Breaking from the norm of recent superhero movies, Kick-Ass is a new spin on the genre from comics writer Mark Millar and director Matthew Vaughn, in which a teenage geek (Aaron Johnson) dons rubber suit to vanquish evil in New York.
For the first ReelScotland review, Jonathan Melville, Ross Maclean and Richard Bodsworth sat down to discuss the film by email, a different approach perhaps fitting for this very different blockbuster.
Ross Maclean: I was one of the few guys at high school who used to read comics. I was massively into them as a teenager but have stopped reading all but the most selective of late.
As for comic book films, I’m happy to watch them but have been burned too many times. The adaptations are rarely much cop and often don’t meet expectations/standards of the comic.
Jonathan Melville: The first superhero movie I remember seeing back in the day was Superman II at the cinema. I loved the effects – I believed a man could fly! – was scared by General Zod, laughed at Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty and was generally enthralled by the whole spectacle.
The first Batman film was also a big thing for me, I got caught up in the hype and quite literally bought the T-shirt (and the novel, and the soundtrack, and the transfers…). In recent years I’ve watched the X-Men films, missed the new Superman movie and the Spiderman films became less interesting as they went on.
Richard Bodsworth: Since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, the direction of comic book adaptations have changed slightly. Case in point being the massively underwhelming Wolverine, which seemed to leave out the fun from the others.
With the The Dark Knight’s success, you can expect future adaptations to take the same route, but not Kick-Ass…
Ross: As Richard says, The Dark Knight is very much the benchmark for modern comic films.
Richard: You could argue Nolan made the greatest superhero film of all time, but is it really in the original superhero formula? Has anyone made a proper fun comic book adaptation? Iron Man was close, but not great.
Jonathan: Iron Man was good fun, had a decent script and was saved by Downey Jr not taking things to seriously.
Ross: I would say Iron Man did. If The Dark Knight shows how multi-layered and ‘serious’ a comic book movie can be, Iron Man is the best example of how one can be done without taking itself too seriously. When done right, they can be astounding, but equally they’re just as likely to disappoint, as in Wolverine, Spider-Man 3 and Fantastic Four.
Jonathan: So does Kick-Ass have a lot to prove? What did you think before you went in?
Ross: I was anticipating great things. I’d been following the trailers and from word of mouth from people who had read the comics and it sounded like it could be great.
Jonathan: I’d heard a lot of good things and having seen 10 minutes at Movie-Con last year (mainly the Banana Splits scene) I thought it looked fast, funny and very different to the CGI laden stuff we’re used to.
Richard: An alternative perhaps? Almost a middle finger up at all recent comic films?
Jonathan: Yes, an alternative to the usual Hollywood stuff, tongue in cheek but with some serious elements that are difficult to mention without spoilering.
Ross: I don’t think Kick-Ass is an alternative, just a fun spin on it. I think there’s not that much to separate it from other recent stuff. It follows every other convention, other than the ‘super’ part.
Jonathan: It’s being sold as an alternative, a superhero film without the super part.
Richard: It’s the most fun superhero film, if not film in general, for a long time.
Ross: It is hugely enjoyable. As pure entertainment it’s unparalleled. I just don’t think it’s as ground breaking as it’s being made out to be.
Jonathan: What did you think of the set up of the characters, in particular Kick-Ass?
Ross: It was played for laughs, but that’s a good thing. The intro was well judged.
Richard: More fun than watching Peter Parker anyway.
Ross: Yeah, the white substances spraying in the bedroom were a bit different to those in Spider-Man!
Richard: Though just as sticky as I’d presume!
Jonathan: The intro had a definite lightness of touch about it, showing how he’s just a nerd who fancies girls and plays on his computer too much.
Richard: Although that face he kept making became tiresome.
Jonathan: The highlight of the early scenes for me were Nic Cage and ChloÃ« Moretz as Big Daddy and Hit Girl. Their first scene, with Big Daddy shooting his daughter, is left until much later in the comic book, but it helps being brought forward.
Ross: Hit Girl will be the focus of a lot of praise but Nicolas Cage stole it. It’s the best he’s been in ages. He gets the balance right between his crazy schtick of late, but reins it in enough for it not to become tiresome.
