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Face-Off: Kick-Ass vs. Kingsman: The Secret Service

Ah, nice to see you again, cinema sinners. Got your spending money all ready to throw into the pit? If not the door is back the way you came, because this is Face-Off, and this is a game of champions. Last session we pitted the superhero standouts, THE AVENGERS and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, with Marvel's main superhero squad coming out on top. We are now in full summer mode, so that means tons of comic book movies and fan favorites, so we figured we'd dish out another entry in the same vein, but this time we're going adult. It's KICK-ASS vs. KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE.

Both directed by Matthew Vaughn and based on comics from Mark Miller, they posses very similar traits while subverting two completely different genres. One takes the classic superhero film and injects it with uber violence, foul tongues and colorful characters. The second plays with the old school spy movies and their tropes, styles and funnest qualities. Who does it all better? We shall see.

BAND OF THESPIANS
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass
Nicolas Cage as Damon Mcaready/Big Daddy
Chloe Grace Moretz as Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl
Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Chris D'Amico/Red Mist
Mark Strong as Frank D'Amico
Evan Peters as Todd
Clark Duke as Marty
Lyndsy Fonseca as Katie Deauxma
Taron Egerton as Gary "Eggsy" Unwin
Colin Firth as Harry Hart/ Galahad
Michael Caine as Arthur
Samuel L. Jackson as Richmond Valentine
Sofia Boutella as Gazelle
Mark Hamill as Professor Arnold
Sophie Cookson as Roxy
MATTHEW VAUGHN: AUTEUR

Matthew Vaughn started his directing career with films that, much like these two, played with genre norms and delivered something both homage and reinvention. LAYER CAKE had fun with the English crime style, and STARDUST was the most exciting, hilarious and romantic fantasy adventure since PRINCESS BRIDE...De Niro as a gay pirate is a massive bonus. KICK-ASS, though, was the film that really showcased Vaughn’s sensibilities. He took the standard origin tale we’d seen a million times and gave it a vicious tongue, vibrant color palette and brutal, delirious insanity that burst through in bouts of cheer-worthy violence. Vaughn does a terrific job of staying mindful of environment during the action scenes, all of which have flair and power. But you can tell he’s still honing his skills as a filmmaker, and had yet to achieve the confidence to take everything to the next level, like he does in the next movie.

With KINGSMAN Vaughn improved on the skills he picked up on both KICK-ASS and X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, turning a classic genre on its head while staying faithful and telling a cohesive story with an ensemble cast. Picking up on what I said about KICK, Vaughn seems much more confident in his abilities to let the craziness fly and make his set pieces bigger both in scope and lunacy. The famed church scene is a notable example, requiring immense precision and attention to detail…not to mention a unique mind for chaotic, delightful violence. As his technical skills improved, so did his storytelling prowess (which we will get into later), and KINGSMAN is a great example of a filmmaker evolving with his craft.

THE YOUNG HERO

Ah, how the years have changed things. In the seven years since we were introduced to Aaron Johnson in KICK-ASS he has gone on to win a surprise Golden Globe, add a "Taylor" to his name, and make great career moves in movies like AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS and GODZILLA (okay, they're not all winners). He's become a full-fledged leading man and it's all thanks to this crazy little film. He earned all that praise for terrifically giving Dave Lizewski a beating, sympathetic heart, and in turn giving the movie one of its own. Johnson captured the innocence of Dave and gives him a sort of nerdy charm and likability, and in process demonstrated that if given the chance he probably could’ve made a great Peter Parker/Spider-Man. In essence, Dave is just a normal kid who went all Peter Finch in NETWORK and got mad as hell, and decided he wasn’t gonna take it anymore. He donned a costume, and did what we all dreamed we could do. Dave Lizewski is every comic book dork and dweeb, as well as anyone who wants to do something for the greater good, and Johnson understood that perfectly.

This was Taron Egerton’s first major film, and didn’t have many other credits to his name, so getting to be such an important character after not much experience was a task very few could pull off. But Egerton gives Eggsy a rouge-ish charm that makes him a hero worth rooting for. Eggsy has a chip on his shoulder (as was lovingly pointed out by Merlin), but Egerton still exudes a vulnerability that allows audiences to connect with him on an intimate level. However, he can’t help be overshadowed by Firth, Caine, or even Strong in scenes he has with them, and you wouldn't be wrong in thinking Firth's Hart is the hero of the film. Eggsy just isn’t as engaging a character as Dave, yet, as he still has to come into his own in GOLDEN CIRCLE.

