REVIEW: Kick-Ass

117 Minutes // USA // Lionsgate Entertainment
dir. Matthew Vaughn
Friday, April 16th, 2010 – Silvercity Brampton
starring: Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz and Nicolas Cage

Early in his career, director Matthew Vaughn was witness to unabashed vulgarities and relentless violence when he produced the two films that slung shot fellow Brit, Guy Ritchie to worldwide recognition. Of course, Ritchie’s films went international and he didn’t need independent producers anymore, especially not ones stationed in the United Kingdom.

Four years after the release of Snatch. (which, if you took a poll, would be considered one of the most ‘kick-ass’ films ever created), Matthew Vaughn took a stab at writing and directing. The product was Layer Cake, and if I’m speaking from a personal opinion, it was the type of film Guy Ritchie would make, but you know, without any charisma or vigor. Earnest first attempt at filmmaking, but there was a lot to be learned.

A few years later he co-writes and directs a bigger film with a bigger cast that came into bigger acclaim. This time it was Stardust. This one didn’t lack charisma, but it certainly lacked the ruthlessness that Vaughn wished to express – especially in the opening scenes – and it too lacked vigor.

Third time’s a charm, right? Kind of.

Matthew Vaughn has released a film that is more in the vein of the films he produced over a decade ago and this one, germanely entitled Kick-Ass, doesn’t lack vigor, violence or charisma; essentially everything his target market — teenage boys and man-children — salivate over. It is in this regard that his film reaches and perhaps even exceeds the expectations that the oh so blunt and cool moniker has set in place. However, it is only in this respect in which Vaughn’s latest finds itself as virtuous because once you peel back the erratic editing and wonderfully brazen set pieces full of gusto and gore, you’ll find that this film lacks the assiduous presence of a soul. And if not for spot-on performances in roles that could be easily misinterpreted by a lesser actors, I’d say completely without one.

Although it prides itself on its realism early on — with a man in a bird costume plummeting well over a dozen stories to his death in a miscalculated attempt at flying — the film becomes more and more out of hand with each passing moment. Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) chronicles his middling existence where he isn’t anyone special, and although he doesn’t whine about it to a point of annoyance, he simply wishes he was. Eventually an idea pops into his head. And this time, it isn’t one that revolves around his English teacher’s cleavage.

He decides to become a superhero whose costume is a scuba suit and whose nickname is far too cool for him. Kick-Ass. And although he garners fans and attention thanks to the internet, it’s obvious that this “superhero’s” name should be Ass-Kick, as one Nicolas Cage remarks in one of the script’s lesser moments.

With this highly aroused feeling of indignation, Kick-Ass begins walking around with unjustified machismo, winds up severely injured, loses nerve-endings and so on and so forth. Eventually two real superheroes contact him. They are Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage); a father-daughter combine who wish to collapse the drug dealing faction that runs the town they live in. The back story of their relationship and aspirations, although displayed in an emotionally mitigating way, is one of the few honest and intrinsically fulfilling moments the film has to offer. It’s a bit twisted, it’s a bit depressing, it’s a bit violent, but it’s wholly personal.

Anyway, they save him before he gets pummeled to death by the ex-boyfriend of the girl he wants in an anticlimactic (see: hilariously exhilarating) scene where Hit Girl spares no one as a song, one usually reserved to play behind Barbie commercials, plays jovially in the background. Flagrant brutality if you’ve ever seen it. The fact an eleven year old kid is the one chopping of limbs and slashing throats is merely the cherry on top.

Fortunately these moments pervade the film which keeps the pacing in check. You have a long stretch of less-than-intelligent conversational humor between Dave and the rest of his trio, a jump to the brooding antagonist’s perspective and then an overly zealous action scene. It’s a lot of fun and is certainly not meant to be taken seriously on any level.

Supporters of the film suggest that that’s what makes this film so brilliant — because its meant to be interpreted as a satire. If this is the case, which is certainly could be, it only supports the argument that Matthew Vaughn wasn’t the man to adapt it from the graphic novels, and definitely wasn’t the person that should’ve directed the film. You see, a lot of the film makes tongue in cheek remarks and yucks it up hoping that you’ll laughing along with it as well. But there’s never a great exaggeration — until the ridiculously drawn together climactic battle scene — that indicates that this is the purpose of the film; to mock your Batman’s and Robin’s. If anything, the film presents itself as an afterthought, a resolve even, to the questions that filled many a mind after the release of The Dark Knight: “What would this be like if it was rated R?”. Well this. Well this, if you shoehorned in snippets from Superbad and the made your protagonist the least macho version of Spiderman contrived.

With poor exploits becoming more and more apparent as Vaughn tries to extenuate the film in the latter stages coupled with a generally malign soundtrack – save for rehashing John Murphy’s score from 2007’s Sunshine which work wonders behind scenes of uncertainty – and hapless narration — that really only provides for the occasional light chuckle and lacks what narration should be, an insightful peering open of the protagonist’s mind — it’s lucid to those who view this film that Vaughn is a director without direction. He isn’t terrible because there are moments where you will legitimately be impressed – although I credit those more toward the talent of the cast for naturally imbuing the film with their unique charms – and even though it feels more like someone saw 300 and went “Oh cool, me too!”, the action scenes provide for plentiful smiles and near-applauds.

If not for the budding talent of Aaron Johnson and Chloe Moretz flourishing in front of our eyes as the film progresses and the always appealing Nicolas Cage tackling a role that could have found itself askew in less confident hands, Kick-Ass would be nothing more than a composition made up of an attempt at capitalizing on the already well-received; a film that would have existed with the sole purpose of introducing viewers to an assortment of ways to murder a man; a pointless joke with a foreseeable and puerile punchline. Very good entertainment that is only emotionally resonant because the actors had something to prove. Vaughn should reassess his possession because if he continues turning out ostentatious fluff like this he should be ass-kicked.

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