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Category: Film Review (page 1 of 6)

The Revenant (2015)

The Revenantdirector: Alejandro González Iñárritu
writer: Mark L Smith, Alejandro González Iñárritu
starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter
running time: 156 mins
certificate: 15

As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight.
You breathe. Keep breathing.

The Revenant is arguably more for those who love the film making process than those who love to watch film.

In 1820s America, a party of trappers heads home through unforgiving territory after a savage attack by the native population.  When Hugh Glass [Leonard DiCaprio] survives being mauled by a bear, two of the party agree to stay behind with Glass and his son. John Fitzgerald [Tom Hardy] convinces the impressionable young Bridger [Will Poulter]  that to survive the pair should leave Glass for dead. Glass refuses to die and battles both nature and man to seek his revenge.

Hugh GlassIt is unsurprising that a gulf has emerged between The Revenant’s warm critical reception and the decidedly mixed view of filmgoers. The creation of this film, shot on location in the wilds of Canada and Argentina using only natural light, is a clearly arduous endeavour. This reliance on natural light captures images that are at times almost otherworldly, but required long, unbroken takes out of necessity due to the limited available time rather than as an artificial conceit in Iñárritu’s last endeavour, the Oscar-winning Birdman. Tricks learned then, allowing for flowing camera movement, are at play here with the camera often circling characters to allow us a 360-degree view of their environment.

The harshness of that environment is very real and Iñárritu clearly put his actors through a great deal. However, the response to this is mixed with the film being derided by some as simply “pain porn”, finding entertainment in that discomfort. Iñárritu has stated that he wanted to take on the challenge of such environments to give people a reason to come to the cinema, and the reality of the experience was crucial to achieve something worthy of this. He has, for example, been coy about how the visceral sequence in which DiCaprio is mauled by a bear was actually shot. Whilst such verisimilitude may seem a noble ideal, it somewhat misses the point of cinema which is, at its core, a lie. Moreover, it does not explain the dream sequences that recur throughout the film.

BridgerThe real issue is what the film achieves beyond the authenticity of its depiction of wilderness survival. The chief complaint is that there is little story or indeed content at all beyond throwing one hardship after another at the protagonist. The most basic of revenge setups is essentially the entire story. The relentlessness traversal is reminiscent of Apocalyptico’s incredible final act, a 45-minute chase through the jungle. However, Apocalyptico earned its audience’s attention through first constructing a tense situation with characters to whom we could relate. Perhaps the only fully realised character in The Revenant is the conflicted Bridger, taking Poulter a long way from his School of Comedy roots. DiCaprio and Hardy both turn in solid performances, but there is limited depth available for them to draw upon. Whilst DiCaprio may deserve an Oscar for his body of work, The Revenant does not showcase his range.

Of particular note is a close-quarters fight scene towards the end of the film. I do not think we have ever seen so brutal a fight shot up close in a continuous take in a mainstream film. Even martial arts films tend to choreograph around a corridor with one fighter taking on a string of enemies who drop out of frame. Even this late in the film The Revenant is capable of presenting something visceral, fresh and new.

I am conflicted in assessing the film, since I am indeed a fan of the film making process. The impressive technical marvels achieved are fascinating along with the clearly arduous process to which the cast and crew subjected themselves. However, taken as a whole, the point of this endeavour remains exasperatingly intangible.

rating: 2.5/4

The Danish Girl (2015)

The Danish Girl
director: Tom Hooper
writer: David Ebershoff (novel), Lucinda Coxon (screenplay)
starring: Alicia Vikander, Eddie Redmayne, Matthias Schoenaerts
running time: 119 mins
certificate: 15

I think Lili’s thoughts, I dream her dreams.
She was always there.

The Danish Girl is emotionally affecting, but avoids deeper exploration of the transgender experience.

