"With no power comes no responsibility..."
Adapted from the comic book of the same name by Mark Millar, and under the direction of British filmmaker Matthew Vaughn, 2010's Kick-Ass quite simply kicks ass. While this particular analogy may seem lazy and obvious, it's appropriate. Relentlessly audacious, devilishly hilarious, gloriously violent and electrifyingly entertaining, Kick-Ass is a refreshing, decidedly adult reboot of the stale comic-book adventure genre that works on practically every level.
As with most stories of comic-book superheroes, this movie revolves around an average teenager: Dave Lizewski (Johnson). However, Kick-Ass doesn't take place in the Marvel universe or the DC universe. Instead, it takes place in our universe, where Spider-Man and Batman are seen in comic books and motion pictures. Fed up with being bullied at school and mugged on the street, Dave decides to become a real-life superhero, despite possessing no special abilities or strengths. To achieve his goal, Dave orders a scuba suit online and uses it as the costume for his crime-fighting alter ego, Kick-Ass. Alas, Dave soon realises that wandering the streets of New York in a goofy outfit is a great way to get beaten up. Soon, a bystander videotapes Kick-Ass attempting to fight off some thugs and posts the clip on YouTube, which rapidly becomes an internet sensation. His raised profile brings him to the attention of two legitimate crime-fighting heroes: the father-daughter team of Big Daddy (Cage) and Hit Girl (Moretz). To reveal more would spoil the fun within, so rest assured that this synopsis barely scratches the surface of the plot.
On the one hand, Kick-Ass is a satire of superhero movies like Spider-Man and Iron Man, with the filmmakers gleefully taking the piss out of the established clichés of the genre and subverting the traditional story beats with a painful dose of reality (for instance Dave's hilariously botched first outing as a superhero, which ends with him in the hospital bleeding and naked, leading to rumours among his classmates that he's gay, which ironically leads to him becoming closer to the girl of his dreams). However, while this is essentially a comedy, the movie still works as a straight superhero adventure since the bad guys are sinister and the violence is hard-hitting. Put simply, Kick-Ass is extremely well written. In particular, the dialogue crackles with intelligence and wit - whenever Dave hangs out with his two friends, the one-liners come thick and fast. Dave interacts with Big Daddy and Hit Girl on numerous occasions, and the dialogue between them is usually hysterical. In spite these strengths, however, the film falls short in a few areas. Some clichés are unable to be avoided (there's an unshakeable element of predictability at one stage during the final act), and the first half is simply not as well-paced as the rollicking second half.
Kick-Ass may be Matthew Vaughn's third feature as a director, but he steers this material like a veteran filmmaker; handling wild tonal shifts impressively, and marshalling a string of incredible action set-pieces infused with excellent, inventive choreography as if he was the bastard son of John Woo and Tony Scott. The final act certainly stands as the film's most action-heavy portion, and offers a terrific pay-off for audiences waiting for the heroes to be let off the chain. The standout of the final act is a strobe-light shootout which nails the video-game aesthetic more perfectly than any other movie to date. In addition, Kick-Ass is aided immensely by the comics-inspired production design and the slick cinematography that suggests a much higher budget than this independently-produced film was actually made on. Yet another great aspect of the film is the use of music. It's clear from the brilliant use of music in Vaughn's prior movies (the Duran-Duran Ordinary World sequence in Layer Cake is a classic) that the director knows how to select tracks for his films. He's a very careful filmmaker, as evidenced by the fact that Kick-Ass has four credited composers in addition to a featuring slew of source music from other artists. Ennio Morricone's theme from For a Few Dollars More is even given a workout, as does the 28 Days Later theme.
British television actor Aaron Johnson is ideally cast as Dave Lizewski - he possesses a likeable quality which serves the character well. However it's the young Chloe Moretz who steals the show here. Moretz is already an established actress (remember her in last year's (500) Days of Summer?) and her performance as Hit Girl is absolutely dead-on - she's cute, hilarious, and absolutely awesome. Like all the best action heroes, Moretz is able to make the act of firing and reloading guns look effortlessly cool and graceful, and in turn the film's climactic shootout is one of the most exciting and exhilarating instances of over-the-top cinematic gunplay since Shoot 'Em Up. The biggest surprise here is Nicolas Cage, who's a thorough delight in his best screen outing for years as the nerdy and obsessive father to Hit Girl; lovingly aping Adam West while in his mock-Batman outfit. Christopher Mintz-Plasse (who will forever be known as McLovin' from Superbad) also acquits himself well with the role of Red Mist; demonstrating spot-on comic timing and an amusing deadpan delivery. Another notable performer is Mark Strong, playing his second consecutive bad guy after Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes. As usual, Strong is a solid villain.
All the large Hollywood studios refused to fund Kick-Ass, so director Matthew Vaughn had to go outside the studio system and get the film made by himself. Fortunately for Vaughn (and us), he had enough wealthy pals on his side (Brad Pitt is credited as a producer) to finance this action-comedy and bring it to cinema screens. Thus, with an indie approach, Vaughn had the freedom to craft a thrilling, violent, completely un-PC comic-book flick not burdened by the requirement to pander to toy manufacturers or fast food chains. A little 11-year-old girl in a superhero costume may seem cute, but a little 11-year-old girl in a superhero costume who brutally kills people and uses the C-word? Not so much. All-too-predictably, controversy has been stirred up over the character of Hit Girl, whose violent and profanity-laced antics have interpreted by some as advocating violence to young viewers. This is, of course, utter nonsense. The film carries an R rating in America and a high rating in other major countries, why would young tweens be seeing this movie in the first place? Plus, those who loathe the film because of the content with Hit Girl are missing the point completely. Kick-Ass is just a fun, humorous, cartoonish ride not meant to be taken seriously, so stop being so uptight!
With director Vaughn delivering one rollicking, raucous set-piece after another, Kick-Ass expertly blends side-splitting tongue-in-cheek humour with bone-shattering action, resulting in an endlessly entertaining and breathtaking slice of entertainment. It's to superhero movies what Shaun of the Dead is to zombie movies.