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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Kick Ass

Here is one of my favourite films from last year and one of the very first things I wrote for Channel24. A couple of notes: First, it's interesting how many films are coming out now that are so obviously similar to Kick Ass - though I wonder if any of them will come close. Second, I have since read the comics on which it is based and, frankly, the movie is way better. I liked it more than most Mark Millar books that I've read but the movie improves on it in ever way. Finally, this is a reprint of my original review of the film. Check out the link if you want my published review, with several changes made by my editor.

From (Originally published 22 April 2010)


Based on the comic book of the same name by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr (the latter even contributes a terrific animated sequence to the film), Kick Ass tells the story of geeky Dave Lezewski who decides to follow in the footsteps of his fictional comic book heroes and becomes a real life masked crime-fighter. Calling himself Kick-Ass and armed with nothing but a wet suit, the “power to be invisible to girls” and loads of naivety, he quickly discovers that being a superhero in the real world a whole lot less safe and less painless than it is in the funny books. And then things get really complicated, not only by his messy private life but by a ruthless crime boss and the appearance of more “superheroes” following in his footsteps.


Despite being an avid comic book reader, I find myself in the unusual position of not having read Mark Millar's original Kick Ass comic before seeing the film. Save for a handful of exceptions, I flat out haven't liked Millar's work. I've found his writing heartless, obnoxious and far too desperate to appear edgy and cool, culminating in the truly dreadful Wanted. I think it says something then, that somewhere in its extremely brisk two hour running time, Kick Ass pulverized all of my previous held preconceptions and caused me to reconsider every thing that I ever held true about the guy's writing. And considering how stubborn I can be about this sort of thing, that's no small feat.

Of course, however much credit needs to be given to Millar for creating the world and characters of Kick Ass, the true star here is Matthew Vaughn. Kick Ass is very simply one of the most awe inspiring balancing acts that I've seen in a film in a good, long time. It should be a genre-bending nightmare as it mixes crime drama, indie teenage romance, superheroics and knockabout comedy with some jaw-dropping profanity and blood-splattered, gleefully brutal violence, most of which is perpetrated by, get this, an eleven year old girl. As both co-screenwriter and director, Matthew Vaughn is squarely responsible for turning this volatile cocktail of insanity into a perfectly controlled, explosively exciting piece of cinema.

Vaughn and his clearly very talented co-writer, Jane Goldman have served up a fresh, witty script with well drawn characters and a compelling plot but without Vaughn's assured direction, Kick Ass could so easily have turned into one of the year's biggest stinkers. I have admittedly been quite impressed by Vaughn's previous forays into genre cinema with Stardust and Layer Cake but it is this film that should cement his reputation as a truly great filmmaker. The film is perfectly paced, expertly told and stylishly shot but it is his skillful understanding and manipulation of the tone of the film that really allows Kick Ass to soar.

Vaughn clearly understands the different mechanics of the various genres that Kick Ass blends together and, as such, ensures that the film is sweet when it needs to be sweet, quirky when it needs to be quirky, sad when it needs to be sad, and, most importantly, funny when it absolutely has to be funny. The world of Kick Ass is clearly more “realistic” than, say, the world of Superman or Spider-man but Vaughn wisely never allows it to fully escape the genre's fantasy trappings. The violence inflicted on our central character is as shockingly brutal as one might expect it to be in our world but when it comes to the verbal and physical violence surrounding the prepubescent Hit-Girl - a young superhero who, along with her slightly deranged ex-cop father, follows in Kick Ass' footsteps - Vaughn carefully ensures that it stays within the realm of acceptability by adopting a cheekily farcical tone - all the while never losing sight of the humanity of this young girl caught up in an entirely mad situation.
Mind you, this is just as well when you consider that Hit-Girl is the heart and soul of the film. Don't get me wrong, Kick Ass is littered with some very cool characters and solid acting, from Aaron Johnson as Kick-Ass himself to the reliably sinister Mark Strong as the film's central bad guy, not to mention Nicholas Cage who hasn't been this good in many a moon as Hit-Girl's father, superhero name: (you guessed it) Big-Daddy. No character, however, is more fun, more tragic and more flat out, well, kick ass than Hit-Girl. That she's also played by the best actor in the film doesn't hurt either. Chloe Moretz is simply one of the best child actors to come along in a while as she tempers her inevitable precociousness with genuine charm and likability.

'Charm and likability'.

I guess that is really what is at the heart of the matter. In the end, my biggest problem with much of Mark Millar's previous work is that it is so entirely lacking in these two simple words that are so abundant in the film version of Kick Ass. Unless the film is a total departure from the comic – and based on everything that I've read and heard, it very much isn't – it could be a real turning point in Millar's career. Or for my relationship with his work anyway. Either way though, the film is a total triumph and is recommended to anyone who likes copious amounts of humour and quirky humanity with their bloody action films. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.

South African readers buy Kick Ass from Take2. Either on DVD (UK or SA editions) or Blu Ray. Or buy the trade paperback collection of the comics from Take2. 

International readers buy Kick Ass from Amazon.


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