Based on David Ebershoff’s novel, this is a heavily fictionalised account of the life of Lili Elbe. Einar Wegener [Eddie Redmayne] and Gerda Wegener [Alicia Vikander] are happily married artists in Denmark. When a model fails to show, Gerda has Einar don a pair of stockings to assist her, leading Einar to discover that he likes it. Adopting the character “Lili”, the couple enjoy Einar’s cross-dressing until he becomes unable to set aside his female persona at will. Life in Denmark becomes difficult just as Gerda’s portraits of Lily are gaining her recognition, leading the couple to move to Paris. A succession of doctors are unable to provide help until one believes that Lili is a woman trapped inside a man’s body, offering to perform pioneering experimental surgery to correct the problem.

Gerda paints LiliThe central performances are superb. Redmayne makes Lili’s emergence seem natural, nervous and fumbling at first, but increasingly confident over time. Vikander portrays Gerda sympathetically as a supportive but conflicted wife struggling to come to terms with the fact that, in order to help him, she must let her husband go. Gerda’s varying reactions over time are playful, irritated, concerned and angry before finally reaching a reluctant sad acceptance. The tragedy of her position is arguably felt more keenly than Lili’s, perhaps because her character is more rounded, or perhaps simply because much of the audience will find Gerda a more relatable figure.

Einar’s conflict is presented from the outside in a rather sanitised way. Although the film features some sexual content, the scenes chosen are those least shocking to the audience. We feel for Einhar when a series of doctors brand him either a deviant or insane, but we are never really presented with a better understanding beyond poetic lines of dialogue about Lili having always been a part of him, nor is there a strong sense of Lili’s rejection of her body.

Gerda and LiliWhilst it does not claim to be a historic account, the film’s efficacy depends on what one considers to be the chief intention. As a dramatic and emotionally powerful portrayal of Gerda and Einar’s struggle, it resonates well. However, as an exploration of the feelings that lead Einar to transition into Lili, and Lili’s desire for physical alterations to reflect her identity, the film falls short. Nevertheless, it does raise fascinating questions of identity that linger beyond the closing credits.

rating: 3/4

The Hateful Eight (2015)

The Hateful 8director: Quentin Tarantino
writer: Quentin Tarantino
starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins
running time: 187 mins
rating: 18

Bringing desperate men in alive,
is a good way to get yourself dead.

The Hateful Eight is two thirds tense talky thriller and one third traditional Tarantino bloodbath.

The plans of John “The Hangman” Ruth [Kurt Russell] to claim the bounty on his captive, Daisy Domergue [Jennifer Jason Leigh], are complicated by an approaching blizzard. Racing for shelter, their stagecoach picks up two men stuck on the road, Major Marquis Warren [Samuel L Jackson], another bounty hunter, and Chris Mannix [Walton Goggins], former rebel soldier and future sheriff. When they reach the cabin in which they plan to wait out the storm, the owners are gone and they find a shady collection of guests with whom they will be spending the night. It soon emerges that at least one of the men has designs on freeing Domergue before she hangs.

This is a film designed for those who wished the tense opening scene of Inglorious Basterds had continued for the entire film. This is similarly a script in which Tarantino expertly creates action sequences through dialogue alone. Dangerous characters circle one other, using careful questions to probe for weaknesses, taking cover behind lies and attacking with accusations. An unhurried Tarantino shows notable restraint in delivering a film where the first gunshot rings out over halfway through the film. This relies on a strong cast, comprising many Tarantino regulars and a few new faces. We know what to expect from those like Jackson, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen. Walton Goggins excels, bringing a more energetic version of his antagonist Boyd Crowder in Justified. Russell, an imposing physical presence, is given more to work with than in Death Proof and delivers, whilst Leigh delights in venomous delirium.

The camera work is beautiful, from the difficult white outdoor sequences to making sense of the cluttered interiors. The cabin feels at times expansive or claustrophobic as the scene requires. Of particularly note is a scene in which Daisy plays the guitar in the foreground whilst other characters interact at the far side of the room, with the camera panning and pulling focus between the two with expert precision that contemporary films rarely attempt.

