Kick-Ass [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (5th September 2010).
The Film

I can vividly recall the overwhelmingly positive response from the online geek community when “Kick-Ass” (2010) first started popping up at special screenings across the country. Fanboys chimed in on sites like Ain’t It Cool with reviews so immeasurably stocked with hyperbole and praise that I went against my own personal barometer and allowed my expectations to crescendo to an all-time high. I briefly reminded myself that the interwebs hadn’t reached a fever pitch like this since the infamous (thanks to a single line of dialogue) “Snakes on a Plane” (2006)… and we all know how that turned out. But I held firm on the promise that “Kick-Ass” would be far superior to that one-line pony. After all, superhero films are all the rage these days, so a property which eschews the superpowers and mega wealth of those costumed crusaders in favor of some normal teenaged kid with a vivid imagination and a zest for righting social wrongs sounded like a novel concept. The marketing and trailers further aided in buttressing my lofty expectations, so I was completely pumped and ready once the film finally hit multiplexes in April. However, upon leaving the theater I felt as though the promotional material had led me astray to some degree. Ostensibly, this film is about a character called Kick-Ass who decides to go out and (no pun intended) start kicking ass, but the truth is that his story consistently takes a back seat to the supporting characters around him. And despite the humorous tone of the trailers, this isn’t exactly what I’d consider a comedy – the film takes a decidedly harder edge with the material than it led most to believe. Though, I suppose if you’re a fan of the graphic novel you knew all of this ahead of time.

Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a high school nobody. He has no girlfriend, he’s practically invisible to women, and his limited social circle consists of a couple fellow geeks who like to hang out at the local comic book store. One day it occurs to him that no regular person has ever tried to be a superhero, and with no more incentive than that fact, he buys a costume and dubs himself “Kick-Ass”. His first outing of crime fighting, however, goes poorly and Dave winds up in the hospital, facing a long road to recovery. Lucky for him, his injuries left him with nerve damage and a skeleton full of metal – sort of like a neutered version of Wolverine, but without the benefit of being indestructible or having a healing factor. Determined, he goes back out into the city to build up his reputation and winds up becoming an internet sensation on YouTube after someone captures video of him defending one man against three. With Kick-Ass’s popularity hitting a major high, he’s eventually contacted by a duo that does some serious crime fighting: Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his pint-sized daughter, Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz). They have a plan to bring down local crime boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), the man responsible for killing Hit-Girl’s mother. Kick-Ass feels like he’s out of his league, but the appearance of another superhero, dubbed Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) gives him a sense of being part of something important, so he continues working under the guise of his alter ego. When D’Amico puts the word out that “being a superhero is hazardous to your health”, the group needs to quickly unite to take him down before he can do the same to them.

Though the star of the film may be Dave/Kick-Ass, the problem is that his story is the least compelling of all. True to the plot, Dave is a regular nobody, but just because he chooses to don a scuba suit and try fighting crime doesn’t give him the instant shot of charisma needed to carry the film. He’s introduced as a pathetic geek with no backbone and zero combat abilities. By the end of the film, I’m not entirely convinced that he possesses any of these attributes. I’ll paraphrase a quote from Big Daddy, but for someone who dubs himself “Kick-Ass”, Dave seems to spend just about the entire running time getting his ass kicked. Maybe this is simply a device meant to play into the perceived realism of the story, but too many elements are introduced that take us out of that reality and turn whole scenes into impossible fantasy. Dave in reality is a spineless nerd with serious self-esteem issues, so I have a hard time buying into the idea that once he slips on his costume he also sacks up and grows a pair of balls. There’s one scene in particular where he goes to a drug dealer named Rasul’s (Kofi Natei) house to confront him about leaving his current girl crush, Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca), alone. Now, it’s clearly evident as soon as he sets foot inside the apartment that he knows he’s going to be in a world of hurt, but he still makes an attempt to be threatening (an impossibility dressed in that outlandish costume). I just didn’t buy it, though. Dave seems like he’s of reasonably sound mind, and setting yourself up for a major beatdown against over half a dozen thugs just doesn’t jive with his implied sensibilities. But maybe that’s all part of his attempt to free himself of his boring persona – like some kind of catharsis. I see the attempt being made to mature his character - to break him free of his until-now boring existence – but after all is said and done I never felt like he achieved what was needed for his arc.