Jonathan: Poor old Nic gets a kicking these days but I still have fond memories of going to see him in Con Air and Face/Off. Where did it go wrong?
Ross: The Wicker Man.
Richard: The HAIR! It’s all down to the hair.
Ross: He got too popular in the late 90s for going batshit, and it worked for a while (Face/Off). It just seemed to stick.
Jonathan: He can judge things well though, he’s a great actor – have either of you seen Red Rock West?
Richard: Next, Bangkok Dangerous…he has that same stupid haircut. When it’s gone he’s great, as in Bad Lieutenant (except for the iguanas).
Richard: Can we get the Cage voice out of the way?
Jonathan: He modelled that on Adam West I believe.
Ross: Did he, baby doll?
Richard: What did you make of the dialogue?
Ross: I know it’s aiming for a stylised comic book tone, but there’s something that just strikes me as inauthentic about the dialogue. It sounds like a Brit writing US Mafioso characters (which it is) “ never really nailing anything above the most tired clichÃ©s.
Richard: See, I didn’t pick up on that. Do you think the clichÃ© was deliberate?
Ross: I concede that elements were deliberate but there just seemed to be a lot of ‘fuhgeddaboudit’-style stuff.
Jonathan: The dialogue for the kids was fine, but the mafia stuff was a bit painful. But they were faithful to the comic dialogue, one liners and short statements lifted from the panels. The mob scenes was mainly grafted on by the screenwriter, Jane Goldman, I think.
Ross: Stands to reason.
Richard: I’ll argue the point it was intentional, with everything else tongue-in-cheek it would make sense for cardboard cut-out gangsters.
Jonathan: While Strong is fine as the bad guy, I never really felt the danger from his organisation that I thought I should. I know he had something to do with drugs and felt threatened by Kick-Ass, but I didn’t get a bigger picture there. And that scene where Strong sees Kick-Ass and follows him into the alley was a bit odd.
Ross: While the script is smart in the main, it does occasionally go for the easy laugh. I agree about Strong, I don’t think the he was as well realised or deep as he could have been. He seems to be getting typecast in the villain role these days.
Richard: Robin Hood next.
Jonathan: Christoper Mintz-Plasse was good, he nailed it well, though some of his histrionics near the end didn’t quite ring true.
Richard: Red Mist was a surprising character for me.
Ross: Red Mist did surprise me, it wasn’t where I expected that character to go, mainly from the casting.
Jonathan: Once again I’ll mention the comic and say that the relationship between Red Mist and Kick-Ass was played very differently from the book. Hope it’s not a spoiler to say that their friendship plays out very differently in the film compared to the comic.
Ross: His costume looks awful in the film, although I’d imagine intentionally so, like a teen’s idea of what a superhero should look like with access to unlimited funds.
Jonathan: Hey, I’ve got a costume like that!
Richard: “Alright you c***s”, what did you think of Hit Girl? A lot has been made, mainly by the Daily Mail, over her character. Exploitative?
Ross: Yes. That’s why it works so well.
Jonathan: Agreed. Why not push these things once in a while. As an actress though, is it right for a wee girl to be spouting those lines?
Richard: Again, I think it’s the idea of an alternative. Personally I thought she was awesome.
Ross: However, her abilities do somewhat break the ‘grounded in reality’ ethos of the rest of the film. In the world of the film, it just passes – but it is unquestionably ‘super’ for a 10 year old to take out a grown man in strength, and not ability, terms.
Richard: Well, if young people can’t do those sort of things we are limited in what kind of films we can make.
Ross: I’m not saying it should be realistic, but it shifts the focus of the film – which is a bit of a problem as her abilities are near-‘super’.
Jonathan: She’s probably the most trad superhero comics character in it.
Richard: I don’t agree. She’s just been trained by Big Daddy. Give me a month of training I bet I’d be able to run up a wall. Scene of the year for me!
Jonathan: It’s a bit borderline really, I suppose she could do a lot of those things but it’s certainly heightened. Her character is a breath of fresh air for that film, with at least two sequences visually stunning.
Ross: She does provide the films high points.