Oswald Mowbray and Chris MannixThe “roadshow” version of the film is a true spectacle, projected in 70mm and showcasing Tarantino’s love of old Westerns as he indulges in wide, languid shots of sweeping vistas that are excised from the general release (its running time is shorter by twenty minutes). It would not be a classic Western without an Ennio Morricone score, of course, which is brought to the fore with an opening overture preceding the film.  It also brings a carefully timed interval punctuating the proceedings. Up to that point, the film’s tempo is impeccable, ratcheting tension while exploring the relationships between characters and, in particular, racism in the southern States following the loss of the civil war. The way in which characters voice their own racism — whether open or more insidious — and seek to exploit others’ racist beliefs is as much a commentary on modern America as a historic one.

Following the interval, the film becomes a familiarly loose Tarantino pastiche. Unfortunately Tarantino sometimes gets in his own way. This is immediately evident from an unnecessary voiceover explaining what could have been more effectively shown simply by returning to the previous scene from an alternate angle. The gore is by turns visceral and cartoonish, resulting in a somewhat inconsistent tone even within the more violent portions of the film. It would be easy to criticise the film for this late tonal shift and inconsistency but at this point Tarantino films are almost a genre unto themselves. Where in the past Tarantino paid homage to the films he loves, now he is almost doing the same to his own style of film-making. From that viewpoint, whilst not his finest, The Hateful Eight is a Tarantino film par excellence.

rating: 3.5/4

Café de Flore (2012)

Café de Flore
director: Jean-Marc Vallée
writer: Jean-Marc Vallée
starring: Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Parent, Hélène Florent, Marin Gerrier, Evelyne Brochu
running time: 120 mins
rating: 15

If it’s a soulmate, it’s not supposed to end, right?
It doesn’t happen twice in a lifetime.

Café de Flore weaves two intriguing and meditative tales that inevitably collide but in a surprising way with powerful results in this French romantic drama.

Antoine [Kevin Parent] is a DJ in present-day Montréal who seems to have it all: two beautiful daughters and his partner Rose [Evelyne Brochu] with whom he is passionately in love. However he is struggling to convince his family to accept his decision to leave his wife Carole [Hélène Florent], the girls’ mother, who has been unable to move on since losing of the love of her life. A second story follows Jacqueline [Vanessa Paradis], a single mother in 1960s Paris, raising her son Laurent [Marin Gerrier] alone after his father left upon discovering the boy suffers from Down’s syndrome. Jacqueline dotes on him utterly and is determined to ensure her son will beat the survival statistics.

Café de FloreDown’s syndrome rarely receives prominent treatment in films and both Paradis and Gerrier (who has Down’s himself) are revelatory in depicting the day-to-day struggles of the condition as well as the joy that can still be found. Paradis’s choice not to follow the more glamorous roles her status allows has led her to perhaps the ideal role, which she depicts with a subtle inner drive. Whilst Antoine’s story is imbued with high emotion throughout, the performances never veer into the melodramatic. These people all feel grounded and real, even the more one-note characters like the petulant teenage daughter, heightening the emotional impact of their interaction. We also glimpse numerous flashbacks of Antoine and Carole’s relationship from their idyllic teenage romance to now, which serves effectively to demonstrate how they both feel they have lost something special, and Antoine’s need to convince even himself that he has made the right decision.

Café de FloreThe evocative soundtrack is expertly woven into the film, sometimes drawing attention to itself and sometimes creating an atmospheric backdrop with recurring artists like Pink Floyd, Sigur Ros and The Cure, as well as variations on the titular track Café de Flore which initially inspired Vallée to write the film. One has the impression that as many scenes may have been born out of the music as the other way around. Indeed our experience of Antoine and Carole’s teenage relationship is largely one of musical nostalgia rather than dialogue, as we watch them share their discovery of music and prepare mixtapes. There are some interesting editing choices, particularly when transitioning between the stories, but the jarring cuts can also prove distracting, particularly when following a carefully crafted languid shot. The result is often to break the film’s atmospheric spell rather than to enhance it.

