A costumed crime-fighter stands atop a New York skyscraper. As the music swells, stoking memories of Superman with Metropolis laid out before him, this chap in grey and yellow spreads his blood-red wings and takes off, plummeting headfirst towards the fast-approaching pavement. At any moment, we think, he’s going to pull out of this swan-dive and fly up, up and away... But, he smashes onto the roof of a taxi with a bone-crunching SPLAT!
Welcome to Kick-Ass, a comic-book movie where no power equates to no responsibility; where wannabe superheroes fall foul of gravity and get the crap kicked out of them by ordinary street trash. Written by Scottish scribe Mark Millar (Wanted), the original Kick-Ass comic was an instant hit when the first issue appeared in early 2008, outselling even Spider-Man. No wonder, really; Millar mined a conceit so brilliant yet so simple – real superheroes in the real world – you had to ask yourself why no one had stumbled across it before.
The writer describes it as his “love letter to superhero comics” and reckons the film version will “redefine superhero movies in the same way Pulp Fiction redefined crime movies”. Talk about setting yourself up for a fall. But you know what? He’s not too wide of the mark. Kick-Ass is the most refreshing thing to happen to spandex cinema in years, a profane, violent, gory, gleeful romp that’s as OTT as it is un-PC. It pokes a sharp stick in the eye of po-faced, ‘dark’, ‘edgy’ super-flicks and shrieks, “Why so serious? Let’s have some fun for a change.”
It is, inevitably, an origin story. Geeky high schooler Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) lives a Peter Parkeresque existence with his widowed dad, hanging out with his mates at the local comic shop, jerking off to his voluptuous teacher, and wondering why no one’s ever tried dressing up as a superhero in real life. “Because they’d get their ass kicked,” he’s told, matterof- factly. Not to be put off, Dave buys a green ski-suit from eBay and sets out to prove it can be done...
Alas, his early attempts at righting wrongs ends with him in intensive care. Meanwhile, across town, two well-armed, well-trained, clearly not that well in the head agents of justice are plotting the downfall of mobster Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong). Meet ex-cop Damon Macready AKA Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his 11-year-old sidekick Mindy, AKA Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz). They’re father and daughter, mentor and student, an alt-rock Batman and Robin.
Their undeniably twisted but deeply affectionate relationship is the heart of the movie. In one defining moment unlikely to win the support of the NSPCC, Damon lovingly fires a semi-automatic handgun at the chest of his Kevlar-wearing moppet. Today’s lesson? How to take a bullet. Your brain will tell you this scene is very wrong. But you’ll be cackling too loudly to hear it.
It’s all about tone – dark enough to be anarchic, playful enough to amuse – and director Matthew Vaughn has it down pat. Honing storytelling skills first flexed on Layer Cake and Stardust, Vaughn ensures none of the source material’s graphic novelty is lost in translation. (Perhaps no big surprise given that the script – by himself and Jane Goldman – was adapted concurrently with the writing of the comic’s first six-issue arc.)
Working with a much smaller budget than Hollywood usually signs off on such fare, Vaughn doesn’t even try and compete in terms of scale, focusing instead on tone character and dialogue. His set-pieces – and there are tons – rely more on physicality than digi-trickery, and are all the punchier for it.
As the plot pounds along, the worlds of Kick-Ass and Big Daddy/Hit Girl collide. What’s more, another masked vigilante emerges – Red Mist (Superbad’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a flash-cardriving upstart with a hidden agenda. Spoilt, snotty and bumbling, it’s Mintz- Plasse’s chewiest role since McLovin - not that there’s any stealing the show from Moretz’s Hit Girl. Think Natalie Portman in Leon without the brooding. Slashing baddies down to size with martial arts moves and a mouth foul beyond her years, she’s deadly funny.
By contrast, Kick-Ass himself is a tad dull, though Johnson’s transformation (and American accent) thoroughly convince. Cage, a massive comic-book fan who missed his chance to play the Man Of Steel when the plug was pulled on Tim Burton’s proposed movie, here gets to channel the Caped Crusader. The costume’s an obvious Dark Knight nod, while the voice is a subtler gag, a spot-on Adam West impersonation.
It’s that kind of movie, one that works on multiple levels: in-jokes for the fanboys, straight-up kicks for the Saturday nighters, fun for all.