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Kick-Ass Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

Kick-Ass movie poster Kick-Ass

Theatrical Release: April 16, 2010 / Running Time: 118 Minutes / Rating: R / Songs List

Director: Matthew Vaughn / Writers: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn (screenplay); Mark Millar, John S. Romita Jr. (comic book)

Cast: Aaron Johnson (Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Chris D'Amico/Red Mist), Mark Strong (Frank D'Amico), Chlo Grace Moretz (Mindy Macready/Hit Girl), Omari Hardwick (Sergeant Marcus Williams), Xander Berkeley (Detective Vic Gigante), Michael Rispoli (Big Joe), Clark Duke (Marty), Lyndsy Fonseca (Katie Deauxma), Evan Peters (Todd), Garrett M. Brown (Mr. Lizewski), Corey Johnson (Sporty Goon), Dexter Fletcher (Cody), Jason Flemyng (Lobby Goon), Randall Batinkoff (Tre Fernandez), Nicolas Cage (Damon Macready/Big Daddy), Sophie Wu (Erika Cho), Johnny Hopkins (1st Gang Kid), Ohene Cornelius (2nd Gang Kid), Yancy Butler (Angie D'Amico), Stu Riley (Huge Goon), Joe Bacino (Posh Goon), Kofi Natei (Rasul), Deborah Twiss (Mrs. Zane), Elizabeth McGovern (Mrs. Lizewski), Craig Ferguson (Himself)

Buy Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy from Amazon.com Buy on DVD from Amazon.com


and Kelvin Cedeno

Kick-Ass looks to turn the superhero genre on its head. It's not the first film in recent years to try this, nor should it be. We are in the midst of cinema's most lucrative age of superheroism. The most profitable technique is the same it has been for over thirty years: take a character everyone knows from practically every medium out there, sink a considerable amount of money into production and marketing, come away with a handsome, exciting spectacle that plays to every demographic and human fancy. The biggest moneymakers, from 1978's Superman to 2002's Spider-Man to the Batman movies of Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan, all fit this bill.

Alongside these crowd-pleasers, a few notable works have sought to win over audiences with different approaches. Pixar's The Incredibles channeled superhero lore into a comedic family adventure. In its better half, Hancock, starring Will Smith, reconceived the present-day hero as an unpopular jerk in need of a PR campaign. Watchmen dealt us an oddly linked group of freaks in an alternate 1985. And now, Kick-Ass presents self-made superheroes as young as eleven. Like the big boys, Kick-Ass has its roots in comic books (published by Marvel's creator-friendly Icon brand), but only dating back to 2008.

Average teenager Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) orders a wetsuit and calls himself a superhero. Former cop Damon Macready (Nicolas Cage) has made some questionable choices while raising his pigtailed preteen daughter Mindy (Chlo Grace Moretz) in an atmosphere of violence.

Hormonal New York teenager Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) and his friends love comic books. That helps earn them geek status and leaves them to merely drool at the opposite sex (or fantasize into a tissue). But Dave doesn't have girls or popularity in mind
when he hatches an idea for an ungifted ordinary guy to appoint himself a superhero and serve the greater good. His friends shoot down the notion, but Dave secretly follows it through. He orders a scuba diving wetsuit, pairs it with rubber gloves and a pair of batons, names himself Kick-Ass, and gets critically stabbed by a couple of alley hoods.

The numbing nerve damage of the incident remains the extent of Kick-Ass' powers, but Dave persists in costumed anonymous vigilantism and ends up becoming a YouTube phenomenon and national news figure, picking up several thousand friends on Kick-Ass' official MySpace page. The amplified attention catches the eyes of a less conspicuous, more cautious father-daughter vigilante team named Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chlo Grace Moretz). Viewers receive backstory on this insanely armed familial duo, learning what drew them into action and who they're after now.

At high school, Dave maintains his natural unassuming persona, even pretending to be gay to develop a close, special friendship with his hot dream girl Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca). Meanwhile, his alter ego becomes involved in Big Daddy and Hit Girl's vengeful war on wealthy crime lord Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong). D'Amico's lonely, spoiled teen son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) also becomes a part of the family business, transforming himself into a publicized new glam superhero called Red Mist.

Mark Strong claims another prominent action villain role, but will it improve his recognizability or just add Stanley Tucci to Andy Garcia as actors he's mistaken for? Katie Deauxma (Lyndsy Fonseca), the Mary Jane of this universe, is surprised by her gay BFF's major revelations.

