Thursday, April 01, 2010

A Kick-Ass Review in Two Parts, Part the Second

Well, it's not a slavish imitation of the book, that's for sure. On the whole, Kick-Ass the movie is less bitter and nihilistic than its parent, and as such, loses some of the dark humour of the original, such as the sad revelation of Big Daddy's true origin. There is still a distinct irreverent edge to the film's approach to superheroics, but on the whole it is a much more traditional type of superhero story than its inspiration. The minor but jarring fantastical elements of the Millar/Romita comic are exaggerated in the film, and many of the genre tropes Millar is explicit in rejecting are brought back into the fold here (although to elaborate would be spoiling things a bit), all of which distance it even further from that original what-if-superheroes-were-real concept, but in the end make for a more successful, if conventional, story than Millar's between-two-stools approach.

Millar's pacing problems are ironed out by screenwriter Jane Goldman, but she introduces some new ones of her own, completely scuppering the revelation of Red Mist's true identity for no apparent reason at all, and introducing Big Daddy and Hit-Girl far too early on, which only adds to the general impression that it's their film, and sidelining Kick-Ass somewhat. The changes to the house fire scene also have a knock-on effect, taking a significant moment of true heroism away from Kick-Ass so that when he later makes that crucial decision to be a real hero, despite his limitations, it seems to come as a result of the influence of the father-daughter team, rather than something from within himself.

On the other hand, the Big-Daddy/Hit-Girl relationship perhaps deserves to steal the limelight, as the pair are developed further than in the comics, and benefit from fine performances from the two actors. Everyone's talking about Chloe Moretz as deadly little Miho Hit-Girl, but for me it is Nicolas Cage who impresses, delivering his strongest performance in years, and showing that he is at his best when playing someone who's a few slates short of a picnic. His exaggerated Adam West impersonation is joyful, although it is a shame that they sanded off most of the nutty Republican edge of the character (Big Daddy, not Adam West). It is also disappointing that similar attention was not paid to the relationship between Kick-Ass and his father, squandering one of the only bits of character development in Millar's original work, and further flattening the protagonist, making him seem less compelling than the supporting characters.

The film is packed with great action sequences, particularly towards the end, although the early fight between Kick-Ass and the guys-who-aren't-Puerto-Rican (because you can have a little girl say rude words, and you can show all sorts of gore and violence in close detail, but woe betide you mention the nationality of some muggers, or portray Republicans in a bad light...cripes) doesn't work quite as well as it does in the comics, with less of a sense of the protagonist actually pulling off a victory, something which is important to show at that stage in the narrative. There's a very effective strobe-lit combat sequence later on in the film, and director Matthew Vaughn clearly has a better idea of when to use techniques like slow-motion than certain of his peers; the fights in Kick-Ass are head-and-shoulders above those of Watchmen, while often achieving the savage beauty for which that latter film strained. The soundtrack is strong too, a good mix of songs and score which complements the action, and never seems bolted on in order to sell an album.

All in all, Kick-Ass is loud and silly and stupid in places, and makes some unfortunate errors here and there, but on the whole improves on the source material by throwing away its pretensions of realism and going just a little bit nuts. It's more Kill Bill than Unbreakable, is not quite as good as either, but still great fun. I would give Kick-Ass a Moviewatch eight out of ten!

(The film also gets points for referencing Scott Pilgrim, because Scott Pilgrim is ace.)


  1. I'm with Rol (over on the other post), in that I refuse to read any more Millar after the grubby Ultimates, so have no knowledge of the comic. But I did reluctantly see the movie...

    The nicest thing I can say is that I didn't hate it as much as I thought I would. Like you say, it seemed more traditional than expected, almost a seedier remake of the first Spider-man film. That is if Spidey ever strapped a machine gun to his back...

    For once a film that could've done with more Nic Cage, although it saying something that he's now reduced to doing a bizarre Adam West impersonation.

    I'd agree Kick-Ass is reasonably entertaining and full of geek references, but if you're going to water down and clean up Millar, why not just adapt something better instead?

  2. Indeed, but like the Accursed Bendis, Millar is popular (not with me), whereas the good writers aren't quite so much.

    The comic definitely owes a debt to Spider-Man, but it doesn't venture into actual parody, which the film does throughout, as you point out. The "great responsibility" line isn't in the comic, for example, and Kick-Ass lives in an apartment building, rather than the movie's clone of the Parker house; I'd have to compare stills, but it almost looked like the exact same street to me. I can see why they kept touching back to Raimi's Spider-Man, but I'm not sure it was necessary.