Kick-Ass (Blu-ray)

June 11, 2013 11 Min Read

Review by: Dan Pulliam

Plot: What’s it about?

At the most basic level, you could probably break down the movie-going public into two categories: those who will find humor in a twelve-year-old girl gleefully dismembering and/or murdering bad guys while nonchalantly spewing out “the c word” and those who will not.  Your enjoyment of “Kick-Ass” as a film, make no mistake, will depend greatly upon which of these two camps you personally fall into.  The more conservative or easily shocked amongst you simply need not apply.  The good news is that, at least now that “Kick-Ass” is comfortably at home on Blu-ray and no longer in theaters, most of those people are far less likely to mistakenly see the film and come away scarred for life.  As for the rest of you, sit down and enjoy – you’re in for one hell of a good time.  “Kick-Ass” is brutal, relentless, unabashed fun.  It doesn’t care who it offends or what lines it has to cross to stay true to its tone, bucking conventions as flagrantly as most films adhere to them.  And why shouldn’t it?  Its comic book origins are reportedly even more in-you-face offensive and insensitive, lending the film adaptation a certain “buyer beware” feel, as if those too lazy to educate themselves on the books this film draws inspiration from deserve everything their ignorance earns them for 117 minutes.

The film follows the improbable (if initially hyper-realistic) exploits of Dave Lizewski (played by Aaron Johnson), a high-school outcast who gets it in his head one day to become the world’s first actual superhero.  His first attempts at this lead to some hilarious (and somewhat disturbing) results.  Adopting the title of Kick-Ass, Dave is stabbed, beaten, hit by a car, and left for dead before he finds his feet as a hard-as-nails vigilante, and that’s just in the first act.  When things really pick up is when he meets some actual heroes – Big Daddy and Hit Girl – who’ve been doing the superhero thing under the radar for quite some time.  Big Daddy is played by an absolutely inspired Nicholas Cage, who gives one of the funniest performances of his career as the Adam West-wannabe Batman clone.  His inflection and delivery is pure gold for those familiar with the camp of the 1960’s television series, and I laughed more than once at the dead-on impression.  But the real revelation in “Kick-Ass” is, of course Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit Girl.  She’s an over-the-top, no-nonsense, devastatingly brutal assassin, always given the upper hand by being underestimated by her hapless targets.  She’d rather get a switchblade than a doll for her birthday, and she’s got no issues taking a slug in the chest for fun just to toughen herself up.

There are hysterical subplots in “Kick-Ass” too numerous to count (including Dave attempting to get closer to his high-school crush by faking his sexual orientation, the son of the big baddie trying to infiltrate Kick-Ass’s group of heroes by concocting a positively preposterous alter-ego for himself called Red Mist, and a villain inexplicably obsessed with the color orange who has more quirks than Butters on South Park), but the glue that holds the film together is inarguably the chemistry between Kick-Ass, Big Daddy and Hit Girl.  Everyone was clearly having a blast shooting every frame of this film, and that energy is infectious while watching it.  By the time Hit Girl rampages down a hallway during the film’s climax, severing limbs and contorting herself into implausible fighting positions, we’re so invested in the characters and the story that we forget how ridiculous and offensive it all probably objectively is.  The film deftly progresses with an intentional and brilliant pace from the realism of the first act, the amped stakes of the second, and absolutely ludicrous, gory extremes of the last.  It’s a fun, fast, and wild ride that’s as unconcerned with justifying itself as it is with holding back.  For those willing to check their conscience (and maybe even a bit of their morality) at the door, “Kick-Ass” kicks ass.

Video: How does it look?

I’ve never been a very big fan of the current trend to oversaturate films and jack up contrast levels to extremes, but if there was one film for which I think both techniques are wholly appropriate, it would have to be “Kick-Ass”.  This is truly written, performed and executed as a comic book world come to life, and as such, the stylistic choices actually serve the subject matter quite well.  That said, there are a few problems inherent to shooting (or, if you will, post-grading) in this way, most notably some black crush shows up from time to time.  Colors, as said, do teeter on the edge of becoming overly saturated at times, blurring the line between intent and technical imperfection.  On the other hand, fine object detail here is generally fabulous, lending the film a near-3D feel, especially in the more well-lit scenes.  There’s not a moment of “Kick-Ass” that feel like anything but a 2010 film.  It doesn’t quite rate in the top echelon of amazing Blu-ray transfers I’ve seen, but I’m going to be a bit easier on the transfer than I might otherwise feel inclined to be, because I have a strong suspicion that every one of the image’s perceived drawbacks are due to the cinematographer’s intent.  Factoring in my personal distaste for this style of filmmaking, I’d rate this disc a 4.  If I were to assume that everything from the color palette to the heightened contrast levels and resulting black crush were there per artistic choice, I’d rate it a 5.  As I have no way of confirming either possibility, I’ve opted to split the difference for my video score.  Subtitles are available in English SDH, English and Spanish.

Audio: How does it sound?

As one might expect from a 7.1 lossless audio track on a film merely three years old, “Kick-Ass” sounds terrific.  I’m only set up for 5.1, but even still, this is a very engaging and satisfying audio track.  If I had to characterize the mix with a single adjective, it would be “bombastic”.  Ordinarily, that might be a negative for me, as I’m generally more impressed with the more subtle and nuanced lossless tracks (I still contend that where lossless shines brightest is in conveying a sense of true space through well-executed ambience), but this case, it’s meant as a compliment.  The big moments in this film need to feel big, loud and in-your-face to have the intended effect.  And the DTS-HD Master Audio track is up to the task each and every time.  Quieter scenes are a bit more front-heavy than I like to hear on the absolute best soundtracks out there, but once the action picks up, all is forgotten rather quickly.  Perhaps this isn’t quite reference-quality, but it’s aggressive, powerful and serves the film very well once it gets going and hits its sweet spot.  A Spanish DD 5.1 track is also available.

Supplements: What are the extras?

“Kick-Ass” offers a very nice selection of bonus material, especially for a film that didn’t exactly ignite the box office.  There’s an audio commentary by director Matthew Vaughn that’s possibly more informative than it is genuinely entertaining (if that makes sense).  We also get something called “Ass-Kicking BonusView Mode” which combines much of the audio commentary (in video form) with interviews and behind-the-scenes segments while the films plays out in a smaller window.  Between the two, I actually found the BonusView Mode the better experience than the stand-alone commentary track, and since much of the commentary is repeated between the two features, that’s the one I’m recommending unless you simply must experience both separately.  Also included is an excellent making-of documentary that runs nearly two hours.  It’s rather your standard making-of doc, but the sheer length alone ensures that it’s well in-depth enough to please fans buying this set as much for the extras as the film.   There’s also a 20-minute featurette that should be required viewing for people who want to fully appreciate the movie, as it examines the comic book origins of the film and some of the differences necessitated by changing mediums.  Rounding out the extras, we also get a nice feature on the art design of the film, including stroyboards, costumes and production design along with both of the film’s theatrical trailers and a poster art archive.

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