Kick-Ass

 ★★★★★ 

Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a comic book geek who wonders why no-one tries to be like the heroes he reads about. He soon finds out the painful truth when he decides to try, as Kick-Ass, and ends up with vicious crime boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) out for his head.

Since the superhero genre revolution took off properly with Spider-Man, mainstream cinema seems to have been aimed purely at kids, with even Die Hard 4.0 and Terminator: Salvation retooling once adult franchises for teens. Maybe 2010 will see that put right with The Losers, The Expendables and The A-Team all to look forward to and hopefully not pulling punches. The irony is the bar has already been set by a superhero movie! Kick-Ass, based on Mark Millar’s hilarious comic, is astonishingly violent and ready-made to cause some healthy controversy. Yet it is equally entertaining and has bags of substance. Despite being a parody of superheroes, it feels fresh and original throughout. This is Shaun of the Dead for costumed freaks and similarly destined to be a modern geek classic. The trailer sets you up without revealing just how layered the film is.

It starts like a typical teen superhero story, with Dave and his friends wondering why no-one tries to be a super-hero. One more mugging later, Dave is determined to prove it can be done and so dresses up to go out and make a difference. He is quickly brought down to earth with a shocking failure in his first half-arsed attempt to stop car thieves. Nevertheless, he ends up with dead nerve-endings and a metal pins (Wolverine?) throughout his body meaning he can take a beating. So he can’t resist trying again and through no small amount of blind luck, ends up on the Internet as Kick-Ass, in the first of several sharp digs at modern media (later a TV news report has to end a live broadcast because it is too shocking, despite it being uncensored on the web!). Fame and cheap merchandising quickly follow, despite him being nothing more than an enthusiastic idiot.

That brings him to the fascinated attention of a two proper, highly skilled heroes who keep a low profile at odds with their costumes. Big Daddy is a Batman figure, possibly harder actually, while his 12 year old highly trained daughter Hit Girl is simply like nothing you have ever seen before. Your jaw will drop at the petite foul-mouthed killer who can clear a room of thugs without breaking a sweat! Her fight scenes are incredibly inventive and bloody, without resorting to the silliness of Wanted, also based on a Mark Millar comic, and the finale is simply glorious, introduced by Elvis Presley no less on the cool soundtrack. Matthew Vaughn brilliantly handles all the threads with an inventive and confident style, featuring an animated comic sequence and one fantastic moment from a first person shooter perspective, yet never loses focus of the central theme.

While it is very funny, the witty story, full of comic book references, also has a conscience and a clear sense of mortality and bears comparison with Alan Moore’s Watchmen. The violence isn’t really gratuitous (well, not much!) because it forces both Dave and the audience to realise the sobering cost of what he’s trying to do. This is supported by a great cast of well defined characters, anchored by Mark Strong’s Frank and Nicholas Cage. Normally he brings a dose of insanity to relatively normal characters, but here he softens Big Daddy, who is clearly nuts, with subtle honesty. Cage has been turning into a self-parody for years, but he is superb here and gracious in his performance alongside sparky Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl. That Superbad’s McLovin, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, as Red Mist and Aaron Johnson as Dave aren’t lost in the mix is testament to both their performances and the finely balanced plot. There’s even room for a sub-plot as Dave pretends to be gay to get close to dream girl, Lyndsey Fonseca.

For me the defining superhero films are Superman, The Dark Knight and The Incredibles. Kick-Ass can easily sit alongside them. I’m just not sure that the teenagers are going to be happy settling for Tony Stark, because Iron Man 2 is already looking dated!

Very Bad Things

 ★★★☆☆ 

Five friends go to Vegas on a stag do (sorry! “Bachelor” party). An accident results in a dead hooker and soon the bodies pile up as their lives disintegrate.

I really don’t know what to say about this one. Third time I’ve watched it, still laugh like a drain, but it could be the most depraved mainstream film you could see. I have no idea what it’s actually about, except maybe a commentary on being trapped in the suburb rat race? Whatever. Doesn’t matter. It’s gory in places and bloody. Bloody funny too!

The five guys are played by some of the best character actors around today, including Jeremy Piven, who’s had to wait for Entourage for his talents as a motormouth to be recognised, but he’s in full flight here. Also stars the other classic motormouth, Christian Slater at his best, channelling Nicholson, and Jon Favreau putting a twist on his own Swingers character. I’m sure Peter Berg knew exactly what he was doing just two years after Favreau’s great debut. This could easily be a screwed up Swingers 2 and Favreau’s buddy Vince Vaughn would have fitted right in.

Screwed up doesn’t come close. It’s a sick puppy of film. Ok, there are a lot worse. It isn’t Hostel levels of gore, but dressed up as a romantic comedy? Not many. Wedding Crashers via Shallow Grave perhaps? Plus it has no moral compass what so ever and none of these characters are redeemable. If it wasn’t for the quick-fire dialogue (it’s very talky) and blacker than black gags, it would be utterly depressing, like the current torture porn trend. But it is funny, so that’s alright then. I think.

It’s got some fantastic set pieces, like the initial accident and the mini-van argument. It has some great lines, especially from the neurotic Cameron Diaz, constantly blackmailing Favreau, her groom. ”Stick him in the crapper and get your ass upstairs!”

It does start off like Shallow Grave on speed and resolves with similar issues, but continues to descend into complete depravity until the final scene, which may make your jaw drop in astonishment at the audacity.

I like it, so obviously I have some issues I need to talk through and get to a happy place. That’s the sort of advice Slater’s character would give anyway. You’ll need a shower after watching this film and remember, if you laugh, you’re sick.