Thursday, April 15, 2010

Kick-Ass (Review)

Matthew Vaughn has helmed 3 quite disparate films in his short career to date. British mobsters, a fantasy land with celestial princesses and now a superhero yarn. What ties these together is the sublime combination of violence, comedy and genre knowledge that make his films some of the most watchable pieces of deconstructionist pop to come along in the last 10 years. Teaming up for the second time with writing partner Jane Goldman, Vaughn once again plays with genre hallmarks to craft something that is both reassuringly familiar and refreshing new.

The superhero eras are equally represented with some characters that brood, fret and worry about their lifestyle choice while others simply save the world and move on to saving it once again, consequences be damned. These eras are reflected in the ages of their respective characters. The child knows no better, the teen is self-aware and emotionally insecure and the adult is damaged, though knowing the repercussions seeks the greater good. And the script deals out comeuppance commensurate with each one’s level of guilt.

In a cold open, Vaughn sets up the basic high-wire act that he will attempt to pull off over the following two hours. A man in a bright and sculpted outfit stands atop a tall New York building as onlookers cheer on down below. A voice-over goes through some of the problems with both the possibility of superheroes in the real world and the possibility of a (movie) middle-of-the-road kid getting a date. The wings of the hero costume extend and he leaps off into the blue afternoon… to crash a half second later onto a yellow-cab. You can almost see the panels framing the action on the page. The only scene that doesn’t quite work is the one that actually is animated in panels. It’s a lengthy bit of exposition saddled on a minor character and is the only low point in an otherwise expertly paced film.

The line that is drawn in that opening scene though, is that this film is set in a world that is neither real, nor a comic book fantasy but some hybrid of both. A world where only someone who’s lost their mental capacities would dare to don a cowl and roam the streets at night… but their arsenal would include bazookas and jet packs. A world where criminals can pretty easily beat up a guy in a wet-suit but one that also has an arch criminal that controls the cops and walks about with the kind of malevolence that is rarely seen off the silver screen. This is the key to enjoying Kick-Ass, because if it leaned too much into either direction some of what you are asked to sit through would elicit either indignation or an eye-roll. The events get very violent at times… but the dialogue, editing and Nic Cage combine to pre-empt recoil and reassure the viewer that this is just a real-er kind of superhero flick.

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