With the comic book sludge Hollywood has been squeezing out there's only one thing a film based on a comic you can be guaranteed of: it's gonna make a shit load of money. Yet Kick-Ass is unique as a comic based film because it failed miserably at the box office. Is it the caliber of the film that caused this or simply because it wasn't in Imax 3d? Only time will tell.
Kick-Ass is based on the comic of the same name by writer Mark Millar the same guy who wrote Wanted. That may make you balk at Kick-Ass but you have to remember that Wanted the book was leaps and bounds ahead of the film. Instead of bending bullets (which doesn't happen in the comic) the book focuses on what it would be like to be a super-villain. It's dark, shocking, and downright mean very unlike the film.
Kick-Ass is also a shocking and dark tale of a nerdy comic book obsessed high school kid who takes it upon himself to actually become a superhero. What makes the story unique and worth a read is that it's rooted in reality. This kid gets his ass handed to him by bigger, stronger, and dangerous people but he has heart. It also makes for a good commentary on society at large and our celebrity obsessed lifestyles.
Kick-Ass the film however, fumbles with this idea and instead is your typical superhero movie. Directed by the relatively green Matthew Vaughn, who has helmed two pictures before this; 2004 Brit actioner Layer Cake and 2007's well reviewed fantasy flick Stardust, the film extracts the more depressing elements and conclusions of the book and replaces them with some good ol' Hollywood schlock.
My feelings after seeing the film was that the film lacked many engaging points and I felt left behind as a viewer.
Shortly after, I came across Roger Ebert's scathing review of the film and really thought if the film was as morally bankrupt as he claims. I didn't see the moral bankruptcy in the book, is this because the book is cartoon violence; did I believe in the character motives so strongly, or am I turning into something terrifying?
By a stroke of luck I saw Kick-Ass again as it played after a double bill in a drive-in. This time I was ready for the film. All the times the story veered off Millar's original vision became less annoying and I began to watch the film as just simply a superhero film. Kick-Ass plays much like Raimi's first Spider-Man, the first half focuses on a regular Joe (not our irregular Joe) training himself to become a hero and the latter half finishing the arc by having him become that which he wants to be.
The film is bright and full of colour. The scenes are lush spectacles giving the film a sense of other-worldliness. It also helps that Kick-Ass probably has the best score I've heard in some years that propels the film into it's own grand scale reality.
This time around I absolutely adored the film. Chloe Mortez is the stand out as Hit Girl, an 11 year old assassin with action scenes that play like a kid version of Kill Bill only here the scenes may be a bit bloodier... if that's possible. The protagonist Aaron Johnson does his job well as narrator and nerd turned hero. Christopher Mintz-Plasse took me a little while to get into (try as he might people will always remember him as Mclovin', seriously typecasted) but he makes the most of his turn as Red-Mist and ends the film on a high note. And then of course there's the man of the hour Nicholas Cage bringing in my personal favourite performance of the film as Big Daddy. A batman looking superhero complete with yellow utility belt and Cage giving his best Adam West impersonation. The only problem here is that Cage isn't in the film enough to let us enjoy the West persona which is too bad. Andy Garcia is the villain a mafia boss.... sorry I meant Mark Strong plays a mafia boss out to finish Kick-Ass. Also, Clark "I look like a lesbian and make internet jokes" Duke is in the fray, thankfully away from all the good stuff like a horrible side of mixed vegetables you don't wanna let touch your roast beef and mashed potatoes.
Millar's book took into account the harsh reality of what it would take to be a superhero and ends his story on a low note.
Vaughn's picture gives us a high flying hoo-ray of a conclusion that keeps the film from feeling real.
For me the most interesting thing about these two versions of the story is that the cartooned comic is a far more depressing realistic tale than the live action film which feels like a cartoon.
Is Roger Ebert wrong in his review? Well, I'm not gonna be the guy to disagree with the Herzog proclaimed "soldier of cinema" and I agree that morally the film lacks a sensitivity chip. Most of the customers who are going to want to rent this are likely going to be from the under 18 camp. The film is sold as a fun action romp with little kids killing adults and even from the cover art I'm sure many parents will be conned into picking this up for their precious little ones. The film is a heavy R, not only for the blood and gore but the strong language, nudity, and sexuality. And for once I agree with the rating and don't think anyone under 16 should give this one a go. The message will definitely be lost on the young ones and instead just come across as a colourful collage of extremely violent images that are all coupled with positive results. I can only imagine the implications it would have on an impressionable mind, then again i was watching Reservoir Dogs over and over by the time I was 12 so who am I to say?
While I much prefer the Millar cautionary tale of the horrible world we live in, Vaughn's Kick-Ass is so embracing of society with its flaws and insanity that it comes off as a well delivered satire. The happy conclusion of the film here isn't possible in our reality but in the realm of cinema of course it is. It takes the usual outline of superhero films and instead of stripping it bare and "Nolanizing" the world to make it feel real, the film uses the grandiose storytelling of the Superman films while keeping one foot grounded in reality enough to blur the lines between fantasy and real life. At first glance the film may not sit well and seem offensive but look again and you'll see a film that is such a well crafted satire that maybe the film itself isn't aware of it.
A fun action romp that is miles ahead of Iron Man 2. Out on DVD, Blu-Ray, and on our shelves August 2nd.