Lionsgate // 2010 // 117 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 26th, 2010
I can't read your mind. But I can kick your ass.
"Yeah, that's right! We're superheroes! You love us!"
Our story is centered around a teenager named Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson, The Illusionist), an ordinary kid in pretty much every way. He likes comic books, he has trouble getting girls to notice him, and he hangs out with a couple of like-minded friends. Eighteen months ago, his mother passed away, but he's learned to cope with that. One day, Dave starts to ponder something: why hasn't anyone ever attempted to actually be a real superhero? "You'd think that out of all the millions of people who love superheroes, at least one would actually try to be one," he says. Unprepared but nonetheless determined, Dave orders a scuba diving suit, names himself "Kick-Ass," and takes to the streets to battle bad guys. Unfortunately, Dave is stabbed and nearly killed during his first confrontation.
Undaunted by this horrifying experience, Dave gets back on his feet some six months later and goes at it again. He's only a little bit more successful this time (he manages to chase off some thugs but still gets beaten to a pulp), but someone captures the event on video, and Dave becomes an internet sensation. Suddenly, a superhero craze starts sweeping the nation. Dave inspires imitators like Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage, Ghost Rider) and Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz, (500) Days of Summer), a father/daughter assassin team with considerably greater resources and skill than Kick-Ass. This is a particularly striking fact in Hit Girl's case, when you consider that she's only 11 years old.
Big Daddy and Hit Girl have a knack for turning up whenever Dave is attempting to engage in superheroics; turning what would have been a failed beating into a bloody massacre. As a result, a local crime figure (Mark Strong, Sherlock Holmes) begins to believe that Kick-Ass is the one responsible for these killings, and determines to take him out. To do this, he employs the help of his son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Superbad), who takes on the superhero alter ego "Red Mist" in an attempt to win Dave's trust. All of this leads to a great big violent showdown, as you might imagine.
Matthew Vaughn's Kick-Ass, based on the graphic novel by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr., has proven to be a controversial film among critics and audience members. Some have found it a wildly entertaining romp; others have declared it an offensive and repulsive piece of garbage. Everyone will have their own opinion, but Kick-Ass is the sort of film that one is probably going to have strong feelings about one way or another. Where do I stand? Maybe I'm wrong, but I see the whole thing from a slightly different angle. It's both offensive and entertaining, which is sort of the point considering what I believe the movie is attempting to achieve.
The basic plot structure of Kick-Ass is fairly conventional, but the details are far from routine. Essentially, the film is a violent reaction to the superhero genre, choosing to actually contemplate the conventions of the genre rather than merely accepting them. On an entirely different level, this is something that was done in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, which attempted to explore the moral complexities that would actually play into a battle between costumed comic book heroes and villains. It also took the absurdities of the genre and worked as hard as possible to make them seem credible and plausible in the real world. Kick-Ass is similarly aware of these absurdities, but it chooses to underline them and mock them mercilessly. If the moral complexities aren't found in this film, it's not because they don't exist but rather because the characters simply don't care about them.
The film is certainly an odd one, which starts as one form of satire and then slowly evolves into another kind entirely. As the film opens, we see blatant mockery of what might happen if someone tried to become a superhero in the real world. Miserable failure after miserable failure is depicted on-screen, and Dave's "training" efforts seem more rooted in what he's seen in movie montages than in any sort of genuine practical use. This is funny stuff, but as the film progresses things start to change. Unlikely action plans actually work in a wildly successful manner, and the actions of the characters actually start to resemble actual superheroics. Some may interpret this as the film embracing the very thing it mocks, but I don't think so. The later scenes are so over-the-top; to me the film is suggesting that superheroics look even more laughable when they work than when they don't. We've already been primed with just how impossibly challenging such things are; when that is no longer the case it's a manner of stabbing the genre by way of externally seeming to embrace it.
The tone is certainly fractured and contradictory, something the movie accentuates with a perverse sense of glee. Nowhere is this more evident than on the soundtrack, which employs everything from modern rock music to traditional orchestral superhero music to pre-existing movie anthems (including the themes from For a Few Dollars More, Sunshine, and 28 Days Later) to Joan Jett to Mozart to Elvis Presley. At times the film feels a bit scattershot, but the movie's spiteful passion generally seems to keep it on the right track. If something doesn't work, it tends not to be a big problem because the movie keeps throwing stuff at us at such a rapid rate that we've generally got something's that working in front of us again before we can start to get too worked up about the thing that isn't.
