Monday, April 19, 2010

Kick-Ass (2010) – Review

Kick-Ass is a remarkable blending of homage and parody, action and humor, drama and silliness. The film has it all. At its core, it is a coming-of-age story about a teenage boy finding his way in the world – only, to do so he decides to become a superhero despite having no powers or physical abilities. The film also has two sub-plot stories pertaining to differing relationships between parent and child. These three story structures are interwoven and intersect throughout the film, each with its own emotional journey – and Matthew Vaughn did an excellent job giving each narrative thread enough screen time and impact to resonate individually with the audience, thus each character matters, which benefits the overall experience – even despite all the laughs and silliness that the film offers, there is still a connection between the characters and audience. And the film does offer quite a few hilarious moments. These jokes are both at the expense of prior superhero films and books (the character of Kick-Ass has many visual, audio and narrative references to Spider-Man, while Big Daddy has many referring to Batman, even Adam West’s version) and the nature of what the characters are actually doing and reacting to on screen. The character of Mindy ‘Hit-Girl’ is outrageous – which sparks different reactions depending on the disposition of the viewer. She is an eleven-year-old girl whose father has brought her up in isolation, loving her completely, but raising her quite differently – to be a deadly assassin. We see the girl in action. And the film is unflinching in its depiction of violence, only some find it more shocking because the character is eleven. And she has a foul mouth, which again is seemingly only shocking and offensive because the character is eleven. However, taking the character as she is portrayed in the world of the film, she is wonderfully cute and spunky and brings that to her alter ego, which does produce a number of laughs. It is the situation as a whole for many of the characters that produces most of the best moments of humor, be them relatable (being awkward around a girl) or absurd (most of everything involving the relationship between Mindy and her father – their introduction in the film is one the funniest and best in recent memory). Director Vaughn seems to blend in his British gangster film style from a lot of his previous work into the film, especially in the scenes involving Frank D’Amico. The film walks an interesting line throughout, there is a feeling of light-hearted comedy that is constantly being impacted with action and drama, but where Vaughn excels is in his ability to master all three aspects and balance them to their best use, thereby engrossing the audience in the drama of the story, giving them the action they expect and making them laugh too throughout the whole film, really a masterful job done. He is also able to pay homage to superhero movies and comics. While many of the jokes do stem from the ridiculousness of superheroes in the real world, there is a definite sense that the filmmakers involved here truly love and care about comics and their byproducts, and there are many references and shout outs in the film (it is awesome that one of the characters is reading Runaways in one shot). On the technical side of the film, along with Vaughn’s superb directing, the film benefits from having a great cast and crew. The production design by Russell De Rozario in the film was pitch perfect (I especially liked his Atomic Comic set and Frank D’Amico’s apartment). It captured the world that each character inhabited perfectly, and helped tell their story visually. The score by the team of John Murphy, Henry Jackman, Ilan Eshkeri, and Marius De Vries and particularly the pop-music cues where able to capture the atmosphere of each character’s perceived  world, while also giving the audience insight into their emotional make up (using Banana Splits Tra La La Song for Hit-Girl’s first action sequence was sheer brilliance). The score also played off the talents of each composer involved, which helped Vaughn accentuate the style and mood for each scene (for example Jackman worked on The Dark Knight’s score, and you can hear the reference to that film in moments of the score here). The cinematography by Ben Davis fit each scene well. Davis was able to enhance the ambience of each sequence or scene with his work. He along with Vaughn also did quite a good job of staging many of the scenes as if the audience were looking at a panel in a comic through their shot selections. Stylistically, it was very fitting to the overall homage feeling to the piece. The dialogue was great, funny and worked throughout – the script by Vaughn and writing partner Jane Goldman, which was written at the same time as Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. were writing the graphic novel, is able to capture the humor in the situations that these characters find themselves in, but like the film as a whole it also takes stock in the characters and gives them real arches that audience can relate to and invest in. And finally, the cast was great. There are no weak performances in the piece. Clarke Duke, Even Peters, Lyndsy Fonseca, and Sophie Wu were all good in their supporting roles as Kick-Ass’s high school friends. Frank D’Amico’s henchmen, played by Michael Rispoli, Stu ‘Large’ Riley, Jason Flemyng, and Dexter Fletcher are also good in their supporting parts (Flemyng and Fletcher have appeared in all three of Vaughn’s directed films). The film, though, benefits greatly from the fantastic group of actors playing the main characters. Christopher Mintz-Plasse, still and maybe forever McLovin as far as the general movie-going population is concerned, is surprisingly good here – he has to do more range and play off the image that people associate with him, and he does so very well. Mark Strong is as always great; he was the ideal choice to play the villain. Nicolas Cage (who I normally would be unexcited about upon seeing his name in the credits) was hysterical. His approximation of Adam West’s Batman voice was fantastic. Chloe Grace Moretz stole the show (at least upon first viewing). Her mixture of cuteness and sarcasm amplifies her performance in a role that very easily could have not worked at all. She is just right in her approach and handling of the material. Lastly, Aaron Johnson did an excellent job too. He was able to guide the viewer through the world and his performance was completely relatable, which it needed to be for his character to work. Kick-Ass is a rare film – it is both absurdly violent and silly, and yet completely works, creating a humorous action-packed, yet meaningful, cinematic experience. 9/10

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