The pacing works well, never seeming to lull in its two hours. It is aided in part, no doubt, by the ability to switch between its two stories keeping each fresh, but moreso these characters are enjoyable to watch and it is easy to become invested in their personal struggles — ultimately we want them to succeed. It is, perhaps, a slight shame that despite the refreshing and authentic Down’s syndrome material Jacqueline and Laurent’s story is effectively relegated to something of a subplot once the two stories are woven together. Nonethless, through the subtlety with which both tales are built up, the result remains powerful and affecting.

rating: 3/4

The Ides of March (2011)

director: George Clooney
writer: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon
starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood
running time: 101 mins
rating: 15

I’ll do or say anything if I believe in it,
but I have to believe in the cause.

The portrayal of politics in The Ides of March (its title an overt reference to the betrayal and assassination of Caesar) is unrelentingly cynical, but it has little need to convince its audience: while the twists and turns of the plot are compelling, there is no shock or disbelief because this world is so instantly recognisable in its realism.

Stephen Myers [Ryan Gosling] is an idealistic staffer on the Presidential campaign for Governor Mike Morris [George Clooney] in the Democratic primaries. With only two candidates still in the running, Ohio is the crucial state that will decide the race, but Morris refuses to compromise on his principles by making deals to win. Myers finds his own integrity tested as the campaign continues.

Many will mistake this for a political film when really its focus is on single character’s struggle with integrity set against a political backdrop, perhaps highlighted best by a shot of Myers’ small silhouette against the backdrop of a gigantic US flag. There is no strong political message here — the campaign is between two Democrat senators; comments on the Republicans are merely asides. Images such as a Shepard Fairey inspired campaign poster for Morris are more to ground the proceedings in the present day political atmosphere than to designate targets. Notably the source material, Willimon’s play Farragut North, was based on the 2004 primaries and not the Obama campaign.

Instead this is a powerful thriller with not a single bullet fired, yet many scenes have a heightened intensity as a result. One lingering exterior shot of a van — we know the conversation ongoing inside though we are not privy to the dialogue — is as taut as any execution scene and in its precise construction we half expect to hear a muted gunshot accompanied by a cloud of red mist. To cultivate this atmosphere without need for violence or exploitative tricks is a testament to Clooney’s assured, yet understated, direction.

The central cast is incredibly strong and all turn in excellent performances. Gosling has the most nuanced role even if his character’s shift is ultimately in a single direction. Meanwhile the rest of the cast tend to be reacting more to the machinations of others. Clooney oozes crowd-pleasing charm, while Hoffman and Giamatti make great rival veteran campaign managers with differing styles, one prizing loyalty while the other is more jaded. Wood may be the least prestigious name amongst the leads but her ability to switch between seductive confidence and vulnerable naïveté sells her character.

Ultimately, while non-partisan, The Ides of March is still a scathing condemnation of the political process, moreso because we are treated to the damage caused on a personal level as well as the overarching hypocrisy. The latter will not surprise the audience, but the former still brings home the message in a powerful fashion.

rating: 3.5/4

Tron: Legacy (2010)

director: Joseph Kosinski
writer: Edward Kitsis, Adam Horrowitz
starring: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde
running time: 125 mins
rating: PG

“You can have a crack at the old man’s high score.”

Kevin Flynn

As its name suggests, Tron: Legacy is not really a sequel to the 1982 Tron, but rather a standalone new take for a new generation. That said, I cannot quite imagine approaching this film without the original as a reference point. It was a mammoth task from the start and I was sceptical about what I would find, particular when the target audience consists of those too young to recall the original.

