The first time someone linked me to a trailer for Kick-Ass, I remember blinking dumbly afterward and thinking “What the hell did I just see?”. It was this teaser trailer that gave us our first glimpse of a character called ‘Hit-Girl’ – a tiny, purple-wigged death-machine who slices off legs with samurai swords, and – as a friend of mine so delicately put it – “casually drops the c-bomb”.
Naturally, after this introduction my interest was thoroughly piqued – and I began digging around for as much information on the film as possible. Kick-Ass is based on a series of comics created by Mark Millar (key writer for Marvel) and John Romita Jr. – aka JRJR (well-known comic-art legend – also primarily for Marvel). I decided to wait until the series came out in hardcover before purchasing, but was looking forward to seeing just how much the film would be influenced by the comics. Fans of recent comic-to-film works such as Sin City, 300 and V for Vendetta have had the opportunity of literally seeing a storyboard come to life – as in some scenes, memorable drawings and frames are literally replicated in an exact living representation of the artwork. I, however, was choosing do this ‘film first – graphic novel second’. As such I was still curious as to what the movie was actually about.
Unfortunately, all subsequent extended trailers for the film revealed what appeared to be a movie that was more of a high school teen comedy with some kind of wannabe play on Tarentino-esque violence. Brightly-coloured costumes, familiar faces from Judd Apatow films (cue: Mc’Lovin’) and the suggestion of a story-line that seemed juvenile and predictable. Nevertheless – I halted my judgment and happily loaded up on popcorn for the screening.
Within moments of its commencement I knew that no trailer could have done this film justice. What starts out as an awkward teen comedy – quickly becomes one of the most wonderfully original, highly affecting and thoroughly hilarious takes on a ‘superhero movie’ I have ever witnessed. Yes, the truly graphic nature of the violence does help in getting you past the fact that this is no bubblegum experience – but it’s the tremendous performances of the film’s cast that has you constantly treading a line between side-splitting hilarity – and gut-wrenching awe and the sheer monstrosity of the scene in front of you.
Kick-Ass is a film about real-life superheroes. That means no ‘powers’, no special abilities – just vigilante-like justice from characters who share the same, deep-seated love for the superhero genre as you would expect much of the film’s audience (or the comic’s readers) would. But it’s how this notion is brutally translated into reality that gives it its real originality. Prepare to see Kick-Ass’s characters both physically and emotionally pulverized in their often shockingly merciless quest for justice – some a little more successful than others, at times.
We follow the story of Dave Lizewski (played by Aaron Johnson), your typical ‘geek’ whose only real skill is “being invisible to girls”. He decides to try his hand at heroism in spite of his lack of superpowers (or, training of any kind, for that matter) complete with DIY costume and weapons – naming himself ‘Kick-Ass’. He sets out on an early, self-appointed missions to rescue a neighbourhood cat… which inevitably takes an unexpected turn towards the ‘dangerous’ when he stumbles into a real-life gang-dispute and decides to take action. Now, this may not sound like ground-breakingly original character-development, however – we the audience are also privy to the simultaneous plotline involving ‘Hit-Girl’ and her father, ‘Big Daddy’.
Hit-Girl (played by Chloe Moretz) comes burning onto the screen emptying clip after clip into her foes, challenging female-lead stereotypes by way of the fact that she is only twelve years-old. There will be some controversy stirred-up by her portrayal, that’s a certainty, as – not only is she depicted dealing shockingly brutal violence in a way that no twelve year-old girl should… but arguably the maturity and at times sexualisation of her character is bound to ruffle some feathers. She also takes her fair share of ‘hits’, and, while the editing of that particular fight scene is tastefully executed – it’s still confronting for anyone to see a child get beaten up (regardless of how many heads she’s cleaved with a samurai sword). She is a devastating “weapon of mass destruction” in the most unlikely of packages. This notion of her ruthlessness and maturity adds such an interesting dimension to the character, however – that in no way should her portrayal be perceived as inappropriate in the context of this film – it is sheer brilliance that will leave you stunned.
