Kick-Ass screening review

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Review Duncan Bowles 2 Dec 2009 - 13:35

Duncan caught a rough cut screening of Kick-Ass in London this week. And boy, is there a treat in store for us all next year...

Firstly, let's get the official disclaimer out of the way: the version of Kick-Ass that I caught screened in London this week had an unfinished animation sequence, some unfinished effects (not that I noticed) and a temporary score. If that's the case, I saw the most perfect unfinished film I've ever seen.

I'm actually finding it difficult to find the words to describe just how much I loved Kick-Ass, so let me fill you in on a few facts about myself first. I love comic books, but am out of touch, having kicked my habit over a decade ago (give or take a few graphic novels a year), so I've yet to read Mark Millar's original Kick-Ass source material (an issue about to addressed), but have always been fanatical about comic book movies and TV. I assume the passion came from being a kid when the old (Nicolas Hammond) Spider-Man TV series aired, as well as seeing re-runs of Adam West's Batman when I was young enough to be scared of the rubber shark.

I can also tell you that years ago I found myself having a discussion in the pub about the notion of real life superheroes, how I loved the fictional versions and wished more than anything that they existed in the real world. The wish seemed to turn into a plea, as I'd never really held out much hope for society and as I became more desperate (see: drunk) that there were no real superheroes, or ever likely to be, I broke down in tears. If this seems like some kind of psychotic confessional, then don't worry, I just need to disclose my own personal disposition so my enthusiasm is put into context.

The print of Kick-Ass that was shown in London, that I managed to unwittingly blag a ticket for, seemed near as finished to me, but for the music, which, in itself, raised some interesting points.

The music tracks used are perfect and I can't express how much I hope they remain in the film, from Sparks' This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us to November Rain by Guns N' Roses and more importantly, The Prodigy (Invaders Must Die, if I remember rightly). The character of Hit Girl also has a theme; it's a female voiced pop-punk song which was amazingly chosen, but the name of the artist escapes me. Either way you'd be better served waiting to hear it with the film.

The strangest thing about the temporary score was that, although it was made up from the likes of John Williams' Superman, Danny Elfman's Batman, Hans Zimmer/James Newton Howard's The Dark Knight and the John Murphy/Underworld score from Sunshine, some of it worked too well. The cues picked cause such a familiar and rousing sense of excitement, that I'm now immensely curious to see how the actual score turns out, especially since they added a level of humour to some scenes (for example the Superman theme when Kick-Ass first tries on his ridiculous outfit). That said, they did jar me out of the action on screen at times, particularly the Batman tracks, so all should be well either way.

As for the film itself, it was funny, touching, brutal, controversial and original. For me, the best film I've seen this year. Now I know that journo-hyperbole will hopefully lead to the posters being slapped with lines such as ‘The best comic book movie since The Dark Knight!', but take it from me, it's the best movie I've seen since The Dark Knight. It's ironic that in a year of disappointments the film I've loved the most isn't even out until next year, but such is life.

When I say the film is original, you should bear in mind I mean that in cinematic terms. For any of us that have read a book, be it comic or otherwise, we know that there is a wealth of un-filmable material out there being, for example, either too graphic, surreal or controversial to ever make the big screen.

For this reason alone Kick-Ass deserves your support, whether you like the film or not, as director Matthew Vaughn shot the film independently to make the film as loyal to the comic as possible. This means that Lionsgate (god bless you) have picked it up for distribution in the States (thanks to AICN for the info/interview with the director about how he put Kick-Ass together). It's currently not yet slated for a British release, while we wait to see who's got the guts to pick it up. And there is one main reason that I imagine that Kick-Ass is being test screened and awaiting a UK distributor - Hit-Girl.

Hit-Girl is going to make the Daily Mail shit kittens.

The British tabloids will most likely have a field day with the character. They'll ignore the fact that her depiction is as much of a challenge to the sexualisation of any female icon by society, or that that she has the films' best scenes with her on-screen father Damon Macready (played lovingly by Nicolas Cage), which manage to be sweet, endearing and blackly comic.

I'd already heard that Chloe Moretz is a revelation as Hit-Girl/Mindy Macready, but I had no idea exactly how fantastic her performance would be.  She plays the young daughter with the same adeptness that she portrays the superhero assassin and, my god, is ‘assassin' the word. The problem is she's 12. Just her age raises an issue, but her performance is a work of perfection, never feeling mawkish or twee, and will call upon a thousand comparisons (and rightly so) to Natalie Portman in Leon. There's still going to be quite a debate arising from her performance, though.

Kick-Ass has the honour of being one of those rare films to make my jaw drop. I'd beg you right now not to read too much about the film (I'm always deliberately vague with details so as not to spoil anything). As dark as it gets, though, it never forgets to disarm the audience with its comedy roots and that, in itself, helps to alleviate the increasing levels of violence from being too realistic.

What I can tell you about the action/violence, though, is that it's exhilarating and very restrained, savouring its moments for the most impact and, more importantly, letting us see the well choreographed fights. Finally: a film that doesn't rely on super fast cuts and camera supported by a jelly.

The performances are all superb, with the excellent Mark Strong on bad guy duties again (Vaughn's own Stardust still provides, for me, Strong's best character), while actor Aaron Johnson as the titular Kick-Ass hides his real life British origins perfectly, as he grows along with character in terms of strength and likability.

In fact, the only actor who didn't quite work all the way through for me was Christopher Mintz-Plasse, perhaps just by being more identifiable than most of his peers, or maybe just by having the weakest on screen character to work with. Hell, maybe he was just too damn good at playing such an irritant that I objected, which is hardly a fault (though one scene with Kick-Ass and Red Mist cruising in a car seemed overlong and not especially funny).

Now I know that a lot of people have turned against Nicolas Cage over the years, but I, for one, have always loved him, and love him more in Kick-Ass than I have done in many of his films over the last few years.

If you love Cage (go team Cage!) then you'll be pleased to see him play such a fantastic role, while still retaining a moderate amount of his trademarks (for reference see The Nicolas Cage drinking game), as he channels his performance as Big Daddy by way of Adam West.

For those of you that don't like him (we'll settle that debate at some other point), then you'll be pleased to know that his role doesn't have as much screen time as I expected, more of a supporting role than anything. For the most part his role is that of a normal father. Well, I say normal.

If I was to try and pick fault with Kick-Ass it would be with the now standard level of teen comedy (and the fact that every geek now seems to be Jewish in a slightly alarming stereotype). Yet even the predictable scenes of teen shenanigans have an undercurrent of truth to them.

Better still is that the familiar comedy works in much the same way as the tedium in American Psycho (the book more than the film), in that it makes the more impactful scenes hit that much harder, whether it be violent, comic or both.

Regardless, I was involved and invested in the film from start to finish and seem to have run out of superlatives to describe it. Here at Geek it should be championed for bringing to the screen a film that we can all get behind and relate to in many ways, especially (for me) in years past. But also for helping to show Hollywood that independent film can be as strong as any studio financed movie, if not better for having no one to answer to.

While Hollywood churns out rancid remakes and vacuous blockbusters, people are out there making the films we want to see off their own backs and we owe them our support almost regardless of personal taste. Let's just hope we get a UK release as soon as possible.

This can't be classified as an ‘official' review, as the film is still technically unfinished, but I can't see how that would affect my rating. I mean how could it already beat full marks?

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