(Please note that I saw this a couple of weeks ago and had I commented on it then things may have been a little different, but the niggles – they burn).
Kick Ass is a film of two halves. On the one hand it could be viewed as a clever commentary on the way comics exist within their own logical rules, on the other it could be seen as an attempt to push the borders of what’s good and bad taste to the logical extreme. As per usual both are probably right and both contribute enormously to the sense of fun this film aims at (and for the most part succeeds in) – don’t get me wrong, Kick Ass is well worth seeing (especially in a cinema where the audience will laugh along with you) and is stupidly entertaining, but it does have problems.
Good things about Kick Ass; the performances, direction and art direction are all brilliant, indeed Cage hasn’t been this good for a long time, and this is that rare thing – a British film that’s independently financed yet feels like a big Hollywood blockbuster. The first half hour is especially good and for the vast majority of the running time it has bags of charm. Unlike Watchmen which required you to have either read the comic or read other comics to understand the point of it, Kick Ass only requires that you’ve seen other comic movies and James Bond to get the joke – it doesn’t pretend to be intellectual, just fun. But herein start the problem that creeps up on you afterwards.
Kick Ass is similar in tone to Wanted (unsurprising considering the comic shares the same writer), but where Wanted gleefully embraced the lack of morals of its characters (none where truly sympathetic) and presented the action as a series of hugely stylised sequences from start to finish, Kick Ass moves from action movie violence to “realer” violence with little warning – it could be a clever attempt to bring the reality of the situation to the fore, but the direction isn’t strong enough at these stages to feel like anything else than an attempt to provoke a sense of shock. Two scenes highlight this, in the first a gangster is tortured by being placed in an industrial microwave – the joke being that his torturers are too stupid to realise he won’t be able to hear their questions – its smart and funny, with a punchline played on just the right side of bad taste to reinforce the joke. However, the torture of another criminal in a car crusher – though far less graphic – comes out of nowhere with no attempt to sanitise the experience. One feels like it belongs in a Bond film (and is indeed lifted from a Bond film) the other a Scorcese film.
It’s the unevenness of the violence that leaves a little bit of a bad taste in the days after. Yes, all of the characters are portrayed as being deeply damaged individuals but rather than commenting on this it instead turns it into a positive character trait. For certain the film that slowly emerges is a pitch black comedy, but like Fight Club there’s the horrible suspicion that some people will miss the joke and think it sanctions such ideals.
Despite the length at which I’ve criticised this element the film is well worth stumping out for. The pure action sequences are superb and raise the benchmark considerably – a standout sequence featuring a strobe lit gunfight is amongst the most technically astonishing things I’ve seen for a long time. As noted the performances are excellent with Nicholas Cage and Chloe Moretz bring huge fun to the whole thing as the Demented Duo. Yes, the villains are a little one dimensional but that’s sort of the point in a film like this, they are supposed to be stupid and lazy. Aaron Johnson hits just the right mark between geek and borderline psychopath and clearly is going to use this to move on to bigger and better things.
Kick Ass does have more going for it than it has against it, but expect to have the initial rush of seeing it fade into something else entirely when it’s given time to sink in.