A movie calling itself Kick-Ass carries an air of provocation which the film more than lives up to. Its opening scene, like its initial teaser, features a grand misdirect where a self-made superhero taking flight is in fact a caped mentally ill man falling to his death. That sets the tone for what is to come: a steady flow of profanity including a pre-teen girl dropping both unbroadcastable C-words, a disturbed father shooting at his daughter for sport, a human microwave, and one of the most extensively violent climaxes ever committed to film. The intended reaction appears to be enthusiastic approval; whoops, applause and exclamations of "sick" in the favorable sense.
That is largely the kind of response the movie received, earning a ranking in the middle of the IMDb's Top 250 from the site's predominantly teen male audience and enough positive reviews from professional critics for a certified fresh tomato.

That degree of appreciation isn't hard to understand. The combination of carnage, swearing, sex, comic books, superheroes, and teens is loaded with appeal for a sizable audience. Few mainstream movies dare to provide such a blend, let alone with competent filmmakers and genuine edge. For me, the shock value and sensationalism prove to be the film's undoing as piece of storytelling. I saw and knew enough going in to expect harsh content and I've seen too many movies to consider myself a prude of any sort. Endurance and open-mindedness were never in question, not during the film's first brush with major brutality (an all-out, limb-slicing assault on a drug dealer's apartment) or after. Throughout, weighing the good with the bad, I was content to stay hooked. Then comes the perhaps inevitable bloodbath finale, with which everything falls apart.

Director Matthew Vaughn impressed me with his last film, the fine fantasy Stardust. Like that one (adapted from Neil Gaiman's book), Vaughn has scripted Kick-Ass with writing partner Jane Goldman. The two of them bring real talent to the production, which the material doesn't seem to deserve. Kick-Ass plays like a well-crafted version of pulpy senseless fantasy, more in line with Vaughn's first directorial effort (Layer Cake) and the like-minded Guy Ritchie capers (Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) he produced.

Kick-Ass doesn't disappoint because it's vulgar and unflinching. It disappoints because it doesn't reveal any reason to be those things, beyond appealing to savage tastes. Do some young people use filthy language around the clock? Sure. Did they do that in the Mark Millar-written, John Romita Jr.-illustrated comics on which the movie is based? I have no reason to think otherwise. Do either of those facts make it more pleasant to watch that? Not really. And no amount of sympathetic exposition or reproachable villainy can make the heroic murder sprees of the film condonable or enjoyable.

I can appreciate that the film seeks to bridge the real contemporary teenage existence with the kind enjoyed alongside an empowering radioactive spider bite. And it gets a fair amount of things right, sparing us school cliques and standby squabbles for more palpable motivations. It displays proficience in acting, photography, editing, and design. Why then must it end with such a routinely implausible climax, undermining its earlier good senses, encouraging and rewarding sadism, dangerously glorifying imitable youth violence, and further desensitizing even the most jaded of moviegoers? I don't think anyone has the answers, not the makers, not those who exalt the film for its boldness and originality, and certainly not me.

Red Mist contacts Kick-Ass in the method preferred by 21st century superheroes: MySpace messaging. Foul-mouthed, purple-haired, 11-year-old killing machine Hit Girl (Chlo Grace Moretz) takes center stage in the film's deadly climax.

Accompanied by considerable buzz, Kick-Ass was expected to become one of the year's big off-season hits. Proving that Internet hype doesn't always translate to real revenue, the movie needed some creative calculation to eke out a #1 opening over DreamWorks' enduring How to Train Your Dragon in its fourth weekend. Though Kick-Ass wound up being less front-loaded than the more expensive prior R-rated comic adaptation (Zack Snyder's Watchmen) and it easily cleared its modest $30 million budget, its $48 million domestic tally (now matched by foreign grosses) was at the low end of industry expectations. The performance wasn't even enough to put the movie among mini-major distributor Lionsgate's top ten all-time high grossers, a meager list that includes four Tyler Perry movies and four chapters of the Saw saga.

While a sequel to the original comic book (subtitled Balls to the Wall) is definitely coming, a film version has not yet been officially greenlit, despite IMDb's strangely specific entry (run time: 120 minutes) for 2012.

On Tuesday, Kick-Ass becomes Lionsgate's first Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo. Whether this 3-disc collection is setting a precedent for the studio or is merely a waters-testing experiment remains to be seen.

Buy Kick-Ass: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Details

2.40:1 Widescreen; Blu-ray: DTS-HD 7.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French),
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Closed Captioned
Release Date: August 3, 2010
Three single-sided discs (BD-50, DVD-5 & DVD-5 DVD-ROM)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Standalone DVD

VIDEO and AUDIO

Kick-Ass comes to Blu-ray in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The results, while not perfect, are quite good. The image is regularly detailed and exhibits fine film grain. No print flaws are to be found here. More noticeable are examples of video noise and crushed blacks. This may stem from the source as the color timing is extremely bright and saturated. Its a very pleasing transfer with eye-popping colors to be sure, but some home theater enthusiasts may find the noise disappointing.

