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Monday, 28 March 2011

Kick-Ass (2010)

I wasn't expecting too much from this movie about a would-be super-hero, but I was pleasantly surprised by its cheek, literacy, and off-the-wall humour and violence. When director Matthew Vaughn first turned his hand to directing with "Layer Cake" in 2004, after producing Guy Ritchie's quirky British gangster flicks, he gave us more of the same: flashy hardman action. Not my bag! However I should have suspected that he was capable of broader horizons with the very charming "Stardust" (2007) written with super-scribe Jane Goldman. The above movie is also the product of their continued cooperation and takes the gangster genre and turns it on its head by incorporating a comic book sensibility.

 Aaron Johnson, who first came into the public eye with his lead role as the young John Lennon in "Nowhere Boy"(2009) and his romantic liaison with that film's director -- Sam Taylor Wood, 23 years his senior and now the mother of his daughter -- plays Dave Lizewski, a gormless high school comic book nerd who craves being a superhero, despite not being endowed with any special talents; he just wants to help humanity... So he sends off for a hideous diving suit which he dons and goes off in pursuit of adventure. His first attempt to find and return a missing cat accidentally lands him in the midst of gang violence, followed by an encounter with the local bully's knife, after which he is smashed to a pulp by a hit-and-run driver. As a result, every bone in his body needs steel reinforcements, which gives him more of an edge in standing up against wrongdoers. The You-Tube generation lands his exploits on the net and he becomes Kick-Ass, the masked hero of his dreams, even if he still does not possess any noticeable fighting skills.

 He soon meets up with two highly-trained fighting machines: Nicolas Cage as Big Daddy and his young daughter Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl. An ex-cop who has been framed for drug crimes and served prison time, Cage is out to avenge not just the honcho who put him there but any and all miscreants that cross his path. To this end he has trained Moretz in every kind of armed combat; together they are a whirlwind of mayhem. On one level theirs is simply a loving father-daughter relationship; it's just that their toys are knives and guns. For once, in contrast with his other recent roles, Cage underplays his obsessive avenger and is nearly likeable in his Adam West-like blandness. Moretz, on the other hand, in her purple wig and with her potty-mouthed dialogue is a dynamo in action. Despite the violence they engender, one wishes them well in their quest.

Their main quarry is the kingpin gangster icily played by Mark Strong. (I also saw him a few days ago as the big baddie in Russell Crowe's recent "Robin Hood" flick, although why we need another version, even as a prequel, remains a mystery to me). His wanna-be son who craves his dad's approval is played by Christopher Mintz-Plaisse, still something of a dweeb, but a long way from his McLovin in "Superbad". In order to please his father and bring down Kick-Ass, he gets Dad to bankroll 'Red Mist', equipped with all the modern gadgetry that money can buy, he becomes the new would-be superhero on the block.

The film has been criticized by many for its over-the-top bloodshed. If one accepts that this is really only comic book violence, not that different from Jerry splattering Tom, everything becomes so unreal that it becomes droll. Vaughn and Goldman have given us a fun-filled riff on the muscle-bound superheroes of other movies and one is fully aware that none of the violence is meant to be taken seriously. A sequel is on the cards, but how this would work with Johnson and Mintz-Plasse several years on and similarly an older Moretz is a moot point; and how would they cope with SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER Cage's no longer being available is a separate problem. I do look forward to finding out.
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