Kick Ass

The perp’s eyes suddenly bulge from their sockets, laden with confusion and horror. A telltale red patch creeps across the centre of his convulsing chest, and his weapon tumbles from his hand. As he slumps to the floor, we are confronted with a minute 11-year old girl poised behind him, sporting a lurid purple wig and a blood-soaked, double-ended halberd.

Okay you c***let’s see what you can do now! she hollers excitedly.

This, then, is Kick-Ass, latest and most leftfield in a string of alternative superhero movies, following in the wake of more mainstream, big budget fare like Hancock and the excellent Watchmen. Much like the bromances that have straddled the comedy landscape in recent years, this new species claims to deconstruct the traditional approach to celluloid heroics, though in actuality such films often end up leaning more heavily on the traditions they riff on. Can Kick-Ass avoid such a fate?

Well, no. But in truth, the movie is such a fresh-faced, unashamedly exuberant romp that you’ll forgive its more slavish tendencies when it comes to comic book conventions. Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust) and co-adapted by Jonathan Ross wife Jane Goldman from Mark Millar’s cult graphic novel, the story follows teenage geek Dave Lizewski’s (Aaron Johnson) rocky metamorphosis from loser to righteous, stick-wielding scourge of crime Kick-Ass. Joining forces with the aforementioned 11-year old assassin Hit Girl (a great turn by Chloe Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nic Cage, reminding us why we still love him after so much forgettable dross), our protagonist is soon sucked in over his head as the unlikely gang of misfits find themselves embroiled in a full-scale war with underworld kingpin Frank D Amico (an ever reliable Mark Strong).

From the off, Kick-Ass delivers a refreshingly blunt retort to the traditional superhero formula. Kick-Ass himself doesn’t receive his strengthened skeleton from scientific mishap or serendipity; rather it s the result of a life- saving operation after he’s stabbed and hit by a car during his first foray into crime fighting.

It’s the film’s barbed, semi-realistic approach to the superhero myth that elevates it to rough-hewn satire at its best. In contrast to the granite-jawed, neo-Roman values of a place like Gotham City, the world of Kick-Ass is largely ruled by opportunism, fear and cynicism. The people adore Kick-Ass’s crusade, but it’s a superficial love, yielding more imposters than inspired wannabes. Much like the work of Alan Moore, here heroes are depicted as isolated individuals motivated by their own issues and insecurities.

The supersonic consumption rate of the online generation, with its insatiable appetite for violence, sex and celebrity, is a prime target, roundly nailed in one scene in particular. Towards the end of the film Kick-Ass and Big Daddy are kidnapped, with their subsequent torture broadcast live on television. When the news channel cuts the feed due to the brutality of the images, legions of Kick-Ass fans scramble onto the web to continue watching their idol being beaten to death. It’s one of Kick Ass high watermarks, at once funny and nauseatingly truthful, a distant relation to the stomach wrenching snuff video made by the Joker in The Dark Knight.

For all of Kick-Ass compellingly off-kilter twists on the comic adaptation canon, its biggest letdown is the heavy debt it pays to the traditions it so lovingly dissects. By its end the film has gravitated back towards pretty familiar territory, with a slew of murdered parents, a conquered love interest and an obligatory sequel clearly lined up. While never less than thoroughly enjoyable, Kick-Ass ultimately sacrifices much of its own unique voice and charm in favour of riding on the coat tails of the big league superhero franchises it aspires to be.

Likewise, in directorial style there are moments when it doesn’t so much nod to its inspirations as attach itself to their leg and hump them; the shadow of Tarantino in particular hangs heavy over the fight scenes, and even the soundtrack feels like a greatest hits compilation from recent films.

All told, had Kick-Ass stuck its head over the parapet a little more, it could have been an instant classic. As it stands, however, it’s still a movie that’s fun, clever and very easy to love.

Kick-Ass

15

Dir- Matthew Vaughn

Kick Ass trailer

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