Kick-Ass (UK - BD)
Chris takes a look at the recent comic book film about a hero with a difference
Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is an average teenager who spends most of his time hanging with his friends, watching Internet porn, reading comics and pining for the girl of his dreams, Katie Deauxma (Lyndsy Fonseca). One day Dave decides to become a costumed superhero, despite having no superpowers or training, and during his first attempt to fight crime he is badly beaten, stabbed, and hit by a car. After an extended recovery period Dave returns to school with numerous metal plates in his body and some damaged nerve endings (which afford him a high degree of tolerance to pain) to discover that Katie is suddenly interested in him. Unfortunately for Dave it's because she mistakenly thinks he's a homosexual and wants him to be her gay BFF, but he plays along in order to spend time with her anyway.
After he saves someone from a vicious gang beating Dave, or rather Kick-Ass, becomes a social phenomenon and quickly develops a large following thanks to YouTube and his MySpace page. However, Kick-Ass isn't the only superhero around, and before long he becomes embroiled with a father/daughter crime-fighting duo known as Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), who have been systematically slaughtering members of local Mafioso Frank D’Amico's (Mark Strong) criminal network. Obviously D'Amico isn't too happy about this, so he hatches a plan to infiltrate the superhero gang with the aid of his geeky son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse in the guise of a new crime-fighter called Red Mist).
I don’t know about you, but for me 2010 has been a bit of a lame duck cinematically. Sure I’ve seen a lot of films theatrically this year (thirty five and counting), but how many of them turned out to be truly memorable? Inception for sure, and both Toy Story 3 and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but other than that it’s been a steady stream of middle of the road thrillers, action movies and comedies. I wasn’t even that enamoured with Avatar. Thankfully 2010 also gave us Kick-Ass. I had a hell of a lot of fun with the film even before it opened thanks to the red band trailer in which a young girl casually drops the c-word (and I don’t mean cock). When it finally opened it more than lived up to my expectations and was easily my favourite movie of the year up to that point, even if it was only March.
Director Mathew Vaughn (you know, that lucky bastard who’s married to Claudia Schiffer) has taken the core elements of the graphic novel(s) and crafted a thoroughly entertaining action-comedy with an unapologetically adult tone far removed from the usual ‘PG-13’ crap that’s routinely served up by Hollywood. I don’t know about you, but if I’m beaten up, stabbed, shot, or set on fire I’ve going to be swearing my head off, not letting out some family-friendly curse word like ‘damn’. I was also impressed by how faithful it remained to the source material, at times looking like a living, breathing comic book. Okay, so it does deviate in some fairly major ways, but a hell of a lot of it is taken almost panel-by-panel and the changes make commercial sense (even if I do prefer the bleaker tone of the books).
Kick-Ass also has a great cast. I was genuinely shocked to discover that Aaron Johnson was English, because he has a pretty convincing (to my ears) American accent. He plays the dual roles of Dave and Kick-Ass with just the right amount of nerdiness. Elsewhere Nicolas Cage puts in a quirky turn as Big Daddy, a sort of cross between Adam West and Christian Bale’s versions of Batman. His daughter Hit Girl is played by young Chloe Moretz, who is another one of those Dakota Fanning type child actors who manages to make acting look effortlessly easy in the presence of seasoned pros. Of course heroes are only as good as the bad guys they face and Mark Strong has recently been perfecting the art of villainy movies such as Sherlock Holmes and Robin Hood. He puts in another effective turn as brutal mob boss D’Amico, becoming more unhinged as the movie progresses. However, it’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse who steals pretty much every scene he’s in with his natural comic timing (the scene where he jumps off of the dumpster cracks me up no matter how many times I see it). All-in-all Kick-Ass is a pretty awesome comic book romp.
