Kick-Ass Review

Kick-Ass loves to flaunt that is was able to find a 12-year old who was readily available to cuss like a sailor and slaughter countless goons. Chloe Moretz actually does a great job as the masked Hit-Girl, raised by her father to do as she pleases, take a bullet to the chest, and utilize machine guns that likely weigh more than she does.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the character. It’s a movie, it’s fiction, it’s a fantasy world. In fact, her character is the brightest spot, bringing life and color to the film that is both an appreciation and send-up of the superhero genre. The problem with Hit-Girl is that Kick-Ass goes overboard with its ability to offend and shock, repetitively reminding us that she’ll say and do anything for revenge of the mother she never had. When your dad is a zany Nicolas Cage in a faux-Batman suit though, you can’t blame anybody for how she turned out.

Kick-Ass just seems to meander, never really appreciating what it has. It wants to be both grounded in reality and an utterly ridiculous work of fiction, Kick-Ass himself (Aaron Johnson) is continually reminded he is perfectly normal. He has no super powers. His world is real, evident from the beginning after he first dons the garish green suit and ends up stabbed and slammed by a car. Hit-Girl on the other hand is a living comic book character, flipping around, slicing heads and limbs from her foes bodies. Why is this energy not carried over?

It takes until the end of the film for anything to actually happen, and even then it’s Hit-Girl pulling the weight. Titling the movie Kick-Ass seems misguided. He’s boring, average, and not particularly entertaining, even with a jet pack strapped to his back.

Kick-Ass has humor to carry itself. The expected romantic sub-plot has Kick-Ass/Dave Lizewski mistakenly coined as gay, and his dream girl completely unconvinced otherwise. Seeing Kick-Ass and possible partner Red Mist (Christoper Mintz-Plasse) dance in the car is another highlight, but yet again grounding them in reality where teens are just out for goofy fun, not crime fighting.

Direction here from Matthew Vaughn is energetic, the fights paced and bloody. A few creative sequences, including a night-vision, first-person shoot out is sure to incite eager video game fans. It’s all flamboyant and colorful, yet hollow and empty. It feels like the shell of something better, like it never capitalizes on what it’s capable of. Nicholas Cage and Chloe Moretz get it, even if it’s repetitive. It’s a shame no one else seems to.

Movie ★★★☆☆ 

Poor black levels @ 36:48

Lionsgate’s AVC encode for the Blu-ray edition of the film is littered with problems. To start, let’s get the intent out of the way. Contrast is constantly running hot. Faces tend to be bleached, and details washed out. Black levels can suffer as a result, apparently the digital intermediate playing a bit of a role. Colors are intentionally over-saturated, reds regularly bleeding out and flesh tones taking on neon hues.

Now the question becomes how the encode handles it all, and the answer is not well. The opening 10-minutes or so are riddled with a constant stream of aliasing, causing significant and distracting shimmering on a variety of objects. The car at 2:12, the chalkboard at 3:06, the roofs at 5:01, and the blinds on the comic book shop at 7:41 are just a few examples. This is an issue that seems to clear up, appearing in minor parts of the screen, but it does repeat itself at 51:20 on the papers and on the wall. The car at 54:13 may be the worst case in the entire film.

Noise (in various capacities) is the next issue, nearly unbearable on the purple walls of Kick-Ass’ room, the first instance at 3:14, but carrying over into every shot involving those walls. Compression can be quite notable, especially as Kick-Ass first announces his name at 32:11. His suit is riddled with artifacts, a problem that will creep in from time to time later. There is an encode error that lasts only one frame at 1:39:54, in which a blue swatch of artifacting pops up near the top of the screen.

The next issue is one of facial detail, which remains wildly inconsistent throughout. Frank (Mark Strong) reveals every possible pore at 53:31, yet appears processed and smooth at 46:42. The main documentary of the extra features makes mention of the intent to smooth out the faces, yet there is no consistency or logic applied to this. Various characters go multiple scenes filled with texture and detail, all of which is suddenly wiped a scene or two later.

Black levels fluctuate wildly, rarely consistent. However, when they are at their peak, the slight crush is noted but the dimensionality trade-off is debatable. When they’re firm, they do create a vivid image. Grain is fairly well resolved, although like almost everything else, all over the place in how it’s handled. A bit of moire is visible on some of the farther buildings at 52:37, an otherwise perfect cityscape view. This transfer carries a lot of issues, but is generally pleasing to the eye. It’s a tough call where to rank this one, intent obviously being a deep consideration.

Video ★★★★☆ 

Thankfully, Lionsgate’s DTS-HD 7.1 mix for the film is simply outstanding. The first fight sequence about a half-hour in is alive with various “swoosh” effects and the thuds of punches landing on their target. Tracking from all directions is superb, and placement is wonderfully precise. It’s an incredibly natural environment, assuming “natural” means a superhero fight in the middle of New York.

Hit-Girl’s various escapades add in a variety of weapons, and again, the tracking of every swing is phenomenal. The finale around 1:38:00 even tracks someone’s brains splattering all over the soundfield in addition to the parade of gunfire. Shots fired during a shoot out at 1:03:50 is powerfully handled, with heavy bass.

The highlight of the disc’s fantastic audio isn’t a fight, but the warehouse fire at 1:03:50. Now only do the flames roar up and catch the subwoofer, falling debris utilizes those extra channels perfectly. A constant stream of fire can be heard a full 360 degrees, and dialogue remains prioritized in the center.

A few moments of the film utilize positional dialogue, splitting the stereo channels a bit and opening it up. It’s a nice touch, and a cap on a superlative audio mix once its gets going.

Audio ★★★★★ 

A commentary from director Matthew Vaughn can be listened to strictly via audio, or in a BonusView mode, where additional footage is displayed. The latter is definitely preferred if you have the capability.

A hefty making-of is split into four-parts, and runs for nearly two hours. It is exhaustive, interesting, and well put-together, a contender for the best special feature on a mainstream Hollywood feature this year. A 20-minute look at the comic follows that, and proceeded by a section on marketing/art, trailers, D-Box support, and LG Live access.

Extras ★★★★★