Matthew Vaughn

Kick-Ass

2010

Universal Pictures/Lionsgate

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Screenplay by Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman

Produced by Adam Bohling, Brad Pitt, Tarquin Pack, David Reid, Kris Thykier and Matthew Vaughn

Based on the comic book written by Mark Millar and illustrated by John S. Romita, Jr.

Is an individual a superhero because they have powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men?  Or because they’re driven by passions, hurts and fears so spiritually painful that they have no choice but to put on a costume and seek vengeance?  Or do they have a need to help their fellow man and make the world a better place?  Maybe it’s simply because they want to KICK-ASS.

The movie KICK-ASS starts out as if it’s going to be an exploration of those themes and ideas.  Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a perfectly ordinary New York high school teenager with typical teenager problems: he’s picked on and robbed by bullies and girls ignore him.  His major interest in life is comic books and Dave becomes obsessed with why nobody in real life has ever tried to become a superhero.  His best friends Marty (Clark Duke) and Todd (Evan Peters) tell him quite sensibly that it’s because if anybody ever did try to be a superhero in real life they’d most likely get their ass handed to them.

Despite this common sense advice, Dave throws together a costume and tries his hand at being a real life superhero.  The fact he has no powers or training in anything whatsoever does nothing to deter the plucky lad.   His first attempt has such a blackly humorous turn that even while I was laughing hysterically I was wincing.  Believe it or not, the outcome of the attempt does actually give Dave an edge of sorts in fights and he tries again, this time armed with a pair of nightsticks and being successful in fighting off three men walloping the piss out of one guy and taking quite a beating himself.  Naturally it ends up on YouTube and before you know it, New York has itself a real live superhero: Kick-Ass.

Soon, Kick-Ass has the goodwill of all New York and is a media sensation.  He’s also come to the attention of crime czar Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) who believes its Kick-Ass who’s been stealing his drug money and killing his dealers.  The real culprits are Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) who have a personal score to settle with D’Amico and are determined to take him down by any means necessary.  Big Daddy and Hit Girl are much more suited for the superhero biz than Kick-Ass.  They’ve actually trained for this profession and are martial arts masters as well as marksmen of near superhuman accuracy.  And with the drug money they’ve been stealing from D’Amico they’re able to buy all kinds of neat toys.  They’re also conscienceless killers.

In the meantime, Dave has actually managed to begin a relationship with his dream girl, Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca) and is considering giving up being Kick-Ass as things are becoming more complicated with his being involved in the war between D’Amico and Big Daddy.  But then a new superhero arrives on the scene, Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and he’s got a hidden agenda of his own that will change the lives of everybody involved.

On the surface, KICK-ASS may resemble “Watchmen” in that the superheroes in the movie really aren’t super, if you know what I mean.  They’re more or less costumed martial artists.  Especially Kick-Ass who’s only superpower appears to be that he can survive beatings that would put professional fighters in the hospital for a month.  Especially Hit Girl who’s like a four foot tall Jet Li on crack when in combat.  But KICK-ASS has a really black and warped sense of humor it brings to the table, especially in the scenes with D’Amico and his gang.  A sense of humor that was lacking in “Watchmen”

But the sense of humor really doesn’t synch with the amazing action scenes which are extremely violent, shockingly brutal and downright vicious.  I think the movie makes the point that trying to be a real life superhero really isn’t a good idea in some of those scenes but it’s all negated by the really over-the-top final showdown which plays like a weird combination of John Woo and Wile E. Coyote.  And speaking of the final showdown I’m not entirely comfortable with the decision made by Dave/Kick-Ass.  It’s as if he throws away the values and ideals that made him want to become a superhero and therefore the movie isn’t about superheroes anymore and turns into a bloody revenge flick with costumed vigilantes.

The acting is very good in this one.  All of the actors look as if they’re having a great time with the material.  Especially Chloe Grace Moretz who walks off with the movie in her back pocket.   She’s got such acting confidence it’s awesome to watch her work.  She’s just that good.  Nicholas Cage surprisingly isn’t in the movie as much as you might think from the trailers and ads but his character is a pivotal one and the acting choice he makes while playing Big Daddy brought howls of laughter and claps of appreciation from the audience I saw the movie with.  And this is the first movie in a long time where Cage actually turns in a performance and doesn’t just fall back on doing Elvis.  Between KICK-ASS and “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” we just may be seeing a Nicholas Cage who’s starting to give a damn about his acting again.

Aaron Johnson is an actor I’m not familiar with but he brings a sweet Peter Parker-ish vibe to his character.  He is so unsuited to being a superhero it’s almost sad but there’s something about the way he continues on being Kick-Ass even after he quite graphically experiences the dangers and violence of the gig that makes you root for him anyway.  Clark Duke and Evan Peters are there strictly for comic relief and they do their jobs with intelligence, skill and as such get most of the movie’s biggest laughs.

