Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is just your ordinary, comic book loving teenager from Staten Island, New York. Captivated by the idea of become a real-life superhero, he buys a scuba bodysuit and creates the crime-fighting alter-ego “Kick-Ass”. His initial attempts to fight crime, though, lead to him being hospitalized.
After successfully intervening in a gang attack, Kick-Ass becomes a viral sensation, attracting the attention of Mindy Macready (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her dad Damon (Nicolas Cage), aka Hit-Girl and Big Daddy. Although Kick-Ass feels overwhelmed by what it takes to be an accomplished vigilante, Hit-Girl and Big Daddy see potential in him and offer him a chance to help them take down Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), the city’s Mafia boss who has a history with Damon.
Despite being well received by most critics and performing well at the box office, Kick-Ass generated quite a bit of controversy, when it was released in 2010, over the profane and violent child character Hit-Girl (oddly enough, actress Chloe Grace Moretz confirmed that while filming she couldn’t even bring herself to say the film’s name during interviews, choosing to call it “the film” or “kick-butt” instead). Since its release, the film has developed a strong cult following.
In fairness to those that generated the controversy, I can understand why they’re so put off by this film. With it’s crude humor and unrelentingly violent action setpieces, Kick-Ass is not you average Disney distributed Marvel flick. Yet this film was a breath of fresh air for the comic book genre. Prior to Kick-Ass, from around 2005-2010, mainstream comic book adaptations had two superheroes that worked: Christopher Nolan’s first two Dark Knight films and Iron Man. Besides those two, the genre stumbled repeatedly with two lousy Fantastic Four movies, two lousy X-Men films (The Last Stand and X-Men: Origins – Wolverine), Spider-Man 3, Superman Returns, Green Lantern and Green Hornet (the latter two were released in 2011). But from 2009-2010, three unconventional takes on the superhero genre – Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass – breathed fresh, original life back into what was starting to become a bland repetitive franchise.
Co-writer/director Matthew Vaughn first got his filmmaking feet wet producing films for Guy Ritchie, most notably 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, 2000’s Snatch (also Madonna’s Swept Away, but even Spielberg’s made a few missteps in his career). It’s evident that Ritchie’s fittingly frenetic style rubbed off on Vaughn in all the right ways possible as Vaughn has carved out a trio of films so far that pop with a style that sizzles with electrifying entertainment. His debut was the vastly underrated Layer Cake with Daniel Craig, he revitalized the X-Men franchise with X-Men: First Class and took the superhero film to effectively darker depths with this film.
While Vaughn doesn’t necessarily have the dialogue touch that Ritchie showed in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, both he and co-writer Jane Goldman have crafted a darkly funny and witty adaptation of Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.’s comic book. In this world, superpowers are ideas found only in fictional stories. These are real humans delivering their own brand of vigilante justice, and at times, at least in Kick-Ass’s case when he first gives crime-fighting a try, it doesn’t always end well. Vaughn and Goldman throw out some witty jabs at not just the comic book tropes, but their target audience as well, while never going about it in a mean-spirited way.
It’d be an understatement for me to say the violence is shamelessly over-the-top but Vaughn handles it in a stylishly entertaining fashion. Yeah, at times, it’s not for those with weak stomachs, but there’s really nothing grotesque or gratuitous about the bloodshed. The sequences are frantically paced like what we’ve seen in countless of comic book films before and after this, yet Vaughn avoids assembling a distracting series of scenes by putting together some highly exciting fight sequences (the three best all involve Hit-Girl) that manage to mix in humor (one Hit-Girl fight is perfectly set to The Dickies 1979 hit “Banana Splits”, aka the “Tra La La Song”) with first-rate choreography.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who was so boring in last year’s Godzilla, delivers an enthusiastic performance that carries this film well. He’s awkward and geeky, and a lot of the jokes in Vaughn and Goldman’s script point that out about not just him but his two friends Marty and Todd (Clark Duke and Evan Peters, respectively), yet there’s still something endearing about the friendship they share with each other. Scene-stealer Chloe Grace Moretz received most of the flack from the film’s detractors as the foul-mouthed preteen who can kick-ass better than most of the best ass-kicking superheroes, but despite her character’s jaw-dropping antics, she still shares a heartfelt, unbreakable bond with her dad, played by Nicolas Cage.
Speaking of Cage, it ain’t exactly breaking news that for the past 10 years he’s been phoning in performances in as many straight-to-DVD crap-bombs that are willing to help contribute to his outstanding tax bill. Yet, in the midst of all the crap he was showing up in, he pops up her in a performance that’s the funnest he’s been in a while. It’s not a Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation or, more recently, a Joe performance, but it’s still an engaging turn that’s able to allow him to show off a bit of that crazy persona he loves to let loose (in a nice nod to Batman, which his alter-ego sorta resembles, Cage performs his scenes as Big Daddy with an Adam West style delivery that’s campy but effective), but in a way that fits the character and never goes off the rails.
Kick-Ass easily earns its R-rating and isn’t for the faint of heart, but Matthew Vaughn’s confident direction takes what could’ve been a gratuitously crass train wreck and turns it into a stylishly irreverent send-up of the comic book film genre. Led by a likable young cast, a solid villainous turn from Mark Strong and Nicholas Cage channeling his trademark eccentricity into something refreshingly worthwhile, Kick-Ass is a bloody fun time that pulls no punches and never once makes any compromises with its material.