The plot is more a morality fable about the danger of chasing perfection. 20 years after Kevin Flynn’s [Jeff Bridges] disappearance, his wild child son Sam [Garrett Hedlund] discovers his father’s secret office and inadvertently gets pulled into the virtual world he created. Inside he finds father’s dream of a perfect world has been subverted into a dictatorship run by the program Clu [Jeff Bridges]. Sam and Kevin together race to escape through the portal back to our reality before Clu can invade with an army. While Tron takes itself seriously, it thankfully avoids attempting realistic explanations for the interaction between its world and ours, which would swiftly unravel. Many concepts and images are touched upon but left as unexplained ideas and the viewer is strongly advised to take a similar approach.

This is essentially fantasy for the digital age, and we meet familiar fairytale personalities: the awkward, wide-eyed innocent Quorra (though she is far from defenceless); the eccentric extrovert information-dealer Zuse; and the merciless authoritarian villain Clu. Bridges, meanwhile, seems to be channelling Lebowski in his zen elder Flynn. Strangely Tron himself is rather overlooked. A superb Daft Punk soundtrack lends a suitably epic feeling, though the electronica retains a fittingly lighter edge than most brashly pounding Zimmer-esque scores.

While certainly not every film ought to be made in 3D, Tron is perfect example of one that should. Its virtual world is brought to life with a sense of hyper-reality in a sequence transitioning between 2D and 3D. Like its predecessor, Legacy utilises every bit of the latest filmmaking technology to bring this stark black-and-neon world to life, and the results are spectacular. Recreating Jeff Bridges circa 1982 is an impressive feat, but the disconcertingly inhuman mouth movements make it evident that the digital actor is still not yet here. One might have forgiven this in the artificial Clu, but alongside other real-looking ‘programs’ he always stands out.

Tron‘s biker fashion has been somewhat fetishised, while the retuned light cycles pack some new tricks that are a not necessarily an improvement in crafting tense moments. Nevertheless the choreography shows a liberating understanding of the lack of rules in virtual combat, with some gravity defying stunts and a varied arsenal of glowing digital equipment. Ultimately it’s the old gear that works best however: our first glimpse of the iconic and imposing Recognizer is as powerful as ever.

Fans can rest easy that they should be more than happy with this beautiful, atmospheric return trip, but it is difficult to evaluate the response of a newcomer. Like Avatar, Tron‘s strength lies not in its story but in providing an incredible world for the viewer to experience. The original Tron was our first glimpse at a virtual world populated by avatars that has since become a reality. With Legacy, I wonder what the new generation — many of whom have grown up with these worlds — may find. While the stunning effects will have them craving more, the imprecise visual metaphors may leave them wanting.

rating: 3/4

Buried (2010)

Burieddirector: Rodrigo Cortés
writer: Chris Sparling
starring: Ryan Reynolds
running time: 94 mins
rating: 15

Opening with half a minute of black-screen silence, at first glance Buried could be mistaken for self-indulgent filmmaking. As if someone saw the “buried alive” scene from Kill Bill, Vol. 2 and simply wondered what it would be like to extend that to an entire film. Somehow the result, despite its limited range, proves one of the most compelling – if not actually enjoyable – experiences of the year.

Paul Conroy [Ryan Reynolds] is an American truck driver working in Iraq. After an attack on his convoy, he awakes to find himself trapped in a wooden coffin buried underground. His only tools to find rescue are a lighter, a torch and mobile phone, with limited signal and battery life.

BuriedAs the sole actor on screen, the entire film rides on Reynolds’ performance and it is mesmerising. The viewer feels every emotion as his predicament elicits fear, frustration, anger and despair.

The bold decision to keep the entire film restricted to this single box, rather than using flashbacks or cutting to those with whom Conroy communicates, creates a visceral atmosphere that is certainly not suitable for those with claustrophobia. Yet, incredibly, Cortés never loses his audience’s interest through monotony Clever camera placement and shifting angles create variety, along with altered lighting from the static torch, flickering lighter or soft glow of the phone screen.

BuriedThe supporting characters are merely disembodied voices, but provide an opportunity for Reynolds to engage with others. The viewer swiftly fills in these characters and they seem as real as many characters one might normally expect to occupy the screen.

From the opening shot it is clear that Buried is something very different, focusing on atmosphere and mood rather than plot or gore for its twisted suspense. For an hour and a half the viewer feels trapped inside the box with Conroy and while that may not be pleasant, it certainly leaves a lasting impression.

rating: 3.5/4

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Toy Story 3director: Lee Unkrich
writers: Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty
running time: 103 mins
rating: U

Now Woody, he’s been my pal
for as long as I can remember.

It’s hard to believe (or perhaps chilling depending on how comfortable you are with your age) that the Toy Story franchise has been around for 15 years now. The first ever feature-length CGI film, it is the only world to which Pixar has returned for sequels.

With Andy [John Morris] grown up and leaving for college, his toys end up being accidentally donated to a day-care centre. At first the gang are overjoyed at the prospect of being played with again, but all is not as it seems. Meanwhile Woody [Tom Hanks], knowing Andy wasn’t ready to give them up, is determined to escape and return to his owner.

Toy Story 3The execution is near perfect, as we have come to expect, but much of Pixar’s magic comes from their creative originality too. And while they introduce a host of new interesting new toys, ultimately much of the story begins to feel like more of the same. Even the use of The Great Escape as inspiration seems slightly derivative of the claymation Chicken Run.

3D viewing is entirely unnecessary, yet it does not detract significantly from the film, although the typically vibrant hues are slightly washed out as a result. It is employed to minimal effect but is on par with similar animated fare. Arguably the chief benefit is the Day & Night short film at the start which features some incredibly creative merging of 2D and 3D elements in one of the best artistic uses of the technology in animation I have seen.

Toy Story 3While children will love the toy-based action throughout, much has been made of the more adult themes of abandonment and loss of childhood. The former is explored well through the reactions of various toys (and in an intriguing flashback sequence) but the latter is relegated to a powerful but brief sequence at the end of the film since the human characters are always sidelined in this franchise. Though the sequence is both heartwarming and moving, one feels more could have been made of this side of the story which holds far more interest for adult viewers.

Toy Story 3 is a great finale and a fitting send-off to a group of well-loved characters. The return of nearly the entire cast (even John Morris as Andy) is an impressive gathering. Pixar are undoubtedly trading on nostalgia value here, arguably for the first time in their impressive history. Few would deny them that opportunity once, but it would be a shame for it to become a routine. Because, while Toy Story 3 succeeds through  knowing its strengths rather than straining to differentiate itself, that doesn’t quite seem the Pixar way.

rating: 3/4

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans (2010)

director: Warner Herzog
writer: William Finkelstein
starring: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner
running time: 122 mins
rating: 18

Shoot him again.
His soul is still dancing.

Bad Lieutenant (notably a prefix that only later attached to the project as a nod to the unrelated to 1992 film of the same name) marks one of Nicolas Cage’s strongest performances of recent years, yet the film itself becomes a parody as it lurches between moments of lucid inspiration and a chaotic mess.

Set in a post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, the film opens with virtually no setup as we see good cop Terrance McDonagh [Nicolas Cage] injured as he attempts to rescue a drowning prisoner. The accident leaves him in permanent back pain, and he begins to supplement his pain management regime with narcotics. We follow his investigation of the murder of five Senegalese immigrants, while he struggles to balance his life with Frankie [Eva Mendes], his prostitute girlfriend, and mounting gambling debts. His actions gradually become more extreme as he becomes more frantic and delusional.

Herzog has a skill in drawing deranged performances from his leads, and Cage’s descent into amorality is incredibly compelling to view. His committed performance is very physical: his twisted gait and slumped shoulder conveying as much pain as his face. Unfortunately it rather peaks too early, with his fall complete by about halfway through. At this point Cage’s scenery-chewing insanity will alienate many viewers as ridiculous, although it was clearly a stylistic choice. The same will be true of the contrived closing which feels so bizarre I was convinced it was a dream sequence. There is surely an element of satire but it feels lost, and cheapens what came before.

