DVD REVIEW Kick-Ass

Serves Hollywood its ass on a plate


2010 * 15 * 113 mins * £19.99 * 6 September 2010
Also available on Blu-ray (£24.99) and as a steelbook DVD/Blu-ray combi pack (£29.99)
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Aaron Johnson, Chloë Moretz, Nicolas Cage, Mark Strong, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Lyndsy Fonseca

It’s predictable but depressing that Kick-Ass garnered so much press coverage for all the wrong reasons. Instead of focusing obsessively on the fact that it features a little girl with the potty mouth of a docker and the death-dealing skills of a Shogun Assassin, the Tory tabs should have been celebrating a national success story. Here’s a film by a British director, made in Britain, written by a Brit, from a comic by a British writer, whose protagonist and principal villain are British actors. Taking a classic American template and bringing it bang up to date for the internet age, this is a movie that’s slugged it out with Hollywood heavyweights like Iron Man 2, and beaten them at their own game.

When unassuming high school kid Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) decides to become a real-life superhero, he becomes an internet sensation… but also a target for mobster Frank D’Amico, who mistakenly believes Dave’s alter-ego Kick-Ass is attacking his men. In fact, as Dave soon discovers when their paths cross, they’re the work of ex-cop Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage). Fuelled by vengeance, he’s dedicated his life to bringing down D’Amico’s empire, and has trained young daughter Mindy, aka Hit Girl (Chloë Moretz) to stand alongside him.

Kick-Ass is a great comic, blessed with one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” high-concepts. But the movie is far superior, and much of that’s down to screenwriter Jane Goldman. While Millar’s comics are brimming with bold ideas, his writing can have something of the eternal 14-year-old about it, an element of the snickering playground Butthead. Goldman brings greater emotional depth to the table, as well as goofy humour and bags of charm, fleshing out the characters of Dave’s buddies, and beefing up the romance thread – Kick-Ass beats high school movies at their own game too. And all of this is done in a fittingly off-kilter fashion, never selling out on the source material.

When it comes to violence, in some respects the movie holds back. But though it’s more sparing with the ketchup than the comic, it also sets out to top it for lunatic audacity. A darkly humorous scene where D’Amico’s goons stick a guy in a giant microwave (with explosive results) is all new, and the finale takes a climax that was already turned up to 10, then twists it past 11 until the dial snaps off.

The cast are superb, to a…. well, to a little girl. Chloë Moretz may spit the C-word and fillet people with a samurai sword, but what really grabs your attention are her acting chops. Utterly convincing as an ordinary girl living an extraordinary life, her performance leaves you impatient to see the actress she’ll blossom into. Aaron Johnson is a likeable, vulnerable everydweeb, whom you’d never suspect hails from Hertfordshire. And then there’s Nic Cage.

We’d love to have been a fly on the wall the day Cage decided that Big Daddy should talk in the halting manner of Adam West’s ‘60s Batman. On the face of it, it’s a rotten idea. And yet.. it works. The editor didn’t think so, begging Vaughn for reshoots because Cage’s scattershot emphases were so hard to cut around. But Vaughn took a risk, and it paid off.

Indeed, that’s the secret of Kick-Ass’s success. There’s so much more to praise here, from the vibrant colour scheme to the flawless soundtrack, with its combination of cheeky John Williams homages and killer cuts of bubblegum punk. But ultimately, it all comes down to a willingness to take risks. Vaughn hawked Kick-Ass round the studios and couldn’t find any one willing to finance it – a damning indictment of Hollywood. But Vaughn refused to accept the inevitable, had faith in his vision, and in the best punk rock DIY spirit, scraped together the cash himself. It’s a risk that paid off, and one we’re immensely grateful he took, because this is the movie of the year – and it’s British, goddamnit! Instead of frothing at the mouth, our self-appointed moral guardians should be clinking their champagne glasses together in a gesture of patriotic salute.

Extras:

Feature-length Making Of “A New Kind Of Super Hero” (113 mins) tells the story of the production from beginning to end in fascinating detail, interviewing all the key players. It’s no happy-clappy whitewash either, with matters such as the sacking of the original production designer frankly referenced.  You also get an informative commentary by Vaughn (though it’s a shame he has no-one else to bounce off) and “It’s On” (21 mins), a look at the making of the comic. The sole disappointment is the Art Of Kick-Ass section, which is a little underwhelming (only one costume sketch?)

Ian Berriman