THE TALE
KICK-ASS follows high-school student Dave Lizewski, the most average kind of kid you can imagine, who after being on the low end of the stick for too long decides to take matters (and his life) into his own hands and become a superhero. Obviously things don't go well, and he gets properly beaten-up. But soon he finds himself in a bigger world than he imagined, meeting fellow crime-stoppers Mindy/Hit-Girl and Damon/Big Daddy. The latter two are working hard to take down crime boss Frank D'Amico, whose son Chris becomes a character all his own in hopes of tricking the three do-gooders, and winning his father's approval. It's a solid origin tale, not just for Kick-Ass, but the others as well, which means the story can often feel less focused than how it starts out. The villain, Frank, doesn't have an evil scheme, and the conflict of the movie comes mostly from Damon's end, as he wishes to take revenge on the crime boss. The ending result is that, though everything is strung together nicely for the most part, Dave's tale and Damon's quest can't help but have a "two movies in one" feel.
A tough young man, Gary a.k.a. Eggsy, going nowhere with his life fast finds himself in hot water after a car chase with the coppers, only to be bailed out by a fancy, well-dressed man who looks like the dude from KINGS SPEECH. This man is Harry Hart, and years ago Eggsy's dad died saving Harry and two other men. Now Harry wants to teach Eggsy how to be a Kingsman agent just like his old man was training to be. Eggsy soon begins the trials with a bunch of other English snobs, and also the lovely Roxy. Meanwhile, Harry hunts down the man who killed his fellow agent, leading him to tech-billionaire Richmond Valentine, uncovering his plot to enact an eradication of human existence in hopes of starting Earth anew. After Harry falls in the field of duty, Eggsy must use his training to save the day and get the girl...and oh how he does. If the story is stronger here it's because of a stronger, centralized conflict that involves everyone on screen. Yes, Harry has his business to take care of while Eggsy trains, but given the closeness of their relationship the result is a smoother story that's able to shift gears into Eggsy's becoming a Kingsman a bit more naturally than KICK-ASS'.
NOTABLE BITS & LINES

Dive from the building.


"I will avenge you mother!!!"

Donning the suit.

Meet Mindy and Damon.

"You're gonna be fine, Baby Doll."

Anytime Nic Cage calls his daughter "child".

Rooftop training.

"Like every serial killer already knew, eventually fantasizing doesn't do it anymore. It was time to engage."

First crime.

Hit and run.

Making a Hungry Man dinner.

Kick-Ass 2.0 in action

"F**k you, Mr. Bitey!"

"Okay, you cunts. Let's see what you can do now."

Hit-Girl brings the pain.

"He has a special signal he shines in the sky. It's in the shape of a giant cock."

Anytime Nic Cage sounds like Adam West's Batman.

Trash compacting

The Mistmobile

Big Daddy's warehouse raid

Dave gets the girl.

Heroes betrayed

Kick-Ass unmasked

Hit-Girl in the dark.

"Show's over, mother f***kers!"

Big Daddy dies

Hit-Girl's Fun Time Hallway Massacre.

"Bazooka?"

Jetpack of Death

Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl vs. Red Mist and Frank.

Flying home

Driving forward is for chumps.


Meet Harry

"Manners maketh man."

"Are we just gonna stay around here all day, or are we going to fight?"

Harry brings the hurt.

Welcome to the world of Kingsman.

Underwater escape

"It's a bulldog, isn't it?

Hamill goes boom.

Skydiving lesson

Gazelle unleashed

A Happy Meal

Train dodge.

"One does not use fitting room two when one is popping one's cherry."

The fanciest armory in the land.

"I'm a Catholic whore currently enjoying congress out of wedlock with my black, Jewish boyfriend who works in a military abortion clinic. So, hail Satan, and have a lovely afternoon, madam."

The Church scene.

Harry takes one in he eye.

Light-fingered

Eggsy, Kingsman Eggsy.

Eggsy takes down the thugs.

Heads like the Fourth of July.

"When you save the word we can do it in the asshole?"

Dance floor showdown.

Javelin level 11.

