Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
April 2010

The title lies

'Kick-Ass' could have done just that, if only the right person had been pulling the strings

Kick-Ass
Lionsgate
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay: Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, based on the comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Nicolas Cage, Chloe Moretz, Mark Strong, Clark Duke, Lyndsy Fonseca and Michael Rispoli
Rated R / 1 hour, 57 minutes
(out of four)

If only Kick-Ass had gotten itself a director. Oh, what might have been.

It's never a good sign when you're watching a movie and the most titillating thought - even the only titillating thought - is what the movie might have been like if someone else were at the helm. Watching Kick-Ass, I couldn't help imagining what it would have been like if someone like Quentin Tarantino or Edgar Wright had tackled the exact same concept. Now that would be a movie.

This, on the other hand, is an idea in search of a movie. It lacks any discernible aesthetic, offers only spare insights into its characters' lives and motivations (which, in theory, are the entire basis for the film) and uses its core premise as singular justification for its action and plot machinations. There's no such thing as a concept that works all by itself, and Kick-Ass is living proof of that.

The basic concept - What if normal people tried to become superheroes? - is milked only inasmuch as it gets us into a generic superhero plot. But we've seen plenty of superhero plots, no? What we need here is some illustration of why these superheroes are important - of how and why they came to be. The sheer novelty of a little girl, a pair of teenagers and an overprotective father turning into crime-fighters only gets you so far. No comic-book hero is interesting because of the plots they get involved in; the hero him- or herself has to be interesting.

No one should be fooled into thinking these characters are properly explored - what we get is the definition of lip service. The most frustrating thing is, all of them have an interesting story, yet the film does precious little to give any of their actions or experiences any meaning.

The titular Kick-Ass (real name Dave Lizewski, played by Aaron Johnson) is a typical teenage nobody who spontaneously dons a costume and takes to the streets, only to get the crap beaten out of him. He's apparently in the hospital for several months and has so much metal inserted into his body that he becomes super resistant to pain. Interesting, right? Kind of an important wrinkle to his character, right? Well, the movie just fast-forwards through most of that, rushing off to the part where he becomes a national sensation.

Then there's 11-year-old Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) and her borderline psychotic father, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), a duo of meticulously trained killers with revenge on their minds. They have a nice, juicy backstory . . . which the film hastily gets out of the way in about 30 seconds of screen time.

And finally there's Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the filthy-rich son of a brutal gangster (Mark Strong). He, too, has his own reasons for wanting to get in on the superhero game, only the film never spends enough time on him to really care. He's essentially only in the movie for plot purposes.

All this potential, and it goes largely to waste in a brisk, less-than-two-hour concoction of action, half-baked teen angst and generic good-and-evil posturing. It's as if the filmmakers lost track of what the movie is actually about: regular people fighting crime. And yet director Matthew Vaughn and his co-writer Jane Goldman barely seem to know who these people are. Explore your characters! There are reasons why they have become who they've become - explore them!

I know, I sound so negative. In truth, the film is not without its delights - a couple of setpieces work splendidly, and Nicolas Cage is absolutely fantastic (in an all-too-minor role, unfortunately) as the half-crazy, pseudo-Batman archetype.

Kick-Ass is Vaughn's third feature film, behind the perfectly passable Layer Cake and the enjoyable Stardust. This one seemed like a big chance for him to do something great; instead, he misses his movie's point. I go back to my earlier point - just, for a second, imagine someone else in the director's chair. Imagine Tarantino. Imagine Wright. Imagine Brad Bird. And hey, you know what? Maybe none of those guys would have done the film anyway. But if they had, one thing I can guarantee is they would have grabbed this thing by the balls.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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