Let’s get to the REAL star of the film: Hit-Girl. Her scenes are so well-executed, so insanely entertaining and so memorable that whenever she isn’t on screen the film practically grinds to a halt until she returns. Moretz deserves all the accolades she’s been receiving for making this character one of the best I’ve seen in a film in years. You have to keep reminding yourself that this is an 11-year-old girl who can rattle off weapons specs just as quickly as she can slice a man’s arm off. Hit-Girl is given a rich backstory (thanks to a wonderfully animated sequence) that lays the groundwork for her motivation in becoming the best combat fighter of the film. Two sequences with her in particular, the warehouse raid and the raid on D’Amico’s place, are the film’s showstoppers. Nothing Kick-Ass does even comes close to matching the emotional punch both of these scenes pack. Now, some might recall that her character caused a bit of commotion when word came out that someone so young was performing some of the most violent acts seen on film this year, not to mention she curses like a sailor on shore leave. But these scenes are crucial to the role, and the over-the-top nature of much of the violence can’t honestly be taken seriously by anyone. I think most kids her age have already been exposed to more violence and language through television alone. It would be a stretch to assume any child would genuinely try to emulate what she does here. I hope that producer/creator Mark Millar can get his proposed sequel to this film off the ground simply because I desperately want to see some more of Hit-Girl.

Also managing to upstage our eponymous hero is Nicolas Cage as Big Daddy. We all know that there are two Nic Cage’s who operate in the world of film: Good Nic Cage, and Bad Nic Cage. Good Nic Cage makes film’s like “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” (2009), “Lord of War” (2005) and “The Weatherman” (2005). Bad Nic Cage has a list too long to reprint here, but I think many of us know the most flagrant offenders. I love when Cage decides to throw a little crazy into his roles, and the characters often come out all the better for it. Here, his Big Daddy looks like a Batman wannabe, and Cage even seems to throw a little Adam West into his performance as well. Big Daddy has been planning to take down D’Amico for years after he was framed for his wife’s murder by the crime boss, and he’s been responsible for training Hit-Girl. The scenes with the two of them together are often extremely violent, but there’s such a connection between he and Moretz that you can feel the love hanging so thick in the air. I’ve always been a fan of dark, twisted humor and their scenes are among the most uncomfortably funny. In particular, the scene where he trains Hit-Girl to get used to taking a bullet to the chest while wearing a vest stood out as being full of off-kilter comedy. I almost would have been happier to have an entire film focused solely on these two, but retaining Kick-Ass as a supporting player rather than the star.

Christopher Mintz-Plasse is his typical gangly, nerdy self as Red Mist, who also happens to be the son of D’Amico. He’s eager to follow in his dad’s footsteps, but it’s obvious he lacks the physical prowess to be even the slightest bit intimidating. But he does have smarts, and he hatches the plan needed to bring Kick-Ass (and Big Daddy and Hit-Girl) to his father as a showing of his loyalty and ability to carry on the family business. He’s got big shoes to fill, though, because Frank D’Amico is a larger-than-life character. I think Mark Strong is quickly becoming one of my favorite modern day character actors. He was one of the highlights of 2009’s “Sherlock Holmes” and he brings his best to this role. D’Amico, despite being the city’s biggest crime lord, is a family man. One of his early scenes had me in stitches as he cuts short torturing a suspected rat in this business to take his son to the movies. He’s sharp, swift and brutal, but he displays a darkly humorous side that Strong delivers with perfect timing.

