Kick-Ass: the superhero movie that keeps it real

News Ryan Lambie 2 Sep 2010 - 18:02

With Kick-Ass all set to arrive on DVD and Blu-ray, we take a timely second look at what is arguably one of the year’s greatest comic book adaptations…

Sometimes missing a film's theatrical release isn't such a bad thing. Freed from the weight of expectation, the rave reviews and the hype, you're free to enjoy a film for what it really is. At least, this is my excuse for having missed the mighty Kick-Ass the first time around.

In a year that has seen a colossal glut of highly capable heroes take to the screen, it's refreshing to see a movie that runs so counter to the Hollywood and comic book myth of the indestructible, caped protagonist.

In Kick-Ass, superheroes are, in several instances, exactly as you might expect them to be in real life: well meaning, but ultimately deluded vigilantes whose reach constantly exceeds their grasp.

Dave Lizewski (played with a seemingly flawless American drawl by the UK's own Aaron Johnson) is one such clumsy hero, who decides to shake up his dull teenage existence by cobbling together a costume from a mail order catalogue and take to the mean streets as Kick-Ass.

One jarringly horrific botched crime fight later, and Kick-Ass is in hospital, his encounter with a mugger's blade and a hit-and-run driver's bonnet resulting in a remarkable inability to experience pain. Kick-Ass' defining characteristic as a superhero is, therefore, that he can take protracted beatings without feeling anything, which is just as well, since director Matthew Vaughn and writers Jane Goldman and Mark Millar take great delight in beating the character to the ground at any given opportunity.

Also prowling the city are Big Daddy (Nic Cage) and his pint-sized assassin daughter, Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), whose relationship plays out like a deranged version of Luc Besson's Leon. Cage buys his young protégé a pair of lethal fighting blades for her birthday, and prepares her for combat with a care and attention that is as touching as it is disquieting.

And in a marked contrast to the hapless Kick-Ass, the duo are physically coordinated, heavily armed and more than capable of inflicting death and injury on a mass scale, with Hit Girl specialising in her own brand of swift, candy-hued carnage.

Out of hospital and once again donning his green outfit, Kick-Ass' inept crime fighting antics eventually win him a devoted following on YouTube, which leads billionaire druglord Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong) to assume that it's he, and not Big Daddy, who is constantly disrupting his otherwise lucrative flow of narcotics.

Employing his bratty, spoiled son Chris (keenly personified by Superbad's Christopher Mintz-Plasse) to pose as Red Mist, a fellow superhero, in order to ensnare Kick-Ass, the movie rushes to a conclusion that sees its heroes and villains clash in a spectacular, marvellously over-the-top climax.

Through a combination of talent and pitch perfect casting, Vaughn takes a premise that could easily have resulted in mere farce and invests it with genuine charm and depth. A film that features a foul-mouthed, homicidal 10-year-old and a group of criminals who think nothing of hacking off their victims' fingers with bolt croppers or reducing them to goo in an industrial microwave may not sound particularly good natured, but everything about Kick-Ass is delivered with such breezy cheer that it's nigh-on impossible to take offence, unless you're a Daily Mail writer, that is.

Every member of Kick-Ass' cast brings a tangible enthusiasm and energy to their roles, with Nic Cage channelling the spirit of Adam West in his performance as Big Daddy, while at the same time playing his day-to-day alter ego, Damon Macready, as an unnervingly pushy, doting father who sports a pleasingly naff line in cardigans.

Chloe Moretz is excellent as his daughter, and somehow makes a psychotic and precocious character both vulnerable and sympathetic, and Mintz-Plasse plays a brilliantly camp Red Mist, whose look is curiously reminiscent of a Soft Cell-era Marc Almond.

Johnson is similarly excellent as the scrawny teenager with big ideas, and thoroughly convinces as both an ordinary high school student and a clueless wannabe superhero hopelessly out of his depth.

What's most remarkable about Kick-Ass, however, is just how good it looks. Displaying a visual verve that punches considerably above its meagre budget, the film looks considerably better than films costing many times as much to make, with its action scenes well staged and its sets loaded with attitude and colour.

In fact, it was only when watching the feature-length documentary on the Blu-ray disc (which is the most in-depth and illuminating extra feature I've seen in some time) that I realised just how low-budget Kick-Ass' production was, and how ingenious its creators had been at creating epic scenes with such limited resources.

It's only in the final few minutes, where the film takes an uncharacteristic, not unexpected step outside the bounds of plausibility, that the CG briefly falters, but it's a rare misstep in an otherwise riotous film.

It's spectacularly fun, unapologetically amoral film that nevertheless has an intriguing subtext, namely, the dichotomy between fantasies of male machismo and reality. Macready may think he looks like Batman while in his Big Daddy garb, but his costume makes him look comically hunched and ungainly, and Dave's scrawny frame barely fills his Kick-Ass costume.

It's refreshing to see a comic book movie whose central characters aren't towering mountains of brawn, but disarmingly vulnerable and human.

Unjustly overlooked at the box office, Kick-Ass is one film that absolutely demands to be watched on DVD and Blu-ray. We await the forthcoming sequel with genuine enthusiasm.

The Film: 5 starsThe Disc: 4 starsKick-Ass is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on 6 September. You can order it from the Den Of Geek store here.

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