Spoils of the Kingsman.

Mid-credits: Bar brawl round two
MUSICAL MASTERY
Various artists contributed to the sound of KICK-ASS, including Marius De Vries, Ilan Eshkeri, Henry Jackman, and John Murphy, and together they do an exemplary job of giving KICK-ASS a grand, intricate and suitably heroic sound. De Vries and Eshkeri handled a lot of the more standard, fast-paced tracks that manage to add a bit of whimsy to the film. Jackman handled the more personal tracks, such as "I'm Kick-Ass" and "Man in the Mirror", that emphasize Dave as a character, before crescendoing into a sound fit for such a superhero tale. Then there's Murphy, who took some work he did on SUNSHINE (Adagio in D Minor) and gave it a quicker pace, making it feel fresh and unique, as well as doing some new compositions that work brilliantly. All of this combined is a superhero score worth digging into, and stands tall among other movies in the genre. Almost makes you wanna to put on tights and take on the world, and then you think about what happened to Kick-Ass and realize that's not a good idea.
KINGSMAN also features work from Jackman who worked with Matthew Margeson to give Kingsman a lively, sometimes elegant score. There's a particular theme that radiates throughout most of the key pieces. A version of it can be heard slowly, like when Harry enters the Kingsman tailor shop near the beginning, only to hear it sped up a bit when he beats up the thugs at the bar. It's a grand sound that gives the movie that extra kick. The movie's whole score isn't as complex and rousing as KICK-ASS', but it's great nonetheless.
GIRL POWER
Living in a world where an 11-year-old girl is able to steal the show from Nic Cage dressed like Batman with a gentle mustache seems inconceivable, and downright laughable. But by god, does Moretz steal the show as Hit-Girl. The most foul-mouthed, ass-kicking character in the whole film, she also happens to be insanely lovable, like when she's joking around with her dad or playing with her butterfly knife. Above all she is an absolute heroine who laughs in the face of danger and takes on men three times her size with gusto and brutality. The violence she wroughts and language she spews was met with much criticism at the time, mostly because people didn't think such a young character, especially a girl, should do such things. Though this is true, Hit-Girl is the kind of character studios would be begging to put on screen now, in a time when female superheros are becoming a hotter and hotter commodity. Her own movie is long overdue, so maybe it's time that was revisited. Your move, studio cunts.
Vaughn is no stranger to giving girls opportunities to - ahem - kick ass, and KINGSMAN is no different. The most capable candidate of the all the young Kingsman, Roxy, easily wins the prize of being the next Lancelot, and travels into space attached to two hot air balloons, and blows up a satellite in the process. As well there's Sofia Boutella's Gazelle, who impales and butchers folks like they were deli meat, and does so with unbridled athleticism and confidence. She can own the battlefield and hold her own while sharing the screen with Sam Jackson, which is no easy feat. Sorry I didn't mean to say "feat", which sounds a lot like the other kind of "feet"...which Gazelle doens't have. I'm just making it worse now.
GLORIOUS VIOLENCE
Blood red is just one of the many colors this movie bursts with. KICK-ASS defined the gleeful violence R-rated superhero movies like DEADPOOL and LOGAN now embrace so easily. The violence wasn't just a fun touch back in 2010, but instead was used to subvert the genre even further, acting as a complete departure from the bloodless affairs of other comic book films. Though seeing more blood and realistic beatings will become more and more common in the superhero world, KICK-ASS deserves some credit for going gory before anyone else, and much of the praise should go to an 11-yearold girl who slices and dices better than Wolverine.
KINGSMAN has its fair share of gore. The church scene in particular is rife with cracking limbs, impaling, explosions and all other manner of giddy violence. There's also Boutella's Gazelle leaping and stabbing a few fools. But compared to KICK-ASS the movie as a whole feels somewhat tame. You got your standard gun violence and such, which is never not cool. KINGSMAN is ultra-violent when it needs to be, to put it simply, and chances are THE GOLDEN CIRCLE can kick things up a notch when it comes out later this year.
THE BIG BADDIE
Strong gives D'Amico a ferociousness that firmly establishes him as someone you really don't wanna mess with, a 180 from other crime boss villains who sit and talk in thick accents about "wanting his family and friends dead." However, he's not terribly complex, which makes it difficult for him as a character to really stand out, especially next to the competition here. A solid villain, but nothing more.