The film strides a fine line between fantasy and reality. Much of what the main three crime fighters achieve seems like it could be done by a person with the right training, but once we get to the end of the film things start to venture into James Bond territory. And I’m talking about the later Roger Moore-era films here. Particularly, Kick-Ass’s arrival at D’Amico’s penthouse during the film’s climax was just a little too much for me. Some people think that’s one of the most awesome scenes in the film, but I thought it was ridiculous, and it also didn’t help that it was another of those “arrived just in the nick of time” moments that tend to annoy me. Just about every single action film has them, though, so I can’t give it too much heat. For all of the outrageous moments, and the lesser aspects of the film, this was still a lot of fun to see in theaters with an audience and I found that I enjoyed it just the same watching it for a second time at home.

Video

I was expecting “Kick-Ass” to sport a spectacular transfer on Blu-ray, but the 2.40:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image was less than perfect. For starters, the image seems to struggle with black levels. Rather than dark, inky shadows with a heavy contrast, the levels seemed to go gray more often than not. I started to think my settings were off, but it looks like it’s just the picture quality. The palette is all over the place, with some colors looking washed-out and anemic, while others appear to be too saturated, almost bleeding into the picture. This was all likely part of the artistic intent to give the film a more genuine comic book feel to it, but I wish they had decided to give the image a more consistent tone. On the plus side, the image is exquisitely detailed with a great deal of fine detail present throughout. The comic book store scene in particular feature an array of colors, characters and minutia that pack the frame with plenty of eye candy. There is a fine layer of grain which adds to the cinematic feel of the film without ever detracting form the picture of overwhelming it with noise. I think it could have been tightened up a bit more in post, but this is a mostly solid transfer for such a visual film.

Audio

I can tell you that the English DTS –HD Master Audio 7.1 surround sound track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit most certainly kicks ass. The levels are set perfectly – dialogue is always clear and easily discernible, nothing is hard to understand or muffled, even during scenes of extreme gunplay. Likewise, the action scenes, which come often, have great directionality with gunfire coming from every corner of the room. Rear speakers are constantly in use, aiding well in completely enveloping the listener in Kick-Ass’s world. The fantastic score, which was handled by four people – Marius De Vries, Ilan Eshkeri, Henry Jackman and John Murphy - according to IMDB (though if you’re a fan of his work, you’ll notice the film’s best themes are composed by John Murphy), is never deafening but comes through every speaker with perfect levels and pitch. The LFE track is a powerhouse, whether it be when a warehouse is burning to the ground among explosions or Big Daddy is dispatching foes with his trusty shotgun. Some of the action was a little front-heavy and could have used more dispersion, but this is generally a perfect track and definitely a great way to show off your home theater.
There is also a French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track included. Subtitles are available in English, English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Lionsgate has absolutely packed this Blu-ray edition of “Kick-Ass” with a supplements and goodies for hardcore fans of the film. The 3-disc package, which features a DVD copy of the film and a digital copy for portable media devices, includes a picture-in-picture BonusView mode, audio commentary, several featurettes, art galleries, D-Box motion enhancement and a BD-Live link.

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

The biggest extra feature here is the “Ass-Kicking BonusView Mode” (1080p) picture-in-picture video commentary, which plays the film in a small window near the bottom of the screen while we are treated to clips of director Matthew Vaughn recording his audio commentary, behind-the-scenes footage of key scenes as they were shot and rehearsed, and interviews with the cast about their characters and the crew about the jobs they have on set. This is very similar to what Warner Bros. does with their “Maximum Movie Mode”. I think this is one of the best extra features to come out of Blu-ray thus far, as we can watch the film at the same time as we learn about making it, so there’s always something on screen to reference what the cast & crew are talking about. It allows viewers to take in a lot of information about all aspects of putting the film together without the need to navigate through a litany of bonus features.

The audio commentary with director Matthew Vaughn is a bit redundant if you’ve already watched the “Ass-Kicking BonusView Mode” since almost half of that feature focuses on him recording his commentary track. Vaughn explains early on that he’s recording this after a long night of partying after the film’s premiere, so if he sounds a little out of it just know it’s probably because he’s hungover. He sounds a bit dry, and there are some lengthy gaps in the track, but he gets out a good deal of vital information. Most of his discussions involve his desire to remain as close to the source material as possible while keeping in mind that he needs to compose the shots for a film.