The 7.1 DTS HD track, however, is flawless. Action movies of this sort make for excellent showpieces, and this film in particular is mixed in a heightened, almost cartoonish way. Gun shots are many and can be heard throughout the surrounds along with vast explosives and uncountable punches. Even lower key elements like high school ambience are presented in a believable, enveloping way. The dialogue is clean and intelligible, and the music, while a bit loud at times, never overpowers other elements. This is a reference-quality soundtrack.

Naturally, the DVD's quality is comparable. No major issues hinder either picture or sound, both satisfying as much as (if not more than) most standard-def releases of new movies do.

We get a glimpse of the Mist Mobile behind the scenes as final film footage plays in the corner via "Ass-Kicking Bonus View Mode." During the "Pushing Boundaries" segment of the Blu-ray's feature-length documentary, director Matthew Vaughn reveals how he came to the project via collaboration with comic writer Mark Millar.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Unlike Lionsgate's first Blu-ray + DVD (Jackie Chan's The Spy Next Door) and most other studios' combo packs, this one compares to Warner's in that the DVD here is a stripped-down version of the disc sold on its own. All the bonus features on this set are exclusive to the Blu-ray Disc.

First among the Blu-ray's impressive collection of hi-def bonus material is the "Ass-Kicking Bonus View Mode." While it at first appears to be a Picture-in-Picture track, it actually turns out to be a separately encoded video feature that defies expectations. Instead of the film taking up the majority of the frame while bonus content is contained in a window, the behind-the-scenes footage takes center stage while the relevant film footage plays in the bottom right corner.
Director Matthew Vaughn dominates as we watch him record his commentary on the film. Every now and then, a sound bite from a cast or crew member cuts in, and plenty of on-set footage is showcased throughout. Amazingly, very little of what's presented here overlaps with the other supplements, making this a valuable and fascinating feature.

Next up is Vaughn's audio commentary. He's quite an engaging speaker, honestly discussing the challenges of juggling the film's light and dark elements and pointing out what he feels doesn't quite work. Many revealing anecdotes emerge about the production, its small budget, and the trouble finding a distributor. While Vaughn's comments are the same that make up most of the Bonus View Mode presentation, here they are heard in full without the intrusion of interview snippets from other key players.

The other BD-exclusive besides the Bonus View Mode is a doozy: the 113-minute documentary "A New Kind of Superhero: The Making of Kick-Ass." This is broken up into four segments. The first, "Pushing Boundaries" (13:21), discusses the origins of the story. We find out how the film treatment and original comic were more or less simultaneously born and how they differ from one another.

Actress Chlo Moretz and fight coordinator Peng Zhang practice some stretching techniques before going over a fight routine in "Let's Shoot This F**ker!" "Kick-Ass" cast and crew members are more than pleased with the Comic-Con crowd's reaction to a clip. From left to right, they are director Matthew Vaughn, screenwriter Jane Goldman, comic authors Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., and actors Clarke Duke and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

"Let's Shoot this F**ker!" (52:07) takes up the bulk of the documentary and focuses on production. The cast's assembly is explored with glimpses of actors' training. What makes this section most interesting is the look at some of the live rehearsal animatics used to map out how certain action sequences would be presented. Other subjects include production and costume design and how those correlate with specific characters and themes.

"Tempting Fate" (9:38) looks briefly at the editing process before delving into the Kick-Ass 2009 Comic-Con panel. While the full panel unfortunately isn't shown, clips of Vaughn's introduction to the early footage and the audience's reaction afterwards are provided. We then follow the filmmakers as they search for a distributor, a difficult task given the unflinching subject matter at hand.

The documentary wraps with "All Fired Up!" (37:54). This covers some of the digital effects work done for the film, including an expository sequence told in comic book form. More time is devoted to the music and figuring out what scenes need lyrical songs and what need orchestral score. Everything concludes with footage from the world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. Overall, this comprehensive documentary is one of the best of its kind, addressing pretty much every aspect of filmmaking in an upfront and honest way.

"It's On! The Comic Book Origin of 'Kick-Ass'" shows the original Kick-Ass and Hit Girl appropriately blood-splattered as envisioned by John Romita Jr. Joined by several crew members, Aaron Johnson in full Kick-Ass gear dangles from wires in a front of later-to-be-added skyline in a photo from the "Taking Flight" gallery.

"It's On! The Comic Book Origin of Kick-Ass" (20:35) has a similar vibe to the opening section of the big documentary, but deals exclusively with the comic, rather than its relation to the film.
Writer Mark Millar and artist John Romita Jr. are the key speakers here, talking about how much of their own experiences and thoughts they injected the story. They also discuss the controversial violence and how it compares to both real life and other comics. It's a thorough and satisfying look at how the comic came to be.

