pretty awesome. At first it's used as an introduction to a rich man's home, a pretty standard use for that piece, but before long it's taking us across different locations and characters, and still fits the rhythm of the scene, which somehow fits into the rhythm of a film that also features cues from Ennio Morricone, The Dickies, and Elvis, each perfect to their own aspect of the film.

Vaughn's also cultivated a surprising knack for sweetness in his films (I say "surprising" because he made his name producing Guy Ritchie movies and his first feature was the similarly-themed Layer Cake), and I was struck by how thoughtful the film was at times. Don't get me wrong, it's also a very funny and exciting film to watch, but to the masses who felt the movie lacked in the sections featuring Dave, a.k.a. Kick-Ass himself, I am deeply puzzled. The love story falls a tad flat, but there is something exhilarating about his determination to become a superhero, and something else at once hilarious and touching about his complete ineptitude at doing so, and Aaron Johnson's performance is the best the genre's produced since Robert Downey, Jr. was unleashed (admittedly...not that long ago, but I think you'd have to go back to Ron Pearlman's first outing as Hellboy in 2004 to find find more competition).

The Hit-Girl section, meanwhile, brings what a lot of people, myself included, expected the film to be - insane, hilarious, and provocative. I myself wasn't offended by any of it, because the film is so obviously trying to offend and be subversive that, in turn, it doesn't quite jive (it's also too cartoony to make such an impression). Chloƫ Grace Moretz, as Mindy/Hit-Girl absolutely redeems herself after being the worst part about 500 Days of Summer (though most of that can be attributed to being the worst-written part of that film), bringing a disturbing level of sweetness to Hit-Girl, while Nicolas Cage is just awesome in one of the few parts he gets in which he belongs, as Damon, a.k.a. Big Daddy, Mindy's father. I mentioned earlier Vaughn's willingness to go with the absurd, and Cage's performance is certainly that.

I do take issue with one aspect of the film's morality, however, in that it's oddly okay with Damon's relationship with Mindy (he's trained her to become a killing machine, removing her not only from school but any sort of social life). The film never really gets around to saying "ummm...what?" But I try my best to take a sort of amoral look at film and art whenever possible, and within those bounds, Kick-Ass is an absolute feast, the best (and most fun!) action movie since Punisher: War Zone. It's also unexpectedly well-made, and Vaughn continues to astound me; his future as a creative force in film should be assured.


Julie said...

As far as the morality of Hit Girl and Big Daddy's relationship, the film seemed to present it in an almost journalistic way, i.e. "this exists, period." On one hand, you have HG and BD themselves, who obviously think this is a good lifestyle choice, and on the other hand, you have Dave and the cop/former guardian who think it's wrong. As far as I could tell, Vaughn stays out of it. And in the end, she does wind up with a normal guardian and in school, so that lifestyle wins out. So I didn't feel that the lifestyle was glorified. But maybe that's just me...

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