Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Why is Matthew Vaughn's KICK-ASS so god-damned liberating? Some thoughts...

Been thinking about KICK-ASS -- the would-be, not-quite, super-hero movie directed and co-written by Matthew Vaughn -- since my partner and I were thoroughly blown away by it a few weeks ago, after sticking the Blu-Ray into the machine and settling back for what we hoped would be, at least, a little fun. We knew that the film had been roundly fulminated against by many critics for its inappropriate violence (in the person of a pre-pubescent girl: goodness!) and that it had not set the box-office on fire, despite coming in first at the ticket-wickets when it made its theatrical debut last April. At the end of our nearly two-hour viewing (which seemed more like one quick sixty minutes), we turned to each other simultaneously, our eyes alight as though we had just seen -- super-hero-wise -- not simply the second coming, but the first.  We have not had this much fun at a mainstream movie in ages, and we felt, well... liberated.

How in hell (or heaven) did Mr. Vaughn, shown at right, achieve this?  And why, for goodness sake, were not more of the critical establishment and movie-going public plying his work with Hosannas? Vaughn's biggest accomplishment is capturing the right tone for the film and shepherding it through to the end. While I know nothing about the specific comic book series on which the film is said to be based, I do remember well the comics of my youth -- and also remember their panels of rather extreme violence during the 1950s and beyond (the subject of some U.S. Congressional hearings, as I recall). It's this very violence that Vaughn and his cast and crew tackle head-on, turn inside out and then, by some alchemy, give back to us in a manner that is actually liberating.

"Liberating?"  My own daughter, Laura, who happened to love the movie, too (the 30-something generation speaks!) was surprised, but thought about that word for a moment and then agreed.  "Yes," she said, "I can see what you mean."

The movie's chief alchemist in regards to this liberating violence is the young thirteen-year-old (twelve when the movie was filmed) actress Chloe Moretz. Ms Moretz, shown at left and below, is so perfect in this role -- in terms of age, acting ability, sense of humor, range of emotion and more -- that viewers cannot take their eyes off her for an instant. Nor would they want to.  (What a shame that the filmmakers of the American version of the Millenium trilogy could not have postponed filming a couple of years so that Moretz could play Lisbeth Salander.) The actress' purity, together with her character's sense of right & wrong, and Moretz/Vaughn's ability to put this to physical use, gives her actions an almost angelic "rightness" -- while the "wrongness" of those actions, on another level, offers a delectable, unique disparity .

This results in a movie-going experience that is original -- and then some. Consequently we don't just accept everything Chloe/Mindy/Hit-Girl does, we relish it -- and in about as guilt-free a fashion as possible.  (Not to mention that all her "victims" are murderers and/or creeps.)

If the other four characters who make up the bulk of the film are not quite up to Moertz's level (who could be?), they are excellent in their own right and limned with skill by some consummate actors -- young and older. Mark Strong (playing Frank D'Amico, about to be popped by Moretz, two photos above, and at right, just above) makes a fine and irredeemable villain. What adds interest to his role and character is that Frank has his own offspring, Chris, played by the delightfully daffy/savvy Christopher Mintz-Plass (above, left, of Superbad and Role Models), who gives his character a nice touch of mystery. Is he or isn't he as bad as his dad?

In the title role (above, and doubling as nerdy high-schooler Dave Lizewski, below, center) is Britisher Aaron Johnson, who, though he can do "nerd" with the best of them, is clearly drop-dead gorgeous and for whom I predict a very big career.  The actor, charming as hell, is able to play his would-be hero role to the hilt, while slowly leaving his nerdy self behind and growing into something more powerful and mature.  His rooftop scene with Moretz at the finale should give you pleasurable goosebumps.

Finally there is Nicolas Cage, below, an (over)actor I am usually happy to miss.  But here, in the role of Moretz's gone-crazy dad, everything that rubs me the wrong way about this performer is used so well that I'm ready to cry uncle.  Cage hasn't been this much fun -- or on-target -- in years.

In addition to providing wonderful fun, great action sequences and some genuine emotion, Vaughn includes one scene that should have audiences holding their collective breath.  It's a torture sequence being shown live over the internet and broadcast via TV that tightrope-walks its way into history. Creepy, funny, horrible, enjoyable and even shocking, it hits us just about everywhere -- and in every way -- that we live right now.

I hope I've said enough to send those of you (who imagined Kick-Ass to be some johnny-come-lately, super/action hero mistake) off to the video store or to Netflix to have a look.  As to the proposed sequel that is said to be in the offing, I'm of two minds.  Given how the movie ends, I want one. Desperately. On the other hand, how could it possibly be as much joyous, freeing fun?

Kick-Ass comes to us via the getting-ever-better, commercially-smarter-than-not, and currently our biggest independent studio: Lionsgate.  So stay the fuck away from the "gate," you sleazy Icahns!  (Perhaps a nasty father-son/corporate-raider team could be the villains of the sequel?)

No comments: