Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn, 117 mins, (15)<br/>How to Train Your Dragon, Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois, 98 mins, (PG)<br/>Clash of the Titans, Louis Leterrier, 97 mins, (12A)

Much more worrying than its knife-wielding girl is the commercial cynicism of Matthew Vaughn&rsquo;s homage to boys&rsquo; stuff
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The Independent Culture

Matthew Vaughn’s new film, Kick-Ass, is already notorious for featuring a 12-year-old girl who dismembers drug dealers while spouting the kind of vocabulary that adults like to imagine 12-year-olds don’t know.

Be warned. The swearing and limb-lopping haven’t been exaggerated by the Daily Mail, so if you think they might offend you, then they probably will – although the vapid shopaholics who pass for schoolgirls in most Hollywood movies are surely more offensive.

Aaron Johnson stars as a teenage comics geek who can’t understand why no one has ever tried to be a superhero in real life. Ordering a green wet suit off the internet, he goes out looking for muggers to tussle with, but instead crosses the paths of a murderous mob boss (Mark Strong), a psychotic vigilante (Nicolas Cage) with a Batman fetish, and his controversially knife-happy daughter (Chloe Moretz).

Doing for superheroes what Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels did for gangsters, Kick-Ass is colourful, irreverent, Tarantino-ish fun, especially when the brilliantly oddball Cage is on screen. But I was never quite sure what it was getting at. Having expended bagfuls of voice-over on the premise of an ordinary boy in the ordinary world becoming a superhero, it immediately veers out of said ordinary world and into a universe of jet packs, caped crime-fighters, and mafia godfathers with martial arts training. Sometimes a satire, sometimes an action movie, and sometimes a raunchy teen romance, it’s less a coherent film than A Compendium of Stuff that Adolescent Boys Might Consider Awesome. My inner adolescent boy considered it fairly awesome, too.

Looking back at DreamWorks’s recent cartoons – Bee Movie, Kung Fu Panda, Monsters vs Aliens – you get the impression that the studio comes up with its titles first, and its stories much, much later. How to Train Your Dragon would appear to follow that trend, but in this instance the catchy title is more than matched by the film it accompanies, a beautifully animated, sweet-natured family comedy with an uncluttered, irresistible plot, as opposed to DreamWorks' typical formula of pop songs, wisecracking rodents, and winking allusions to other films.

Inspired by Cressida Cowell's children's novels, it's set in a Viking village where the adults have Scottish accents (furnished by Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson) while the teenagers are all American. But the main divergence from the history books is that the village is regularly terrorised by dragons.

A young Viking named Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) wants to be a fearsome dragon-slayer, but, like most cartoon heroes, he's a brains-not-brawn type who learns, by accident, that dragons are essentially flying, fire-breathing dogs that can be domesticated if you know where to tickle them. This discovery leads to some transcendent scenes of Hiccup soaring through the skies on his dragon's back – imagine Avatar, except with jokes – and a radical message about getting to know your enemies instead of invading their homelands.

The scaly co-stars look wonderful, but where How to Train Your Dragon really exceeds most other digital animations is in depicting its human cast as proper cartoon characters, instead of walking mannequins. It's like an Asterix book brought to life. The 3D is lovely, too, something that can't be said of Clash of the Titans, a CGI-heavy remake of the 1981 adventure film. It was shot in D, and then reprocessed into 3D in post-production, an afterthought which actually makes the film look flatter.

The story Sellotapes various Greek myths together. For the third time in a row, Sam Worthington (Avatar, Terminator: Salvation) plays an Aussie bloke who finds himself with super-powers. He is Perseus, the product of one of Zeus's many dalliances with mortal women, and so, while he'd rather be a fisherman, it's up to him to stop the city of Argos from being flattened by a sea monster. Meanwhile, there's some in-fighting on Mount Olympus, where the gods look even dafter than their counterparts did in the original film. I don't know what Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes did to upset the hair, make-up and costume departments, but, by Hades, their wigs alone are scarier than any of the creatures Perseus has to face.

Clash of the Titans is a well-designed theme-park ride, with some breathtaking special effects (the 3D excepted). It's just nowhere near as epic as you'd expect from the source material. Edited to the bone, it gallops from giant scorpions to Stygian witches without any pauses for thought, so you can barely distinguish one of Perseus's sidekicks from another before they become Gorgon fodder. If the director is so determined to make video games rather than films, why doesn't he just make one?

Also Showing: 04/04/2010

Remember Me (113 mins, 12A)

What is it about Robert Pattinson and moping around? He’s Mr Pained and Soulful in the Twilight franchise, and, designer stubble aside, he doesn’t do much to ruffle his angst-ridden dreamboat image in Remember Me, a grungy indie romance between two New York students. An adolescent tale of adolescent rebellion, it lazily provides both Pattinson and his love interest, Emilie de Ravin, with dead relatives and difficult fathers (Pierce Brosnan, Chris Cooper) to make their characters seem deep and troubled. Otherwise they’d be insufferable posers.

City of War: The Story of John Rabe (124 mins, 15)

This handsome, intelligent, yet slightly too traditional German war drama tells the true story of Japan’s attack on Nanking in 1937. A safe zone for civilians is established by a group of European ex-pats, principally John Rabe (Ulrich Tukur), a faithful member of the Nazi party who fully expects Hitler to intervene on behalf of the Chinese. His ambivalent colleagues are Steve Buscemi and Daniel Bruhl (Inglourious Basterds, Good Bye Lenin).

Next Week:

Nicholas Barber finds out whether The Infidel will restore his faith in its screenwriter, David Baddiel

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