23 March 2010

Kick Ass Review

Kick Ass ends with a rather poignant sense of inevitability. Inevitably, within the following few minutes, you will commence your journey home. Inevitably, there'll be at least one person who's staying to the very end of the credits. If you had a drink, you'll inevitably need to use the bathroom. And last, but certainly not least, it was always inevitable that Kick Ass...well, it kicked ass, didn't it?

Taking place in the here and now, a nobody teenager named Dave Lizewski ponders why nobody ever tries to be a superhero in real life. 'Because they'd get their asses kicked' is the universal response, and when he acquires a green scuba suit and attempts to confront some muggers, Dave finds this out first hand. After experience the business end of two sets of fists, a knife and a speeding car, he's left with metal screws and plates holding his skeleton together and deadened nerve endings. With these newfound 'powers', he resolves to fight crime. Only there are two other 'superheroes' out there - Big Daddy and his daughter-come-sidekick Hit Girl - who mean real business, and when their handiwork is mistaken by a mob boss for that of Kick Ass, all hell breaks loose.

What we have here is a relatable superhero movie. It takes place in our world, references our superheroes, wonders why no-one has emulated them, and then rather viscerally explains why. But despite an overall tone that is hardly encouraging, it somehow manages to be rather uplifting, thanks to a story arc that is strangely plausible, if, obviously, a little over the top. Rarely does it clunk, and when it does, it's with a sly wink.

Performance wise, there really is very little to fault, with the core trio - Aaron Johnson as Lizewski, Nic Cage as Big Daddy and Chloe Mortez as Hit Girl - likely being the ones that will stick in your mind. Johnson makes the geeky-but-likeable Lizewski convincing enough, though he seems rather confined by the fact that the character's only real development is to get two shades of shit knocked out of him. Cage and Mortez are the true gems, though, their double act reminiscent - rather thinly in some instances - of Batman and Robin, albeit with a marginally less strict attitude towards bloodshed, and a hefty dollop of crazy just to round the whole thing off. What's important is that through the wise-cracking and swearing, there's a genuine sense of affection between the two, which adds that all-important emotional hook when the finale descends upon you.

Other flourishes abound - the cel-shaded 3D graphics that depict Big Daddy's origin story give the impression of being in the very pages of a comic book, and a battle viewed from Hit Girl's first person perspective is as close to a knowing nod to Call of Duty addicts as you're likely to get. The wealth of pop culture references will please movie-heads as well, with the movie gleefully ripping into the comic book mythology that it sprang from with gory abandon.

If there are a few hiccups, they are only noticeable due to the overwhelming quality of the rest of the product. Chloe Moretz is, as mentioned, fantastic for the most part, but there are a few moments where her performance seems a little forced. That these align with when she is required to swear is of some comfort, at least. It's also far more grounded in reality that you might otherwise expect - there's no bloodless victories here, and boy, do our heroes bleed for it - which leads to some slightly bizarre shifts of tone that frequently threaten to capsize the movie.

Thankfully, though, the performances, dark humour streak and madcap action keep it level and steady. The story? Well, that propels it way up into the air...with Gatling guns attached. So shut up. And see Kick Ass.