So should you see KICK-ASS?  It’s not exactly what I would call a fun superhero movie but it is extremely well made and well acted.  It makes for a good Saturday night double feature with “Watchmen” The folks who worked on this movie didn’t insult my intelligence and I appreciate that.  Netflix and enjoy.

117 minutes

Rated R: For graphic language and violence.  And I do mean graphic with a capital G.  Just because it’s got a bunch of people jumping around in costumes and looking they’re having fun don’t think this is made for the kiddies.  This is a movie made for adults.

X-Men: First Class


2011

20th Century Fox

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Produced by Gregory Goodman, Simon Kinberg, Lauren Shuler Donner and Bryan Singer

Screenplay by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn

Story by Sheldon Turner and Bryan Singer

Based on “X-Men” characters created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Chris Claremont

In the interest of full disclosure I should let you know how I feel about The X-Men before I jump into this review.  Only because once you know where I’m coming from you’ll understand why I didn’t have a problem with this movie and indeed, enjoyed it a lot.  In fact, I liked it just as much as “X2” and “X-Men Origins:Wolverine”.  But we’ll get into that in a bit.  First off:

I like the movie incarnation of The X-Men much more than the comic book version.  And I speak as someone who has read and enjoyed the comic book since the 70’s.  It’s just that the whole “hated and feared by a world they’ve sworn to protect” thing makes more sense when The X-Men inhabit a world where it’s just humans and mutants.  It’s harder to buy when The X-Men exist in a world with a couple of thousand other super beings.  Personally, if I lived in The Marvel Universe I’d be more worried about Reed Richards having his own private doorway to a hostile universe in midtown Manhattan than mutants.  But that’s just me.

In any case, I didn’t have a problem with this rebooting of the movie X-Men universe mainly because it’s well done and doesn’t violate the spirit of the X-Men concept.  Particularly the Professor X/Magneto relationship which is the heart of this movie and if we don’t buy their relationship, we’re not going to buy the whole human/mutant conflict.  Yeah, there’s some serious tweaking of the traditional X-Men origin done here along with the line-up of original X-Men, the “First Class” of the title but not enough to prohibit my enjoyment of what is a pretty good superhero movie.  It’s no “Thor” but it was worth my time and money.

In separate storylines we’re introduced to Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) who are both mutants with extraordinary power.  Charles is the most powerful telepath on the planet while Erik can create and manipulate magnetic fields.  But while Charles has enjoyed a life of wealth and privilege, Erik has only known terror, pain, sorrow and loss, beginning with the murder of his mother in a World War II concentration camp.  Surviving The Holocaust and growing to adulthood still not in full control of his abilities, Erik begins a worldwide hunt for Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) a mutant himself with energy absorbing powers.

In the meantime, Charles is contacted by Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne), a CIA agent investigating The Hellfire Club which she learns is a mutant organization, led by Shaw and his right hand henchwoman Emma Frost (January Jones).  Moira can’t get anybody in the CIA to believe her except for The Man In Black (Oliver Platt) who offers Charles and Moira his facility to find other mutants to combat Shaw.

In short order, Charles locates Angel (Zoe Kravitz) Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones) Darwin (Edi Gathegi) and Havok (Lucas Till).  Along with the shape shifter Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) Hank McCoy, the supergenius who will soon be known as The Beast and Erik, they form the First Class of X-Men.  They move to the Xavier family mansion in Westchester where they live, work and train together to control and hone their powers. And this class has one hell of a final test: prevent World War III as Sebastian Shaw and his Hellfire Club are working behind the scenes to manipulate events to bring about The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS almost lost me in the first ten minutes because there’s such a huge plot hole that I couldn’t believe none of the four screenwriters plugged it.  But thanks to the directing of Matthew Vaughn, he keeps the story cracking along so well that after a while, I forgot all about the plot hole until after the movie was over.  Whoever cast January Jones as Emma Frost should be fired.  Her acting style is fine for the TV show “Mad Men” where her character is supposed to be emotionally repressed.  But it doesn’t suit the character of Emma Frost at all.  Now if they’d gotten Christina Hendricks to play Emma Frost…(Insert Derrick’s Hottie Growl © 2007 Derrick Ferguson)

Except for her, the other actors are really good, especially James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender who really have great chemistry and make us believe in the friendship between these two men who have such different dreams for their people.  Kevin Bacon is dynamite as Sebastian Shaw and there’s something to be said for the fact that even though he’s the bad guy, his point of view is ultimately proved to be the right one.  I saw Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone” which was one of the most disappointing movies I’ve ever seen but I liked her performance and I like her a lot more here.

The 1960’s setting is inspired and at times, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS plays like a ‘60’s spy movie with superpowers.  But it never fails to entertain.  If you’re a dedicated X-fan then the way the continuity of the team has been changed and in some cases downright ignored will no doubt infuriate you to no end.  But if you’re willing to relax and enjoy a really well-made superhero movie that is serious without being too dark and filled with solid performances and outstanding action sequences then you’ll most likely enjoy X-MEN: FIRST CLASS.  I certainly did.

PG-13

132 minutes