Teenage Kicks – Kick-Ass (2010) Review

Kick-Ass final movie posterCast your mind back to 2010 and the comic book film landscape was quite different from today. The early Spider-Man and X-Men films had proven that the medium was ripe for adaptation and studios had smelled the lucrative possibilities. The Marvel Cinematic Universe had started two years prior with Iron Man but had taken a misstep with the second attempt at an Incredible Hulk film, and DC was enjoying a lot of success in the wake of Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Into this mix came a little film based on a lesser known comic that gave the superhero genre a swift kick in the spandex pants.

Kick-Ass is simultaneously a love letter and a giant middle-finger to the world of comic book superheroes. It charts the tragically mundane life of hormonal teenager Dave Lizewski, his journey to becoming masked crime-fighter Kick-Ass, and what happens when he gets in way over his head with the mob. It’s a story that feels very much grounded in our modern reality, with Kick-Ass finding fame thanks to YouTube and answering requests through Myspace, the latter feeling a little dated nowadays but substitute it for a Facebook page and it fits in nicely. It shares a small amount of its DNA with Watchmen which posed the question of what the classic superheroes would be like if they were real people. Kick-Ass is about real-life superheroes too, but it answers it in an entirely different way.

As opposed to the thoughtful slow-burn of Watchmen, Kick-Ass approaches its story with a bundle of exuberant energy and then some. It just throws you in and bounds along from there. The pacing is one of its strengths and there’s something different happening every few minutes. Like a sped-up version of those rides at historical museums, you’re never shown anything for too long and you’re always moving forward. This exuberance is best appreciated in the fight sequences which are often punctuated by thumping popular music; they start off realistic and quickly turn outrageous to the point where they’re on the verge of utter baloney. They’re also wildly entertaining…as long as you can stomach the violence, and those of a queasy disposition should be glad that director Matthew Vaughn didn’t adapt the comic panel-for-panel. Kick-ass mirror This all exudes a teenage sensibility that grates from time to time. Profanity is applied liberally throughout the dialogue so much so that it loses any sense of comedic impact to the point where every character is just chronically foul-mouthed. Swearing can be done creatively (see In The Loop) but it’s juvenile in the hands of Vaughn and Millar. Their characters fare better though. Aaron Taylor-Johnson mixes naivety and optimism to make Dave a likeable lead and Nicolas Cage is perfect in a role that requires him to be off-kilter, in and out of his Big Daddy persona.

Kick-Ass is undoubtedly a fun ride while you’re in it, but once it comes to an end it leaves some niggling issues. It’s caught between two worlds in more ways than one. From the start it seems to be a realistic look at an every-kid trying to be a hero, but in its final act it takes off the shackles and goes full comic-fantasy, indulging in what it seemed to be railing against. The same is true in its approach to violence. There are dire consequences for beating up people that come to a head in quite a disturbing scene heavily inspired by the way terrorists use the internet, but the film still delights in lopping limbs and spilling blood in an entirely playful way. The film wants us to get behind the ‘good-guys’ as they slaughter their way through a small army of thugs, shedding more blood than the mob in the process. Double standards much?

If you can find your inner teenage boy – and many of us still have easy access to him – you’ll like Kick-Ass. I know I still do. It’s a film that is raucous, brash, and completely unapologetic about being so, but it doesn’t quite get away with it. It’s weirdly summarised in the line from Lizewski’s narration, “With no power, comes no responsibility. Except that wasn’t true”. You can go all-out and over-the-top if you want, but it might just leave a sour taste in the mouth once you’re done.

B-Team America – The Interview (2014) Review

141219_EM_InterviewI have a soft spot for thematic trilogies. The possibility that three films in a director’s filmography, when put side by side will enrich each other based on their concurrent themes, is a tantalising prospect. It’s one that invites you to revisit films you may have seen many times, and view them from a different perspective, gaining something altogether different. I don’t think I’ll gain a new perspective on The Interview years down the line, but I do see it as the third entry in an arguably very loose Rogen-Franco bromance trilogy, the first entries being Pineapple Express and This Is the End.

The difference this time is that the familiar element is dressed up as a satirical action-comedy where our two star-crossed lovers are Dave Skylark and Aaron Rapaport, the presenter and producer of a trashy talk-show, who are tasked with assassinating Kim Jong-un. As I’m sure you know, this very idea has caused Sony to be the victim of a hacking attack with the perpetrators attempting to stop the release of the film entirely. The vehemence of this response implies a film with an acerbic edge that holds nothing back in its ridicule of the North Korean leader and his dictatorship. Sadly for those of us who enjoy that kind of biting humour, there is very little of it to be found in The Interview, and one could almost wonder just what did Kim Jong-un take such offence to? Maybe he just doesn’t like Katy Perry that much.

I’m being a bit facetious but it’s hard not to be a little disappointed, what with all the hype that’s being going on in the past few months. Instead of the satire you get a crap-ton of below-the-belt jokes, most seemingly revolving around rear ends, but the crudeness is dispensed with such juvenile glee that you might find yourself giggling even though you clearly know better. The opening scenes where we’re treated to segments from Skylark Tonight set the film up nicely with fantastic straight-faced cameos from Eminem and Rob Lowe. From here the film seems to stutter, both in humour and pacing, and it’s not until the supreme leader appears that things start to pick up again.

The Interview tank

By far the best comedic performance in the film comes from Randall Park, who humanizes Kim Jong-un to hilarious effect. The film knows that it is in essence a bromance movie and puts a fun little spin on the formula as dictator and presenter spend a day shooting some hoops, driving a tank, partying with hookers and end up becoming best buds. Franco is clearly having the time of his life in these scenes, and every scene in fact, and his Skylark is a great blend of idiotic energy and sincere innocence, just right for the tone of the film. By contrast Rogen seems a bit lost, perhaps getting more comfortable behind the camera as he co-directs with Evan Goldberg. He’s needed for the bromance but comes off bland in the wake of Franco’s ample pizzazz.

By the time the eponymous interview comes, the film finds its feet again and launches into an enjoyable and surprisingly measured action finale. Without the back and forth bickering of its leads there’s a sense of purpose and the comedic moments – mostly callbacks to earlier pieces of dialogue – are much funnier delivered in this way, particularly the gruesome but still hilarious pay-off to all those Lord of the Rings references.

The Interview is good but nothing brilliant, competently made but lacking in real laughs. It’s premise promises so much but it was probably wiser to dial down expectations given the team involved. It does score points for its uniqueness though and can be enjoyed partly because of that. I mean, where else are you going to see an explosion set to the strains of Katy Perry’s Firework? Certainly not in North Korea.