Of course Jackson is still gonna sound like a badass with a lisp. Why would he not? Jackson added the little trait to help portray him as a man who has a reason to want to succeed even more in life, and how such a little thing can make you not take him seriously, which would drive a man like him insane. But even without it the villain of Richmond Valentine is a strong one. His scheme is of the classic world-annihilation angle, but his motives are surprisingly refreshing. Making people kill each other with a neural inhibitor in their phones is genius, but the idea that's its not to take of over the world, instead to thin out the population for the better almost sounds like an agreeable idea. Coming out of a lisping Jackson's mouth even makes him talking about it seem charming, but then you remember you have to root for the good guy lest you seem crazy. But is it crazy?
GETTING THE GIRL
Like a lot of superhero origins, there's always a lady (or manly) love that our hero either needs to save or is just completely enamored with. KICK-ASS turns this on its head in a few ways. One, the girl in question, Katie (Fonseca), needs no saving. If anything, Kick-Ass often needs saving. Two, the movie seeks to prove that Dave gets the girl all on his own, and that becoming Kick-Ass was just the factor that allowed him to unlock something inside him, allowing him to become the man she fell in love with. Sure, she thought he was gay for awhile, but haven't we all been there? In the end he gets the girl, and then gets her in an alleyway behind the comic book shop.
A key factor in all the old Bond movies was James' new lady love, and all the tricks and charms he pulled out to win her into his bed. Often he had two he would seduce, because he's James F***ing Bond. Here the story aims to keep it on Eggsy, and other than Roxy he really has no connection to women at all -- which you can say is all in the name of doing something different with the genre. In the end, he gets to "do it in the asshole" with Princess Tilde, but that's more a fun wink-wink to the audience. Awesome, all the same though.
AWARDS, PRAISE & MONEY
Golden Schmoes:
    Best Supporting Actress: Moretz (Won)
    Breakthrough Performance of the Year: Moretz (Won)
    Coolest Character of the Year: Hit-Girl (Won)
    Best Line: "Okay, you cunts. Let's see what you can do now." (Won)
    Most Underrated Movie of the Year (2nd Place)
    Biggest Surprise of the Year (2nd Place)
    Best Action Sequence of the Year: "Hit-Girl vs. The Gangsters" (2nd Place)
    Best Action Sequence of the Year: "Hit-Girl rescues Big Daddy"(Nom)
Reviews: Box Office:
    $48 million ($96 million global)
Golden Schmoes:
    Most Underrated Movie of the Year (Won)
    Best Action Sequence of the Year: "Church Fight" (Won)
    Coolest Character of the Year: Galahad/Harry Hart (2nd Place)
    Biggest Surprise of the Year (Nom)
    Breakthrough Performance of the Year: Taron Egerton (Nom)
    Most Memorable Scene in a Movie: "Church fight" (Nom)
    Best Line of the Year: "Manners maketh man" (Nom)
    Reviews: Box Office:
      $128 million ($414 million global)
    Kick-Ass

    KINGSMAN is an undeniably fantastic spy adventure, with Vaughn playing with the format just enough to make it feel fresh while being faithful enough to remind us why we love ridiculous megalomaniacs and tux-wearing heroes. There's a lot about the movie stylistically that seems to have been inspired by KICK-ASS, a movie that gets the win here for a lot of reasons, the primary being that it, overall, has a more vigorous and infectious identity. No other comic movie has the same sense of energy and brazen insanity as this R-rated treat that manages to retain a beating heart -- one that pumps the blood that spurts out after a bullet to the head. The characters are, on the whole, more engaging, the humor is stronger, and it's an unrelenting source of colorful fun. Even after all these years it still holds up so well, and even though she's gone on to have a stellar career Chloe Grace Moretz will always be the perfect Hit-Girl. It didn't break the bank when it came out, and was followed by a crash-and-burn sequel, but if KICK-ASS came out today, with the clamoring for more adult superhero movies that there is, it would've made a much stronger impression at the box office, and the world it established would be ripe for greater exploration. People hadn't been introduced to The Avengers when this came out, and the world was not yet prepared for the onslaught of comics books movies we would get that make it much easier to appreciate one so different, so it must rest in its place as a movie that truly was ahead of its time. Not a bad place to rest.

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