Kick-Ass arrives with a 2.40:1 widescreen transfer (1080/24p AVC) that is very faithful to the theatrical exhibition I saw back in March. The first thing that struck me was the incredibly varied, vibrant colour palette that perfectly conveys the comic book tone of the film. The intensity of the colours has been intentionally ramped up beyond the realms of normality, resulting in some very oversaturated hues, particularly flesh tones. This occasionally obscures detail, but it’s intentional so I can’t really criticise the Blu-ray transfer for accurately recreating the intended look of the picture. Black levels are also rarely what one would call normal, with most of the darker scenes having a greyish, sometimes blue tint. This makes the contrast look ‘wrong’ by any standards, but again it is an intentional effect designed to emulate the look of the comic book. While I’m normally the first to complain about excessive DNR the film’s often soft appearance (especially faces) can again be attributed to—you guessed it—the filmmakers’ intentions, rather than any egregious post-processing. What grain there is generally appears very light and unobtrusive, and the image presents a good level of detail overall. I didn’t spot any edge enhancement, halos, or other digital artefacts during normal viewing and the brief encoding error present on Lionsgate’s US release is absent here. Kick-Ass is a tricky one to rate overall simply because it looks so artificial, but as long as you can accept that it looks the way it does for very specific reasons you should be more than happy with what’s on offer.
Universal provides a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that delivers thrills and spills galore. There are numerous action set-pieces scattered throughout the film, all of which provide ample opportunity for the track to demonstrate its power. Just listen to the aural assault that is Big Daddy’s attack on Frank’s warehouse—as shots ricochet around the soundstage and the sub kicks out solid bass to reinforce the explosions—or the climactic showdown in which about a bazillion bullets are fired off from handguns, shotguns, and even mini-guns. In fact, directionality is one of the major highlights of the mix, especially as the film progresses, with the neat little fly-by sequence towards the end sounding particularly good. I’ve recently been disappointed by the number of films in which the dialogue has been completely drowned out during the action sequences, but thankfully Kick-Ass largely escapes this fate. It was only a little indistinct during a couple of scenes and even then it seemed to be intentional, and thankfully I had no trouble hearing Nicolas Cage’s goofy Adam West impersonation! Music plays a big part in the film and it is probably the most consistently active component of the mix, be it the original score with its sly nods to John Williams, Danny Elfman and others, or musical tracks from The Prodigy, The Dickies, Ellie Goulding, Gnarls Barkley, The Pretty Reckless, Joan Jett, and even that bit of music from 28 Days Later. If I had to criticise I would say that there isn’t a lot of general ambience, especially in crowd scenes, but this is only nit-picking. In all other areas the track is, to use the movie vernacular, pretty fucking sweet.
Audio Commentary: Director Matthew Vaughn is on-hand to talk us through the film. It's a pretty dry track, mainly focussing on the technical aspects of the production, but there are one or two anecdotes to break things up and his comments usually make for interesting listening.
A New Kind of Superhero: The Making of Kick-Ass (01:53:02 HD): This almost two-hour making of documentary covers just about everything you could ever want to know about the film. It deals with topics such as the creation of the graphic novel, it's incredibly quick transition to the screen, behind-the-scenes footage, the Comic Con screening, the search for a distributor, colour grading, sound mixing, and much, much more. It’s one of the most exhaustive making of documentaries I’ve seen in quite some time, although it falls short of the best.
It's On! The Comic Book Origin of Kick-Ass (20:3 HD): Writer/co-creator Mark Miller is on-hand to discuss the origins of the graphic novel, along with fellow contributors John Romita Jr. (penciler/co-creator), Dean White (colourist) and Tom Palmer (inker). Each discusses their involvement with the project and should appeal to die-hard fans interested in the various stages necessary to bring something like Kick-Ass to fruition.
The Art of Kick-Ass: This is a multi-part gallery including storyboards, costumes, on-set photography, production design, and John Romita Jr.'s artwork as seen in the film. It's pretty cool if you're into still galleries.
Unfortunately we lose the BonusView picture-in-picture found on Lionsgate's US release of the film. I'm not completely sure how much exclusive footage is included, but the I think it's always advantageous to offer a visual alternative to the standard chat track.
I enjoyed the hell out of Kick-Ass when I saw it earlier in the year and it’s still great fun now, although I have to admit I wasn’t quite as jazzed on my second viewing (probably because Scott Pilgrim has become my favourite ‘oddball’ movie of the year). Even so it’s still head and shoulders above most of 2010’s mainstream theatrical output and I thoroughly recommend it to all comic book fans and geeks in general. The Blu-ray looks and sounds pretty great and the extras are a lot more satisfying that they initially appear, although it’s lamentable that the video commentary found on the US release could not be included. Don't let that minor niggle put you off though, because this release still 'kicks ass'. Sorry...
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 6th September 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Audio Description
Extras: Audio Commentary, Featurettes, Still Gallery
Easter Egg: No
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Genre: Action and Comedy
Length: 117 minutes
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