Starring: Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nicolas Cage, Mark Strong
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writer(s): Jane Goldman, Mark Millar (graphic-novel)
Cinematography: Ben Davis
Original Score: Ilan Eshkeri, Henry Jackman
Running Time: 117 Mins.
Much has been made of the supposed originality of Kick-Ass’ concept, those without powers become superheroes, but I was sceptical, how original could it be for to my mind this is ground covered before from numerous stances. Mystery Men offered a similar premise albeit with more comedic leanings, Watchmen, with the exception of Dr. Manhattan, deals with heroes without powers, even Batman offers a hero bereft of actual powers (though he is name-checked early on in Kick-Ass and written off as “not an everyday man” due to his wealth). What does mark Kick-Ass out as different however is its approach, part comedic parody of super-hero films, part serious super-hero tale replete with a proper villain and origin story it treads the fine line of being an actual film in it’s own right, that can sit along-side Spider-Man, Batman and Iron Man whilst acting as a gentle piss-take. An approach which could have, in the wrong hands, failed spectacularly.
Matthew Vaughn is the director credited with re-booting the fairy-tale in the same way he has with the super-hero film, Stardust, his last film as director, however left me cold and failed on both counts, as a story in its own right proving too weak to sustain the slog of dull characters whilst missing the mark with its comedy pot-shots (De Niro…as a cross dressing pirate!). This time he seems to have learnt his lesson, the comedy is funny, where it needs to be when dealing with the trappings of being a teen looking for a hero, while the pokes at actual superhero’s are gentle and subtle so as not to come across as out-and-out spoof, such as Mystery Men.
Focusing, initially at least, on Aaron Johnson’s titular hero Dave, Jane Goldman’s script, based on a graphic novel, (which was written in tandem) follows him on his origin from plain high school teen to no-quite super-hero who ends up with numerous metal plates in his body via a tragically comic mishap. Dave’s story plods along and acts as the film’s drive but it is the sub-plots that really provide the meat on Kick-Ass/Dave’s bones, one involving a revenge plot and the other an attempt by arch-villain and drug dealer Frank Da’Mico’s (Strong) son (Mintz-Plasse) to impress his father. That these are the section’s that entertain the most goes some way to highlighting that Kick-Ass strengths lay in actually telling a story rather than poking, admittedly amusing, fun at its subject matter.
Though the script and direction are solid it is in the casting that the real flair is to be found, Aaron Johnson provides, like his story arc, a the bones on which the better parts hang, likeable enough he provides something of a Peter Parker demeanour and even in his Kick-Ass alter-ego isn’t given much to play with, an attempt at catch-phrases and one-liners doesn’t seem to sit right, something may just stem from the unfamiliarity with Kick-Ass as a hero against, say, Spider-Man, though I would hazard a guess that come the inevitable sequel he will grow in stature enough to pull it off with much more aplomb. Something which means it is up to Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nic Cage and Mark Strong to provide the real performance gold, though to be fair to Johnson, how often is the hero actually as interesting as his side-kick or the villain!
To reveal too much about the roles that any of the above play would be to rob some of the pleasure from their performances, suffice to say each and every one gets a moment, or several, to shine. Moretz has gained worthy plaudits as Hit-Girl and her chemistry with Cage as Big Daddy brings out the long-lost brilliantly crazy age performance we have long missed, while Mintz-Plasse and, as ever, Strong are a joy avoiding simply replaying their past glories as a geek and gangster respectfully. Thankfully, and to Vaughn’s credit, everyone is allowed time to grow and the usual trap-fall of letting some of the better side-characters have only a moment in the lime-light is avoided.
As each plot-strand is masterfully intertwined a suitably heroic finale is reached, incorporating gun-fights, explosions, people flying! and the inevitable revenge moment echoing Spider-Man, something which highlight’s that despite its credentials as a some-time spoof, Kick-Ass is a much more worthy homage to the genre, embracing rather than mocking.
While not the game-changer many critics would have you believe, Kick-Ass is a brilliant example of using a genre as a platform to tease at it’s outlandish nature, whilst also embracing it to tell your own story.