Friday, 26 July 2013

Why Kick-Ass Kicks the Avengers’ Butts: Kick-Ass (2010) Review

Stars: Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nicolas Cage

Inspired by comic books, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), an ordinary teenager, decides to become Kick-Ass, a masked vigilante and soon discovers he’s not the only crime fighter roaming the streets of New York, when he encounters the far more competent father-daughter team of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) and the ultra-flashy Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). However, when Kick-Ass comes to the attention of Frank D’Amico, a local mafia boss, he becomes drawn into a world far more dangerous than he ever imagined and must become the superhero he dreams of being or die trying.

In the last week, I have watched two superhero films: The Avengers and Kick-Ass; and although Kick-Ass didn’t make even a fraction of what The Avengers made at the box office (at the time of writing, The Avengers is the third-highest grossing film of all time), as far as I’m concerned, it is by far the superior film.

While all hugely successful, the recent string of movies based on Marvel comics has been rather hit and miss. Iron Man was excellent (with one of the most memorable endings of a superhero movie ever), as was X-Men: First Class, but some of the other films have felt more like extended television episodes than proper movies in their own right (I’m thinking of you, Iron Man 2). The Avengers sits somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

In spite of taking way too long to get going (largely due to the fact that each of the four main superheroes must be introduced one by one and given roughly equal screen-time – I’m guessing this was some sort of contractual thing), when The Avengers does finally get to the point, the action scenes are pretty awesome, and there are a number of moments in Joss Whedon’s script that are laugh-aloud funny. Yet, in spite of the fact that Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk and Captain America are all fighting to save the planet on which I live from an alien invasion, at no point in the film’s 143 minute run time did I actually care as to whether or not they were going to succeed. This is because, in spite of having the greatest physical goal imaginable, none of the Avengers have anything at stake emotionally. Saving the world is just a job for them and they have nothing to prove or change in their lives. It’s the “why” that makes us care about a character, be it saving the world in order to ask out the girl/guy of their dreams or killing the bad guy in order to avenge the death of a loved one. You can have all the wisecracks and special effects in the world, but without a good “why”, a movie is nothing more than a hollow shell destined to be forgotten as soon as you leave the cinema. And this is why Kick-Ass outdoes The Avengers.

Part teen angst comedy, part ultra-violent superhero parody, with Kick-Ass we are presented with a superhero it is impossible not to like. Unlike the Avengers, Dave Lizewski has no special powers or skills, but he still goes out and fights crime because of his twin desires to make a difference to the world and to get the girl of his dreams to notice him. Those are goals that ordinary people can understand and as such, we want him to win. In fact, every major character in Kick-Ass is motivated by something more complex than “I’m doing this because that’s just what I do,” and as a result, we want them to get the happy endings that they so richly deserve.

That’s not to say that happy endings are inevitable for these characters. Mark Millar’s graphic novel upon which the movie is based is actually pretty bleak and depressing and does not deliver on this front, leaving some readers (i.e. me) feeling bummed out at the end of reading it. Nevertheless, bleak and depressing does not a successful Hollywood blockbuster make and screenwriter/director Matthew Vaughn (who, incidentally, also co-wrote and directed X-Men: First Class) has the good sense to replace the comic’s loneliness and despair with optimism and hope, improving the story dramatically and turning it into a feel-good film that will leave you grinning for days after watching it.

Verdict: As well as providing Nicolas Cage with his best role in years, this tale of an underdog with good intentions is one of the best superhero films of the last decade and runs circles around mega-hits such as The Avengers.

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