When she’s not masquerading as ‘Hit-Girl’ – the young assassin is Mindy MacCready, who shares a rather unique relationship with her father (played by Nicholas Cage), who takes the superhero name of ‘Big Daddy’. Contrary to the adolescent geek-longs-for-hot-girl relationship-stereotype of the films lead character – Mindy and her father share a wonderful bond, interwoven with an insanely devoted life-routine that revolves around complex weapons and merciless slaughter… all in the name of vengeance, of course.
All of the film’s brutality artfully serves as a weighty counterpart to the witty humor and phenomenal character-relationships at the film’s core. As a result, you’ll find yourself swinging from shock, to awe, to uncontrollable laughter – before getting yanked right back into the heart-breaking reality that these characters aren’t superhuman, and certainly not unbreakable.
If I may borrow for a moment from my regular game-reviewer MO: I’m delighted to report that audiences will be treated to a vast array of weaponry in this film. With outrageous combat and flamboyant finishing-moves, the viewers of the screening I attended were repeatedly bursting into thunderous applause. The brightly-coloured costumes which, from the trailer had given me cause for concern that this film had gone down a younger, more ‘blockbuster’ path… were merely a throwback to the art and design of the comics – of which director Matthew Vaughn seems to have been determined to remain truthful.
With the issues one-through-eight published in hardcover (and now firmly in my possession), it’s been a brilliant experience to return to the source of the films creation. It’s clear that Vaughn’s interpretation of Kick-Ass is as close as humanly possible to the graphic novel as anyone could make it – with a few subtle changes here and there that are an inevitable part of the comic-to-film evolution. For example, a major twist revealed at the end of the novel isn’t actually kept from the audience in the film – we are made aware of it from the beginning. This, I believe is with good reason (on which I won’t elaborate for fear of spoilers).
It may also be noted Kick-Ass the comic often takes Mindy that extra mile – at one point even engaging in drug-use, with a series of frames depicting her dilated pupils as she claims her daddy gave her a “secret chemical compound developed by scientists”. This is then followed by “now open my Hello Kitty bag”. Happily, this glorious juxtaposition between ‘innocent’ and ‘deadly’ carries right off the page and onto the screen with remarkable ease. It’s also easy to see, however, that with a ‘c-bomb’-dropping, twelve year-old violent assassin… perhaps flagrant juvenile drug-use would have been crossing the line for some theatre-goers – and it was omitted from the movie.
Art being so terribly subjective – it’s really a matter of preference, here. But, if you’re a fan of JRJR’s work, you may find this some of his best yet. Personally, a more realistic depiction of the characters with time spent on the details of facial features would have been more my cup of tea for this kind of story, but – that’s not to say that the artwork in the Kick-Ass novel isn’t brilliant in its own right. The art and dialogue evolves so easily into film, in fact, that one might think that this comic had been created specifically with film-development in mind.
I am desperate to comment on the film’s soundtrack – which was, for lack of a better description – complete and utter perfection – however I was informed after the screening that it was a temp soundtrack that would not be in the final release. Je suis désolée! I don’t even want to mention the songs that featured for fear that it will taint the future soundtrack in your mind. While purchasing my copy of the hardcover last week, I lamented over this grave loss with the girl behind the counter at the comic book store (who it turns out had been at the same screening) – we can only hope that it might be featured as an optional extra on the DVD release.
All in all I loved every moment of Kick-Ass the movie. The characters were by no means two-dimensional – but complex, at times relatable and all thoroughly unique. The cinematography was artfully-done, reminiscent of its graphic-novel roots with deliciously gory action-sequences that will leave your jaw in your lap for the majority of the film.
It’s up to you if you want to experience the film or the novel first, but I’d definitely recommend them both. Each offers a completely different approach to storytelling, one focusing the eye on details that the other cannot. It was truly refreshing to see a film break the mould of the superhero genre in such a thoroughly satisfying way – Kick-Ass will not likely be one to disappoint.
Kick-Ass the movie due for release on March 12th (USA), April 2nd (UK) and April 8th (Australia).
Have you read Kick-Ass? Are you waiting with baited breath for this film? Sound off your opinions and also welcome Hex to the (Cool) Shite crew.
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