19 October 2010

KICK ASS (Dir. Matthew Vaughn, 2010, UK/US) - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Comi Book anti-heroes; Aaron Johnson as Kick Ass and Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl.

British director Matthew Vaughn initially started his career working with Guy Ritchie, producing commercially successful gangster films such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The shift into feature film making with Layer Cake showed some promise but this seemed to dissipate with Stardust. With the independently financed comic book adaptation Kick Ass, Matthew Vaughn seems to have regained lost ground, proving his worth as a capable and provocative film maker. Based on the comic book by Mark Millar, Kick Ass arrived in the UK in March and whilst it was surrounded by controversy related to the film’s handling of violence especially the touchy subject of children and knives, the critical reception from the British mainstream press was decidedly split. The Daily Mail and Telegraph predictably criticised the film for its representation of an eleven year old girl who swears inventively and violently dispatches bad guys. However, The Guardian gave the film five stars whilst Empire magazine also came to the film’s support with a rave review. Though the right wing press may have attempted to damage the artistic credibility of the makers of the film by condemning it as hollow, it didn’t stop audiences from embracing Kick Ass as a genuinely unconventional and refreshing addition to the emerging and ever evolving comic book film genre.

It seems mystifying that all of the studios turned this project away considering the franchise potential but perhaps on reflection this was exactly what a project like Kick Ass needed – minimal interference from the powers that be and additionally had the studios backed this one then it is more than likely it would have been tailored made for a PG-13 audience. Thankfully, Kick Ass is one of the most enjoyable films I have seen in a while and in terms of invention is comparable to another under appreciated comic book adaptation released this year – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Both have already achieved a degree of cult status by refusing to surrender completely to a premature teen audience, ensuring enough post modern reflexivity exists for an older adult audience to participate in the celebration of pop culture. As the comic book film genre has already reached a level of sophistication, firmly establishing its own set of conventions, a film like Kick Ass can be interpreted as a fan response from script writer Jane Goldman and producer Matthew Vaughn. Clearly, many of the conventions are openly acknowledged and pleasurably parodied but simultaneously the genre is reinvigorated with the welcoming presence of genuinely risky characterisation in the form of Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz delivering a marvellous performance) and Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage proving he is still a fine actor).

The narrative itself it fairly generic and does somewhat lose momentum mid way through but such a criticism is compensated by a visual energy and sardonic wit that stops the film from taking itself too seriously. In terms of music, Vaughn lifts heavily from the work of Danny Boyle including both Sunshine and 28 Days Later which were scored by the atmospheric British composer John Murphy. British actor Mark Strong is perfectly cast as the vicious Mob Boss Frank D’Amico and the resolution at the end sets up the character of Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) as a suitably intriguing nemesis for the recently announced sequel. I’m not entirely sure how financing was raised for the $28 million budget but the presence of a strong British cast and crew would surely make Kick Ass a viable contender for one of the best British films of the year.

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