This was originally published at The Edge SUSU on May 4th 2014.
Okay, so I admit I’m kind of cheating here; I couldn’t just pick between the soundtrack and the separately compiled score to Kick-Ass because as stupid and unlikely as it may sound, they both mean so much to me. I know it’s a film about people dressing up as superheroes and beating criminals up whilst they say bad words but I don’t care; I love it, to pieces. The film has its own weird place in my heart and it never fails to bring a huge grin to my face. And one of the many reasons for that is its soundtrack, which manages to oscillate effortlessly between cheesy fun, energetic punk rock and surprisingly moving orchestral pieces. It should by all accounts be a mess, and instead it works just as well as Pulp Fiction’s equally erratic and impulsive soundtrack. Yeah, I said it! There may have been plenty of soundtracks before and after Kick-Ass that are objectively more focused, more consistent and more groundbreaking, but none will ever earn the same fanboyish affection from me that the music to the 2010 angsty teenage superhero comedy did.
The actual compilation itself is, when you look at it from a distance, really chaotic. It’s tonally all over the place and there isn’t much consistency in the songs selected. Even the score, written by four separate composers (five if you include the track that an un-credited Danny Elfman recorded as a favour) lacks a single clear direction. Each individual piece of music has been entirely constructed or selected for its appropriate moment in the film. Hence we manage to go from The Sparks right through to Elvis Presley and from Primal Scream to borrowed arrangements from Spaghetti Western composer Ennio Moricone. Yet it still works. Partly because each individual element, despite being at first glance totally incompatible with the rest of the music, still manages to do its own job so well. And also because there is actually a loose focus when it comes to the song selection. Apparently the original intention with the soundtrack was to go for a ‘bubblegum punk’ feel, and despite my insistence that the soundtrack doesn’t really have a single unified direction, you can see that approach manifested in some of the song choices. ‘The Banana Splits’ and ‘Bad Reputation’ by the Dickies and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts respectively come to mind .
Listening to the two albums – both score and soundtrack – from beginning to end takes you through multiple different emotions, multiple different genres, multiple different eras and multiple different styles and that’s why I love them. Precisely because they don’t really make any sense, and because everything is so different. Just like with the film itself, the energy is extremely infectious.
Regardless of whether or not the actual finished selection works as a cohesive collection is beside the point, or at least in this case it is. There isn’t a single bad song choice made. When ‘Bad Reputation’ kicks in before the climatic corridor shoot out its incredibly hard to not freak out a little bit inside and I defy anyone not to bob along to the film’s vibrant opening and closing Prodigy track ‘Stand Up’. Similarly the score fits each individual moment like a glove. Henry Jackman’s ‘Flying Home’ is one of the most shamelessly optimistic and naïve pieces of score ever put to film, and it’s also one of the most air-punchingly feel good orchestral compositions I can think of. Not only that, but the sometimes cheesy and overly bouncy tracks shouldn’t be readily dismissed as tacky, because the context of their inclusion in the film is always knowing and ironic with tongue firmly in cheek. Take the aforementioned ‘Banana Splits’; it might not be the most profound use of a song in cinema history, but when it’s played over a purple wigged tween gleefully dismembering the limbs of multiple drug dealers, it’s an inspired choice. And it captures the youthful exuberance of the scene and the film as a whole faultlessly. Even the parts of the score that are lifted from other movies are applied with precision. John Murphy’s ‘Strobe’, an adaptation of his own piece ‘Surface of the Sun’ from Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, is so haunting and beautiful that you almost forget that as it plays you’re watching an 11 year old girl shoot gangsters in the face.
So track for track, when it comes to identifying my favourite musical accompaniment to a film, I know that I’m going to go with the combination of Kick-Ass’ score and soundtrack. Maybe it’s not high art, maybe it’s not instantly recognizable or canonical, but it’s my favourite. If you asked me to pick my top ten uses of music in film I can guarantee at least eight of them would be from Kick-Ass. So it might not be the most obvious choice, nor is it in anyway the most respectable, but it’s my choice.