Jonathan: Nearly forgot about the warehouse scene with Big Daddy. That was impressive, the camera panning round the room as he causes destruction. There’s also the sequence where he explains his origins, the camera weaving in and out of the panels of a comic. Best use of comics imagery since the first Hulk film?
Ross: The straight comic panel stuff disappeared after the first half though.
Richard: Vaughn showed what a good director he is. Fantastic at filming those actions scenes – Layer Cake is tragically underrated. He gets lumbered with Guy Ritchie’s gangster films.
Ross: Haven’t really been a big fan of anything Vaughn’s done so far. Nice to see the Land Rover from Layer Cake make an in-jokey appearance.
Richard: Then there was the cinema screening The Spirit 3.
Ross: That’s the most unrealistic thing about the film! The Spirit 3!
Richard: First person shooter and strobe lighting. That is all I will say. Genius!
Jonathan: Ah yes, first person shooter, lovely stuff, a real fanboy film.
Ross: It is nicely handled.
Jonathan: Too fanboy do you think? Will the masses go for it in the way they do for an iconic hero like Batman or Supes?
Ross: It gets the level about right, I think it’s likely to do even better with the masses as it doesn’t require any knowledge or history of the character. Less likely to put people off.
Jonathan: That’s going to be interesting, as they’ve played down Cage’s involvement in the ads, and he’s by far the best known in it. I’d certainly watch it again.
Ross: In terms of ads, a lot of the film’s finest moments are spoiled by the trailer. I’ll see it again.
Richard: I’ll be seeing it again.
Richard: I 100% agree, the trailers give about the first 30 minutes away.
Ross: There’s enough other stuff there, but it’s a shame – imagine seeing Hit Girl sight-unseen.
Jonathan: Yes, just a short clip of Hit Girl would be better.
Ross: We’ve not mentioned him really but Aaron Johnson did well. He hit the teenage naivetÃ© elements perfectly as well as looking convincingly like a wannabe hero.
Jonathan: I think the fact we haven’t mentioned him much shows how well he did do, he carried the film nicely. Did the lack of an original score bother you?
Ross: Some of the requisitioned music worked well, the 28 Days Later stuff. A lot of pilfering of other music – For A Few Dollars More, Banana Splits, Sunshine. A lot of the cues sound like other stuff too: The Dark Knight, Superman, Elfman’s Batman theme.
Richard: Not really. I’ve heard people bitching about the use of the 28 Days Later theme but it worked well.
Jonathan: An original score might have been nice, a Kick-Ass theme, but it did well without it.
Richard: There was obviously a reason for that, wonder what it was?
Jonathan: Is that them trying to say more about the fact that he/we live in a world where there are so many pop culture references that there’s nothing very original anymore? Or something…
Ross: Sounds plausible to me.
Jonathan: So, a good film?
Ross: Yes. Definitely, in terms of flat-out enjoyment, unparalleled. But not without flaws
Jonathan: I had a great time.
Richard: The most fun film of the year. My favourite so far when I didn’t expect it to be.
Jonathan: The quieter moments are a bit too quiet, Mark Strong’s character getting a bit too much screen time which I think drags it down a bit. I’d have liked less of him and more Kick-Ass on his patrols.
Ross: Lowpoints: The two comedy sidekick friends. It loses it slightly for me when it introduces the (literal) big guns in the final act. Up to then, it pretty much sticks to a more low key, grounded tone.
Richard: I was engrossed from start to finish, any flaws are minimal and only evident if you look for them.
Ross: I would disagree, I think the flaws are there but is unarguably very, very good.
Richard: I will give you that last ‘big gun’ shot. Wasn’t a huge fan.
Ross: Some of the pop cultural references are very funny indeed. It was exciting and entertaining, but it is possible to do that while providing a bit more.
Richard: But let’s face it, the film was made for adrenaline fuelled excitement and that’s what it is.
Jonathan: It looked great and the performances were pretty flawless. Strong is a great actor but I think he was struggling with not having much to get his teeth into. Again, his organisation just wasn’t that threatening and he sat in his office most of the time. Overall it was excellent and I hope a sequel will iron out the kinks, go all out for the entertainment.
Kick-Ass opens at UK cinemas on 26 March 2010.