“A New Kind of Superhero: The Making of Kick-Ass” (1080i) is a multi-part documentary broken down into four parts which can be played all together or separately:

- “Pushing Boundaries” runs for 13 minutes and 21 seconds. Millar and crew discuss how lucky they felt to be bringing the comic book to life, and the challenges of respecting the source material while also making it work within the context of film.
- “Let’s Shoot This F***ker!” runs for 52 minutes and 8 seconds. Here is the real meat of the piece. We spend time on set with the cast and crew as they discuss what drew them to their roles and how they feel about their respective characters. The crew discusses the audition process as they sought out the perfect actor for each role, costumes, location shooting and stunt work. All in all, this is a very in-depth look at the inner workings of each day on the film’s set.
- “Tempting Fate” runs for 9 minutes and 39 seconds. This mostly deals with the difficulty Vaughn and Millar had with financing the film and getting distribution. However, once the final product blew the roof off the annual Comic-Con convention, Lionsgate stepped in and aggressively marketed it towards the target demographic.
- “All Fired Up!” runs for 27 minutes and 51 seconds. The visual effects team takes us through all of the enhanced shots in the film, including a look at rough animatics, sketches, stunt work and green screen shooting.

“It’s On! The Comic Book Origin of Kick-Ass” is a featurette which runs for 20 minutes and 36 seconds. Creator Mark Millar discusses where the idea for the comic came from, how lucky he feels to have had a hit so quickly in his career and what he had hoped to accomplish and say with the graphic novel. He includes some anecdotes from his childhood which served as part of his inspiration for the idea.

“The Art of Kick-Ass” contains five galleries of images for the following:

- “Storyboards” is broken down into the following sub-categories:
-- “Epic Fail” contains 7 images.
-- “Mindy & Damon” contains 3 images.
-- “Kick-Ass vs. Thugs” contains 9 images.
-- “Hit Girl vs. Guards” contains 6 images.
-- “Air Assault” contains 12 images.
-- “Taking Flight” contains 7 images.
-- “Coda” contains 14 images.

- “Costumes” contains 14 images.
- “On-Set Photography” contains 77 images.
- “Production Design” contains 6 images.
- “John Romita Jr. Art for the Film” contains 38 images.

“Marketing Archive” contains the following:

- Theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
- “Redband Hit Girl" theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 1 minute and 16 seconds.
- “North American Campaign” gallery contains 22 images.
- “International Campaign” gallery contains 7 images.

There is an option for D-BOX motion enhancement for those who have a home theater equipped for such a feature.

“BD Touch” interactive feature is an option that allows you to download an app to your smartphone to access bonus features or to use it as a remote while watching the film. Because, of course, the first thing most people want to do when sitting down to watch a movie is play with their phone.

I’m not quite sure what the “Metamenu” interactive feature is, though it appears to be another useless social media tool which only serves to distract you from enjoying the film while it plays.

The disc includes Lionsgate’s bookmark feature for saving your favorite scenes to view later or share with friends.

Finally, there is also a link to Lionsgate Live (basically their version of BD-Live) which leads to a standard studio home page full of promotional material that isn’t relevant to the film.

DISC TWO: DVD

This is a standard definition version of the film in anamorphic widescreen on a DVD. There are no bonus features included.

DISC THREE:

This is a digital copy for use with portable media devices. It is compatible with iTunes and Windows Media devices.

Packaging

The 3-disc set comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a central swinging hub containing discs 1 & 2 while the 3rd is housed on a hub. A slip-cover which replicates the cover art is included.

Overall

“Kick-Ass” can be a wildly uneven film, but when it hits the right notes it’s an absolute blast to watch. Hit-Girl and Big Daddy completely steal the thunder from our leading man, but he does provide a much needed alternate look at how difficult it can be establishing one’s self as a superhero. The picture quality could have been better, and I expected it to be, but it still looks great when necessary. Throw in a bombastic audio track and a wealth of bonus materials and this is a package that comes highly recommended.

The Film: B Video: B Audio: A- Extras: A Overall: B+

 


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