Retrospective: Kickass (2010)

This is the second movie I’ve reviewed by director Matthew Vaughn, with the first being Stardust. It’s another adaptation of a cult piece, in this case it’s one of Marvel’s edgiest comics but altered to make it even better than the original, in my opinion. This reinforces my belief that any adaptations made by Vaughn improves the source material. One of the major reasons I’m giving it a retrospective (other than my own vanity) is that it’s one of the most post-modernist movie ever made. It’s a comic book movie about comic books, with a strong emphasis on social media and the freedom it gives to people to create alter egos.

The movie has a wonderful sense of itself with a geeky main character, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), who proceeds to explain how he had no motivation to become a superhero: no magic powers, no great tragedy and even when his mum drops dead  he says what he learns from this experience is that life goes on. He emphasizes his sheer ordinariness and the fact he isn’t the funny one in his group which nicely subverts the role of the protagonist. He has less than helpful friends but his closeness to them really helps his sense of development when he adopts the persona of ‘Kickass’, which according to him is a ‘mix of naivety and hopefulness’. His persona gets him into deep trouble the very first time he takes it on, when he is both stabbed and run over trying to stop someone breaking into a car. His outfit is such an embarrassment to him that he insists that the paramedics remove it so no one knows. The character development of this superhero is so unlike any other I have seen, not even the imitators of this little sub-genre have managed such an inventive character arc for an ordinary superhero. But he still has some themes in common with other superheroes, for example he has his girl who he lusts after and his development with her is very nicely done and avoids feeling hackneyed.

This movie has a wonderful cast including the great Nicolas Cage as Big Daddy and his little daughter Hit-Girl (Chloë Moretz) who are the most amazing family crime fighting duo you can possibly imagine. This was the main reason the movie was so controversial as it takes the modernist risk of creating a violent 13 year old who cusses and kills people in some very brutal ways. It was intended to be a risk and it pays off in the character development. She is introduced by her father shooting her as part of her training and this really hits the audience by informing us what sort of movie this is.

Another family double act is the ever-present Mark Strong (a favourite of Vaughn who also appeared in Stardust) as Frank D’Amico, a crime boss and his son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who wants to take his father’s place. He has a very interesting role creating the link between Big Daddy, Hit Girl and Kick Ass and like all the others he has a very interesting character arc and secret identity as Red Mist.

The movie is post-modernist both in the sense that it bases itself around the idea of the comic, which is becoming less and less read around the world but it utilizes the familiar culture of the comic book which is well known due to the millions of adaptations and their success. Secondly, it steps itself into pop culture and contemporary ideas of identity in the age of the social networking and seeing value in the amount of friends you have (although it’s already a little dated as shows MySpace). It also has a very contemporary moment in its portrayal of all those televised murders by terrorists of westerners posted online with conversations to the camera. The role of the geek and his relation to culture is central to the film as everything is referenced to popular culture, all making this movie post-modernist in the classical sense of self-referentiality.

It’s very nicely filmed with lots of sharp, active cuts and it makes everything look better than real as things glisten and the lighting is so very pretty even in normal places like warehouses. It’s mainly shot at waist height with lots of movement and action in the movie to reflect the comic book origins with a wonderful soundtrack accompanying it with an eclectic mix of music from contemporary, to classical, to pretend 70s music. It gets the theme just right and it mixes its dark with a light-hearted nature. One odd thing is that this a British movie yet so very steeped in American culture but you couldn’t imagine it being American due to the creative risk this sort of movie takes (yes before anyone bleats that Super is American it was made for 5 quid and was very much an indie production).

This is shiny and expensive looking with a sharp script which improves on the source material and to top it all off, it even has Nicolas Cage being Nick Cage which is always wonderful and memorable (possibly for the wrong reasons but you can never accuse him of being boring).

Retrospective by Harry Riedl


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