With all the speculation and hype surrounding Kick-Ass, the latest graphic-novel-slash-comic-movie-adaptation to hit our screens, your humble author went into the cinema with mixed expectations. Sure, the plot sounds like great fun and the Daily Mail decided it was “evil” (not a misquote, read the article for fogeyish hilarity), but could all of the hype set the bar too high? Fortunately, Matthew Vaughn’s movie is a brilliant flick, managing to both be a lovesong to the genre and completely renovate the superhero movie.
The plot, for those, unaware, follows loserish Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson, a talent to watch for sure), who hangs out with his friends and reads comic books. After wondering why no-one has tried being a superhero full-time, he buys an ugly scuba suit from the internet and starts a crime fighting campaign as the titular Kick-Ass. His only power is to be “invisible to girls” we’re told, but after his first skirmish sees him in hospital after getting his head kicked in, he has a few deadened nerve endings: basically, he can take a punch better than most people can. After recovery, he runs into father-daughter superteam Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz), who actually know what they’re doing, and Dave gets caught up in their mission to take down a drug cartel…
Of course, the real joy of Kick-Ass is that no-one has any superpowers. Kick-Ass himself swings wildly at villains, while Hit-Girl and Big Daddy use hi-tech weaponry and training to off the bad guys. The fight scenes, therefore, take on a far more realistic tone and work towards a grittier style: instead of spectacular energy bolts or flying, we see people either a) getting beaten up pretty badly hand-to-hand or b) people being killed with guns and knives. This latter method has kicked up a shitstorm in the more conservative media outlets (see the Mail, above) for ‘glamourising violence’, but in actual fact it’s not really dressed up at all. Sure, it makes us think for a second how cool it’d be to run down a corridor killing bad guys with an assortment of weapons, but it also shows the consequences of such actions: the deaths aren’t glamourous but anonymous, and the scenes of Kick-Ass getting beaten up (which happens on several occasions) are visceral and show what happens when you lose the fight, not just win it.
The violence and swearing (watching a 12 year-old using the C-word is a truly enjoyable taboo-breaker) have drawn most of the headlines, and most of the plaudits, and that to an extent is a fair assessment. However, credit to Vaughn and the cast for making it so utterly breakneck – the pace never slackens and we are thrown scene to scene like one of Big Daddy’s victims – whilst also maintaining the human element which is the core of the film.
The relationship between BD and H-G (to give them their monograms) is one created not out of tedious backstory, but in a three-minute comic-style flashback, which gives us all the details we need without lengthy exposition. The other father-child relationship, between drug kingpin Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong, brilliant) and his son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, channeling Fogel without repeating him) is never overstated. Similarly, Johnson’s Dave is an instantly recognisable character whose personal history is shown in a short space of time – we don’t particularly want to see swathes of emotional exploration, we’d rather get to the fun bits.
And Kick-Ass is a film certainly not lacking in fun bits. From Dave’s hilarious desire to date the school hottie (Lyndsey Fonseca’s Katie Deauxma) to the climactic two-person siege on D’Amico’s penthouse, there are moments to be enjoyed by all. Whether you’re a fan of stupid Superbad-esque wank gags or well-orchestrated megaviolence, Kick-Ass can deliver.
The whole picture is very well stylised, dropping hints to its comic background with in-jokes about sequels to The Spirit and dialogue boxes used to advance the plot. Kick-Ass knows that it’s a comic book film, but instead of playing down the eccentric norms of the medium, it plays up to them, fully embracing the inherent ludicrousness of comics whilst lodging the action in a recognisable New York locale. This balance between realism and surrealism is a difficult one to strike, but it is maintained throughout by Vaughn, whose camerawork offers homages to the slo-mo action of past superhero films, but also adds a new spin with clever reveals and inventive cuts.
Overall, Kick-Ass is simply a bloody huge pile of fun, managing to offer interesting human backstories without Spider-Man 3’s self-pity and high-octane action without X-Men 3‘s CGI mania. Made on a relatively slim budget of around $29m, it’s a testament to doing a lot with a little, and the sequel (which, we’re told, is in the works) has a lot to live up to, because this is a cracking slice of popcorn entertainment.
9/10: Doesn’t get full marks because it didn’t completely blow me away, but Kick-Ass is still more than a cut above what most super-films can offer on a tiny fraction of the budget. A brilliant cast who known just how to play it, a director with a whole heap of ideas and a central plot madder than bag of hammers, it’s a rollicking rollercoaster of a movie, and one which is missed at your own peril. Definitely worth seeing.