Having already courted the expected controversy from the predictable sources in the media, including a rather bizarre comment from The Independent where the problem with the film is not the age of one of the protagonists but the fact that she’s a female, Kick-Ass arrives in UK cinemas riding one of the biggest waves of hype for a British film in a long time. Matthew Vaughn’s third film as director is part action, part comedy, part superhero spoof and part drama but the crucial thing is that it is all genius. No matter what your expectations are when you sit down in the cinema screen and enter Vaughn’s twisted world, prepare to have them exceeded in every way.
The film centres around average but painfully geeky kid Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a comic book fan who, despite having no powers, decides to become a superhero. One purchase of a wet suit from eBay later and he is transformed into Kick-Ass although his first attempt to combat evil ends up with him in hospital. Having recovered, his latest crime-fighting exploits make him an internet sensation and he quickly catches the attention of not only the local daddy-daughter superheroes Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) but also the local mob boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong).
No review of Kick-Ass will go by without mentioning the character of Hit Girl, the source of the film’s controversy, so we might as well get it out of the way now. Chloe Moretz is an absolute revelation as the 11-year-old foul-mouthed assassin and shows maturity beyond her years to deliver a performance that is impossible to ignore. She steals every scene she’s in, even with the big players on show like Nicolas Cage and Mark Strong, as she curses and chops her way through every bad guy foolish enough to cross her path. There’s no way of dissuading people who believe that it’s wrong to have a role like Hit Girl being portrayed by someone so young but the one thing Vaughn does well is that the film never once glorifies the violence. He even goes as far to show the negative side with the characters receiving some pretty brutal beatings along the way, especially Hit Girl in the final action sequence which may be hard for some people to watch.
The rest of the cast don’t disappoint either with one of the biggest surprises being Nicolas Cage who puts his wooden performances in recent years behind him and revels in his role as Big Daddy. Perhaps it’s because he’s cut his hair or because he’s more comfortable playing characters who are slightly unhinged but Cage provides some of the film’s funniest moments especially when he channels Adam West’s Batman in his disguise as Big Daddy. Aaron Johnson delivers on the potential shown by his portrayal of John Lennon in Nowhere Boy and makes Dave a completely believable character that the audience fully roots for when it could easily have become the classic cliché of geek trying to get the girl.
Kick-Ass also gives Christopher Mintz-Plasse a chance to show he can do something other than McLovin’ as his portrayal of Chris D’Amico (AKA Red Mist) comes with a darker edge and Mintz-Plasse does a brilliant job in ensuring the audience are never quite sure as to whether or not he is a villain. The only actor that suffers is Mark Strong whose role as Frank D’Amico is underwritten and underdeveloped with him never quite becoming more than a cliché of a mob boss as we’re never sure exactly why he is what he is. It’s no particular fault of Strong himself but hopefully a director’s cut might give us a bit more backstory into his character.
Apart from the underwritten main villain though, the screenplay, co-written by Vaughn and Jane Goldman, is superb. It delivers line after line of quotable dialogue and cleverly mocks the comic book genre while also championing it but is also as comfortable with the darker, more dramatic elements. Make no mistake about it, for all the press about Kick-Ass being supremely entertaining (which it is), it definitely treads into some dark waters that will shock the audience who haven’t read the comic book it’s based on. What Vaughn and Goldman do well is to ensure that nearly every dark moment is followed by another comic moment, sometimes within the same scene which means the audience is never far from having a smile on their faces.
His time spent producing films with Guy Ritchie has definitely rubbed off on Vaughn as the action scenes of Kick-Ass contain the same visual flair we’ve come to expect from a Ritchie film. One particular action sequence isn’t kind to viewers with photosensitive epilepsy as the majority of it is shot in darkness with just a flashing light giving us a sense of what is going on but it contains several memorable images, especially one awe-inspiring ultra-slow motion sequence at the very end of it. Most of the action is fast and furious but Vaughn manages to capture it all with the final sustained action sequence containing one lobby sequence that is reminiscent of both Wanted’s climatic warehouse battle and that scene in The Matrix.
Kick-Ass will definitely not be to everyone’s tastes and it’s fair to say that if you’re already outraged at the prospect of an 11-year-old girl saying the c-word while chopping a guy’s leg off, then stick well clear and just write a strongly-worded letter of complaint to the Mail about the collapse of society as we know it. However for everyone else, Kick-Ass will definitely be one of the most entertaining experiences you’ve had in the cinema and will end up on your best of 2010 lists. The ending hints at a sequel but unlike when a horror movie does it and leaves us groaning, you’ll be wishing it had already been made.