So You Wanna Play?
(Kick Ass; Matthew Vaughn; USA/UK; 117 mins)
Before watching Kick Ass I was aware that there was a lot of good press surrounding the film. But then, there was a lot of good press surrounding Jennifer’s Body. You can’t really trust ‘good press’ in the film world. As such I was anticipating a solid, fun film – but nothing too special. So, as anyone who has seen the film will attest, I was completely unprepared for what I experienced. Two hours of fantastically entertaining cinema.
For those who don’t know, the film follows the misadventures of Dave Lizewski, an average American High-school kid who decides to try and become a superhero. However, this is no ordinary comic book movie – instead bringing to the screen shocking cartoon violence and, at times, a dark humour.
Inevitably Lizewski winds up in incredibly dangerous situations and wants out. He must rely on his murderous vigilante peers Big Daddy (Batman with a shotgun) and Hit Girl (pre-teen assassin) to protect him from organized crime and help him recover the life that he almost lost on his altruistic meanderings.
I’m going to be presumptuous for a second and claim that I think Kick Ass could well turn out to the best film released this year. It’s not perfect, but it is damn good cinema. Enthralling, entertaining, funny and shocking. But alone these are meaningless adjectives; let’s take a closer look.
Without a doubt the most impressive sequences in the film are the fights. Big Daddy’s assault on the gangsters’ warehouse is extremely well choreographed, performed edited and filmed; rivalling the striking ‘corridor-track’ sequence in Park Chan-Wook’s OldBoy for ‘most iconic action sequence’. There is another fantastic shoot out towards the end of the film, as Hit Girl attempts to save Dave and Big Daddy from the clutches of the mob using a strobe light mounted to the top of her gun – making the entire sequence a surreal and hypnotic, but nonetheless tense, experience for the viewer.
The strobe light sequence is important for another reason too. The disorienting affect it has on the audience could only be accomplished through the medium of cinema. This shows that the story has been well adapted from its original comic-book form, and is, for me, a good indicator that Matthew Vaughn could be ascending into the realm of cinematic mastery that only few directors achieve – seizing the medium and utilising it’s unique properties to craft story and influence the audience.
Aaron Johnson does a good job of portraying the conflicted Dave but the real acting accolades for this film have to go to Nicholas Cage and Chloe Moretz, for their truly spectacular performances as Big Daddy and Hit Girl respectively. It’s worth watching the film just to see Big Daddy jovially blast his (protected) daughter with a handgun, and the eleven year old Hit Girl rush a group of bad guys with the immortal line ‘Okay you cunts… let’s see what you can do now.’
So Kick Ass is a comic book movie for grown ups. It’s a rough and tumble tale of ‘what ifs’ and ‘why nots’, with some fantastically weird characters and enough action and drama to keep your eyes glued to the screen for the full two hours. In years to come it could become a classic. But perhaps that’s enough about what it is. Perhaps it’s time to talk a little about what it isn’t.
While Kick Ass is clever, it isn’t thought provoking. The very best films don’t just entertain, or shock, or even make a point about something. The best films also act as a catalyst for debate in the mind of the viewer. They present the audience with an idea, or a philosophy – and leave them to percolate long after the lights come back on and the credits are rolling. This is one of the reasons why The Dark Night was so supremely successful. The Joker wasn’t just an antagonist – he was an idea. He was frightening not just because of his insane demeanour, or his destructive actions, but because when he explained himself what he said somehow made sense. And that stuck with you, as a viewer, for a very long time.
Kick Ass doesn’t do this. The antagonists are still just ‘bad guys’ and the protagonists are still very much just ‘good guys’. Everything ends up how you would expect it to – and when the credits roll you know that it was very fun and cool but it hasn’t left you with anything. It doesn’t make you stop and think.
Kick Ass is an excellent film that achieves everything that it set out to do. But because of its intellectual flaccidness, it is just a few feet short of what I would consider to be ‘great cinema’.
A calling card for Matthew Vaughn, this is definitely worth seeing if you want to be entertained. But if you’re looking for something a little deeper, it might be best to re-watch The Dark Knight or Watchmen. A fantastic film nonetheless.
Kick-Ass does attempt to provoke at least one thought: the main character remembers that Spiderman insisted that “With great power, comes great responsibility”, then turns that idea around and insists that no, we ALL have great responsibility. Yes, the film is about one kid’s fantasy to become a superhero; but he acts out of a sense of moral outrage. He doesn’t read the papers and shake his head, he becomes proactive. The film isn’t an incitement to violence (the danger in which he finds himself is, I think, meant to guard against that, as well as providing plot), but does invite the viewer to consider what responsibility they take on for the state of the society in which they live.
My interpretation of the film was quite different. ‘With no power comes no responsibility’ was little more than witty a pop culture reference. After all, in the end Dave gives it all up because he finds something worthwhile in his life – a girlfriend. If the film is saying anything about our responsibilities, it’s telling us that they are first and foremost to those we love – and that only a lunatic (Big Daddy/Hit Girl) would ever try to become a vigilante; reinforcing fairly entrenched stereotypes.
I think I’d agree that this film had the potential to be an interesting exploration of these sorts of issues – but then fails to really get to grips with them.
Fair comment. There certainly is an unease around the existence of both Kick Ass and the more seasoned vigilantes; I think that the film has difficulty finding justification for Big Daddy and Hit Girl (cf the sequence where Dave insists that there’s no “Mother, I will avenge you!” motive to his work; but that feeling, which has just been pastiched, is precisely what drives Hit Girl, and we’re meant to take it seriously in her case). Big Daddy’s fate, along with Kick Ass and Hit Girl’s return to normal life, does suggest that the notion of taking on reponsibility in that particular way, is dangerous and to be avoided. It could even be said that such a laudable occupation as volunteering is maligned in the film, as it’s made clear that Katie is out of her depth and endangering herself by working at the drugs clinic.
You may well be right, sir – moral issues best skipped past for the sake of enjoying what is otherwise an excellent film.
It might be interesting to see a review / comparison of the original source material on the site as well? I’m not familiar with the graphic novel but, knowing how much rework Mark Millar’s previous comic to film conversion “Wanted” went through, I wouldn’t be suprised if messages were somewhat different here as well.