Kick Ass tells the story of average teenager Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), who decides to take his obsession with comic books as inspiration to become a real-life superhero.  As any good superhero would, he chooses a new name – Kick Ass – assembles a suit and mask to wear, and gets to work fighting crime. There’s only one problem – Kick Ass has absolutely no superpowers.

His life is forever changed as he inspires a sub-culture of copy cats, meets up with a pair of crazed vigilantes – an eleven year old sword-wielding dynamo, Hit Girl (Chloë Moretz), and her father Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) – and forges a friendship with another fledging superhero, Red Mist (Chris Mintz-Plasse). But thanks to the scheming of a local mob boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), that new alliance will be put to the test.


Comic book movies are ready for their revisionist era. Like the western, which went from Tom Mix to John Wayne before the iconic became subversive with The Wild Bunch, costumed heroes are on the cusp of a demystification that could be both humourous and unsettling. Putting aside that films such as The Dark Knight comment on their own circumstances even as they inflate the stakes, audiences are leaning towards superheroes who are beset by gravity.

Kick-Ass, adapted from the Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. graphic novel by English filmmaker Matthew Vaughn, is not quite that film. Ultimately it’s happy to dryly satirise the genre while taking it to ludicrous heights. Scientists refer to this process as having your cake and eating it too, and it’s a defining approach for Vaughn, who got his professional start producing for Guy Ritchie. His previous features, the 2004 London crime procedural Layer Cake and the 2007 fantasy adaptation Stardust, both celebrated the excess they were nominally undercutting.

So in Kick-Ass you have Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a gangly teenage boy who lives in what appears to be the same modest street as Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker did in Spider-Man, with the same case of dweebish social invisibility. When he decides to put his comic book fandom to work, his costume is ill-fitting and his crime fighting skills are distinctly lacking: his first vigilante effort sees him beaten, stabbed and mowed down by a car.

But there’s also Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his daughter Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz), a pre-adolescent assassin who appears to have gained her DNA from early John Woo flicks. They are everything Kick-ass isn’t: prepared, purposeful, deadly. The two are first sighted when father is teaching daughter the importance of a bulletproof vest by shooting her, but once that passes it’s apparent that the family that slays together stays together.

The two play their scenes with a straight face, although Cage undercuts it slightly with a beaming paternal pride and deliberately stilted line readings that are patently creepy and a welcome return to his long deposed mordant sensibilities. Hit-Girl blasts gangs of bad guys to the Banana Splits theme, swears like a trooper and eventually engages a grown man in vicious hand to hand combat. It can’t be construed as shocking because it’s simply too ludicrous for that, and it’s a case of Vaughn poking fun at the sensibilities of the fan-boy audience, who believe they’re in on the joke even as he stokes their need for petty transgression and immediate sensation.

A mobile phone recording and a YouTube account make Kick-Ass a media celebrity, although the movie is also commenting on the voyeurism of superhero fans, who love to watch even when their favourites are being tortured live online. Vaughn demonstrates a mastery of tone: switching from deadpan irony to a triumphant verisimilitude as he ticks off the various necessities of a superhero movie; the production design is cleverly heightened, adding to the garishness that rises up to overwhelm the faux realism that so many comic book adaptations proudly embrace.

The plot provides a typically gruff villain (Mark Strong, yet again), his nebbish son who wants in on the family business (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a love interest for Dave in the form of Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca), who makes him her best friend because she believes he’s gay (his initial injuries was the result of a gay bashing according to high school intelligence). The idea that his object of desire thinks he’s homosexual appears to worry Dave more than anything else in Kick-Ass’ slick unfolding, and it’s the ultimate sign that the film plays to, and not against, the genre’s loyal audience.

The teenager reprioritises his beliefs once he’s lost his virginity – 'I’ve something to live for," he vows, putting aside the bodies scattered all over town – and that’s one area that Kick-Ass literally plays very straight. The film is amusing, but it’s gaspingly inconsequential.


1 hour 46 min
In Cinemas 08 April 2010,
Thu, 08/19/2010 - 11