"The Art of Kick-Ass" is a collection of still galleries. The first, "Storyboards," is broken up into seven smaller ones: "Epic Fall" (7 stills), "Mindy & Damon" (3), "Kick-Ass vs. Thugs" (9), "Hit Girl vs. Guards" (6), "Air Assault" (12), "Taking Flight" (7), and "Coda" (14). The other major galleries include "Costumes" (14 stills), "On-Set Photography" (77), "Production Design" (6), and "John Romita Jr. Art for the Film" (38). While the costumes and production design galleries feel a bit skimpy, the collection of artwork and photography still impresses on the whole.

The final bonus feature section is the Marketing Archive. It contains the theatrical trailer (2:29), a red-band Hit Girl trailer (1:15), and galleries for the "North American Campaign" (22 stills) and "International Campaign" (7). It's pretty rare for trailers to show up on their movie's disc, and it's even rarer for print publicity materials, so this section is most welcome.

The combo's third disc is nothing but a DVD-ROM carrying digital copies of the film for computer and portable device viewing.

The mold for Nicolas Cage's Big Daddy mask is one of the photos included in "The Art of Kick-Ass." Red Mist gets his turn on the DVD's animated main menu. Note the absence of a Bonus Features menu on the DVD included in the Blu-ray combo.

The Blu-ray's main menu sorts film clips and still character poses by theme, presenting them with a comic book half-tone dot effect and uplifting score. Pop-up menus open from the bottom up and expand to the right. Via BD-Live, the menu presents your city's name and current temperature, a digital clock with a second hand represented by small blue dots encircling the time, and a thin scroll of Lionsgate news. These features can be deactivated. The loading screen icon shows the four leads in their character poster poses gradually moving from black & white to color. The DVD's similar main menu rotates through the film's four superheroes, sans dot effect.

The three discs are packaged in a standard thin blue keepcase, which is joined by a cardboard slipcover whose greatest variance is featuring the cover's two additional character shots on the second spine. An insert promotes and explains Blu-ray, and another supplies the digital copy's code and instructions.

Nobody-turned-superhero Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson) is paid a house visit by Hit Girl (Chlo Grace Moretz) and her Big Daddy.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Kick-Ass wields promise as a post-postmodern take on superhero mythos. It's occasionally entertaining and usually gripping, but ultimately unfulfilling as it devolves into trashy Tarantino-inspired violence aimed at the basest desires of viewers.

The Blu-ray presents very good (though not quite perfect) picture with excellent audio and fantastic supplements highlighted by a nearly two-hour documentary. The one void on this front is a lack of deleted scenes, of which Matthew Vaughn has admitted 18 minutes or so exist. It's quite possible these are being saved for an extended cut. Still, at a time where Blu-ray releases are mostly made up of promotional fluff (and DVD releases even less), it's refreshing to get such an elaborate collection of bonus material.

More on the Blu-ray Combo / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy Standalone DVD / Buy the Comic Book

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Related Reviews:
Superhero Comedies: Hancock Defendor The Incredibles Sky High Freakazoid!: Season 1
Comic Book Adaptations: Iron Man Fantastic Four The Spirit Sin City The Tick vs. Season 1
From Director/Co-Writer Matthew Vaughn and Co-Writer Jane Goldman: Stardust
New: Operation: Endgame The Runaways Diary of a Wimpy Kid Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

The Cast of Kick-Ass:
Mark Strong: Sherlock Holmes Sunshine | Christopher Mintz-Plasse: Superbad | Clark Duke: Hot Tub Time Machine
Nicolas Cage: Ghost Rider Next Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans National Treasure Con Air

Kick-Ass Songs List (in order of use): The Prodigy - "Stand Up", Primal Scream - "Can't Go Back", The Little Ones - "There's a Pot Brewing", Zagreb Festival Orchestra - "The Barber of Seville Overture", The Prodigy - "Omen", Zongamin - "Bongo Song", The Dickies - "(Banana Splits) Tra La La Song", Wiener Philharmoniker - "Chi Mai Del Mio Provo Piacer Pi Dolce! (Act 2) Idomeneo", Ellie Goulding - "Starry Eyed", Sparks - "This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us", Gnarls Barkley - "Crazy", New York Dolls - "We're All in Love", Ennio Morricone - "Per Qualche Dollaro in Piu", Elvis Presley - "Battle Hymn of the Republic", Joan Jett and the Blackhearts - "Bad Reputation", Mika - "Kick Ass", The Pretty Reckless - "Make Me Wanna Die"

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Reviewed July 31, 2010.



Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2010 Lionsgate, Marv, and Lionsgate Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.