Kick-Ass: Cine-literacy and the Geography of an Action Scene

CAUTION! SPOILERS!

I’d been looking forward to Kick-Ass for a long while, perhaps that was the problem? I’d heard amazingly posititve hype from preview screenings as Comic-Con, perhaps that was the problem? I’d read relentlessly enthusiastic quotes from 5-Star reviews, perhaps that was the problem?

Sure, Kick-Ass is by no means an awful movie, it’s also, sadly, not a classic. Kick-Ass is enjoyable enough, but it falls short of the edgy, rampant and off-beat status it occasionally flirts with and Matthew Vaughn seemed intent to preserve. Vaughn financed the film outside of Hollywood, because he knew no studio would be willing to front up the cash for a film as violent, different and potentially controversial as this. Based on the graphic novel by Wanted scribe Mark Millar, the story focuses on an average teenager who wonders why nobody has tried being a real-life superhero. His efforts see him getting repeatedly battered and becoming an internet video sensation. This, in turn, attracts the attention of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, two ‘genuine’ superheroes (though, like Batman, their power is in the artillerly) who have a vendetta to settle with mob boss Frank D’Amico.

At it’s out-set Kick Ass works excellently, it’s fast-paced, darkly humourous, juggling its multiple narratives with a sense of whimsy and mystery; the introduction of Nic Cage and Chloe Moretz as Damon MacReady (aka Big Daddy) and his daughter, Mindy (aka Hit-Girl), is superb. Meanwhile Aaron Johnson as Dave Lizewski (Kick-Ass) makes his oddball transformation the stuff of genuine awkward teenage fantasies, and the film laces his early attempts at superheroism with enough gritty realism to shock. Unfortunately these touches, brutal stabs of reality, fail to punctuate the film which gradually becomes more and more like any number of other superhero/action films without bringing anything particularly new to the mix.
After his first beating Dave is hospitalized and finds himself, at the end of his stay, staring at X-rays of his skeleton filled with metal plating and scaffold, with the doctor’s informing him of damaged nerve-endings; so much for his lack of super-powers, now, like Sam Raimi’s titular Darkman, he has a slightly higher tolerance for pain. Also, much like Raimi’s Peter Parker in Spiderman 1 through 3, Dave gets the gorgeous girl – after a very humourous mid-section in which she thinks him gay – this is a change to Millar’s graphic novel, alongside a few other plot machinations, and is a rather unrealistic and disappointing inclusion to the film. And rather than continue to subvert the genre conventions in the story-telling, as the film hints at when Dave’s narration begins to reference movie-characters who have continued narrating from beyond the grave, the final act of the film is disappointingly predictable.



What really bugged me though was the lack of cine-literacy in the despatching of chief villain Frank D’Amico. Near the end of the second act one of the henchmen pilfers a bazooka from Big Daddy’s HQ, clearly this will be used at some point in the film, the bazooka remains in our collective conscious until the final confrontations between Kick-Ass vs. Red Mist and Hit-Girl vs. D’Amico. Kick-Ass and Red Mist knock one another out, whilst D’Amico gets the advantage over Hit-Girl, it is at this moment that he goes for his gun. We intercut to the unconscious Kick-Ass who slowly begins to stir. Clearly, he would be incapable of taking on D’Amico unarmed, and the only weapon we know he could use at this point would be the aforementioned bazooka. Sure enough, just before D’Amico can point blank Mindy, Kick-Ass is at the door, fires the bazooka and D’Amico is sent flying out the window to explode at a safe distance. Unfortunately, this feels like a very unsatisfying end to a reasonably threatening chief villain.

It made me think about the end of True Lies, in which Arnie is taking out bad guys in a harrier jump jet whilst trying to rescue his daughter from plummeting to her doom, and also has chief terrorist Art Malik on his wing with an uzi. We, as an audience, know that Arnie has a missile on the wing of his plane waiting to fire, we know that Malik is unsteady on his feet when Arnie banks the jet and we know, when Arnie gives his daughter a ‘Hold On’ look, everything that’s about to happen. Sure enough, Arnie banks the jet, Malik slips, slides down the wing and gets caught on the missle. Arnie hovers his finger over the launch button, draws a wry smile and looks Malik in the eye, our anticipation is high, we’re giddy, waiting to hear what possible quip Arnie could come out with… “You’re fired.” he deadpans, it’s so perfectly cheesy that it ellicts cheers and guffaws in equal measure. Whoosh! The missle is launced sending Malik flying, but not only that, he zooms straight through a building towards the helicopter gun-ship containing all his terrorist buddies – KABOOM! Perfect cinematic action geography by one of the genre’s masters, James Cameron.

Before firing the bazooka into D’Amico, Kick-Ass said something, but such is the lack of impact of this moment that I can’t even begin to remember what it was! Elsewhere in the film, especially in the ‘blood-letting’, I felt that the film fell short of those that had gone before; with the spurts of red on a lesser level than, say, studio-backed V For Vendetta and Hit-Girl’s hallway shoot-out had none of the thrills and wit of, for example, Leon‘s final confrontation. The violence in this film should’ve have had you spitting popcorn with its excessive gore and humour, much like, rather neatly, Timur Bekmabetov’s adaptation of Millar’s graphic novel Wanted, which was a pleasingly 18 certificate movie with a fine sense of action geography.

These are just a handful of my initial qualms with Kick Ass, don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the movie, but it’s not my ‘new favourite film’ as some sites are claiming; but their sense of hyperbole has often been dubious. I look forward to returning to Kick Ass on DVD in the future, to see how it holds up, but I won’t be rushing back to the cinema to check it out again… in fact, the likes of this year’s Daybreakers and Solomon Kane – though poorer films overall – had a better regard for witty violence and inventive action and, thusly, hold more repeat curiosity for me. Even though, as previously remarked, all in all they aren’t as good as Kick Ass!

© BRWC 2010.


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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.

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