The other problem is that the duller police procedural elements of the film are clearly not the focus, yet we return to the investigation too often, merely to push forward a story about which we do not care. Misplaced time stretches to the supporting cast: Val Kilmer as Terrence’s partner is largely unused while Big Fate [Xzibit] doesn’t make a particularly impressive villain, due more to the script than the performance. Of course matching a maniacal Cage would be a tall order. Mendes has more screen time and does adequately in evoking sympathy for an ultimately clichéd character.

Expect polarised reviews because ultimately the film is either a brave work of insane genius or a mediocre mess of interesting but undeveloped ideas. Unfortunately I am inclined towards the latter.

rating: 2/4

Kick-Ass (2010)

director: Matthew Vaughn
writer: Matthew Vaugh, Jane Goldman, Mark Millar (comicbook)
starring: Aaron Johnson, Chloë Moretz, Nicolas Cage, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
running time: 117 mins
rating: 15

“Like every serial killer already knew, eventually fantasising doesn’t do it anymore.”

Dave Lizewksi

In a world where The Dark Knight has set a very firm benchmark against which all comicbook superhero films will be judged, Kick-Ass is something very, very different. From Wanted writer Mark Millar, it features similarly frenetic adrenaline junkie action, but its characters subvert all the genre stereotypes. It’s clear from the opening scene that we’re in for an unusual, wild ride.

Dave Lizewksi [Aaron Johnson] is an ordinary, unremarkable teenager who decides to become the world’s first real-life superhero. In a garish green costume he becomes an overnight internet sensation as Kick-Ass after saving a stranger in a fight. When an attempt to impress a girl lands him in trouble, he is saved by the father-daughter team of Big Daddy [Nicolas Cage] and Hit-Girl [Chloë Moretz]. He realises they are the “real deal”: well-trained, well-equipped vigilante killers on a mission of revenge to take down a drug-dealing crime boss.

Vaughn’s skill as a director, revealed to great effect in the sadly underrated Stardust, is grounding fantasy in realism. Here the distinction is starker, with exuberant violent excess brought suddenly crashing to the ground with injections of harsh reality. Kick-Ass straddles the fine line between glorification and parody of its comicbook roots, poking fun at their pomposity while also paying homage. It wears its influences on its sleeve from use of text boxes to a short comicbook flashback, beautifully animated in 3D.

The film rests on Aaron Johnson who is pitch-perfect as the would-be hero, a bumbling teenager yet utterly believable in his decision to reinvent himself, and his fear is clear as he discovers just how out of his depth he is. The supporting cast are all strong, with much of the best humour occurring in simpler scenes as Dave hangs out with his school friends, but it’s Chloe Moretz’s Hit-Girl that naturally stands out. It’s worth mentioning that Cage impresses here, exaggerated but not inane. The film’s exuberant energy is fuelled by bold, colourful cinematography and an evocative, pulsating soundtrack of pure escapist fantasy.

The dark humour and inventively visceral violence accent an intelligent script that explores modern culture and its relationship with the internet. When a TV news channel stops a live broadcast of extreme footage, everyone rushes to their computers to watch online instead. Unsurprisingly a foul-mouthed killer child has courted some controversy (major studios all passed so Vaughan reportedly raised finances independently to ensure creative freedom) and – when presented with a real girl rather than her comicbook counterpart – one has to question to what extent you can suspend morality purely because it’s stylised comicbook violence. These questions of exploitation are raised but never fully explored. Perhaps the audience is left to decide, but it feels more as though the film doesn’t care about the answer. This is most evident in Dave’s sudden transformation into a killer in the final confrontation, with scant inner conflict behind this major shift.

The few steps it overlooks are forgiveable in that it maintains its pace throughout, never wavering for a moment. Ultimately Vaughn does for comicbook films what he has done for the gangster and fantasy genres in the past, revitalising them with Layer Cake and Stardust. Kick-Ass is simply the most fun I’ve had in a cinema since Inglourious Basterds last year, and I’d be surprised if another comicbook film is able to outdo it this year.

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