Kick-Ass plays like a big, loud, over-the-top popcorn movie. On a purely surface level, that's pretty much what it is, and that's exactly how most viewers are going to interpret it. But there's simply too much boiling beneath the surface of this thing for me to accept the idea that there isn't a whole lot more to it. There are so many complex touches beneath all of the bluster, from Nicholas Cage's Adam West-inspired inflections to some of the quietly soulless behavior demonstrated by some supporting characters as they watch an online video to an explosive scene that serves as the very definition of "glorified violence." I could spend quite a lot of time cataloguing the many compelling ways in which the film offers commentary on/deconstructs/satirizes the superhero genre and our superhero-obsessed society, but that would be spoiling part of the experience.
I should take a moment to touch on the film's most controversial element: the fact that a young girl (the brilliant Chloe Grace Moretz, who steals the movie from her co-stars) is involved in some very violent scenes. These scenes are certainly a bit disturbing, reminding me a bit of my feelings during certain scenes of Leon the Professional. Even so, the scenes dig into one of those contradictions that the movie is so fond of exploring. The scenes in which Hit Girl goes to work are morally repulsive but superficially thrilling; Matthew Vaughn's direction is so slick and wildly entertaining that one is pretty much forced to confront the disconnect between how awesome it seems and how awful it is. That Vaughn so thoroughly dehumanizes the victims of these violent assaults makes it all the easier to embrace such carnage. In its own oddball way, Kick-Ass attempts to demonstrate just how easy it is to give in to unhealthy impulses of vigilante justice and cold-blooded vengeance.
The hi-def transfer is marvelous, offering pristine detail and considerable depth. The film has a bright and colorful palette, giving us quite a few moments that really pop off the screen visually. Little comic book references and in-jokes are littered throughout many scenes, so the strong detail really enables one to appreciate all the small touches. Flesh tones are warm and accurate, blacks are deep and inky. Shading is superb throughout. The audio really does kick ass, appropriately enough. The action scenes really give your speaker system an impressive workout; it's thoroughly exciting and dynamic stuff. The music really comes through with a lot of strength, as Vaughn unapologetically cranks up the soundtrack to 11 on a regular basis. Overall, I couldn't be happier with the audio/video quality on this release.
Okay, let's dig into the rather meaty supplemental package:
* "A New Kind of Superhero: The Making of Kick-Ass" (113 minutes): This feature-length, BD-exclusive documentary is pretty much a comprehensive supplemental package all by itself. Covering just about every aspect of production, it's an engaging look at the challenges of making the film. My favorite sections are those that deal with the differences between the comic and the film, the difficulties Vaughn and co. had in finding distribution and the discussion between the film's multiple composers on the process of putting together the film's unique soundtrack. Absolutely everyone who played a significant role in making the film participates, making this a very satisfying experience.
* Ass-Kicking BonusView Mode: This is a tremendously well-produced supplement that's essentially a beefed-up video commentary. In most video commentaries, you'll have a small window in the corner of the screen as the movie plays. In BonusView mode, the film itself is relegated to a small window while video commentary, interviews and behind-the-scenes footage takes the majority of the screen space. I expected there might be a good deal of overlap with the documentary, but pretty much all of the interviews included are unique to this feature. Awesome. This is the kind of thing Blu-ray releases should be offering more often. As with the documentary, this one's a BD-exclusive. One oddity: there's a good bit of profanity littered throughout the documentary, but the c-words are bleeped while f-words are permitted to fly freely. Huh.
* Matthew Vaughn Audio Commentary: Obviously you get a pretty good chunk of this in the BonusView Mode feature, but it's nice to have this option as well. As a lover of film music, I was quite pleased that Vaughn spent a large portion of time discussing his atypical musical decisions. Also interesting to note the way he takes quiet digs at the source material from time to time.
* "It's On: The Comic Book Origin of Kick-Ass" (20 minutes): A featurette primarily devoted to interviews with Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr., who discuss their inspirations for the comic and what they were hoping to achieve. Good stuff.
* "The Art of Kick-Ass": A series of galleries spotlighting On-Set Photography, Production Design, Storyboards, Costumes, and John Romita, Jr.'s original artwork created for the film.
* Marketing Archive: A series of trailers and campaign posters for the film.
* Miscellaneous Items: The disc is D-box enabled, equipped with BD Touch and Metamenu and is equipped with BD-Live. So there ya go.
I believe that Kick-Ass is more substantial than many realize; a fascinating cinematic feast that holds an unforgiving mirror up to our society and pop culture. If the film is a pleasure (and I have to confess that it is; there's too much wit and style to proclaim the movie as anything less than enjoyable), it's a very subversive one indeed. The Blu-ray release is nothing short of superb.
Review content copyright © 2010 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* BD Touch