The comic book movie juggernaut that had dominated the summer season over the last decade was totally derailed by the preposterous abomination that was Spider-man 3.
After Sam Raimi’s ill-conceived mess it was clear that the comic-book movie badly needed a reinvention or else audiences would suffer superhero fatigue. Watchmen was the first film to reinvigorate the beleaguered genre, and this adaptation of Mark Millar’s revered graphic novel brings the super-hero – sometimes quite literally – kicking and screaming into the modern world, grounding costumed vigilantes in the laws of reality more than any film before and thus making the notion of caped crusaders absolutely enthralling again.
Dave Lizewski aka Kick-Ass is every-bit the people’s hero: a spectacled, nerdy high-school weed who makes Peter Parker or Clark Kent seem like suave charmers in comparison. He hasn’t been mutated by the bite of an arachnid, and doesn’t hail from some super-power bestowing distant planet. He’s just a guy, who sees injustice, and decides to take a stand against the maddening apathy to crime shown by all, including the police.
When he dons his comically bland, emerald green, mail order lycra jump suit, he looks less imposing than a toddler trick or treating; the muscle hugging fabric can neither conceal how hapless and pathetic he is, or his apparent lack of muscles, but hey, he’s willing to take a pounding in the name of pursuing justice and for that, arguably, he has more of a claim to be a hero than the comic book crusaders that he attempts to emulate.
So out into the mean streets of New York he wanders, and pluckily takes on the bad guys, but can this little green-man find the powers to Kick-ass and stop crime in a city besieged by the criminal enterprise of gangster stalwart Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong)?
From this humdinger of a premise the most eye-wateringly hilarious take on comic book mythology is born. The script is snappy and razor sharp, packing in guffaw inducing dialogue as well as a continual string of deliriously warped, wince inducing, violence orientated sight gags. The black comedy packs a mighty punch, firmly putting back the comic in comic book movies. It’s a film gleefully mocking and poking fun at comic-book movie conventions but it is so much more than a genre parody. There’s an obvious element of farce about the hero’s intentions, given his un-likeliness to succeed but accompanying his outlandishness there is a healthy dose of realism to what exactly happens to this most naive of heroes.
Director Mathew Vaughn successfully manages to create the impression that this particular hooded dealer of justice does not exist in the fictionalized world superheroes usually inhabit, but in a world we recognise, your world, the real world. You watch him as spell-bindingly captivated as if you saw one of your own mates exit a fancy dress shop in a leotard and cape, armed with nothing more than good intention, and front up to a gang of shifty looking characters. The amusingly punishing fate that befalls our hero is no-doubt the same as what would happen in the event of that mate attempting such courageous/stupid (depending on your disposition) vigilantism. A number of the scenes, play against your expectations and strangely adhere to the laws of reality, well, where our central hero are concerned anyway.
The other superheroes that complete the motley crew are a bit more conventional but in the sense that they can actually kick-ass rather than just name themselves Kick-Ass. They are the reason why the film has some super-slick, stylish and classy action sequences to balance out the riotously comic scenes, giving the film a dramatic dimension. She maybe pintsized and barely double digit in age but that doesn’t stop the sassy Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) handing out an ass-whooping. In her high-octane anime inspired, Kill Bill nodding kinetic action set-pieces, she cracks ribs and sends bullets a blazing to the spirited sounds of pop-punk in scenes guaranteed to pump the adrenaline through the veins of the audience. This is definitely a film that manages to get the right blend of comedy and action.
Vaughn – no stranger to making actors prance around in embarrassing costumes given he allowed Robert De Niro to humiliate himself in a tutu in his last film Stardust – allows the film to whiz along at a cracking pace. He steers the film with the same sure-footed energy and verve that he directed Layer Cake with. Thanks to Vaughn – and the menacing presence of Hollywood’s new favourite villain Mark Strong – there is a strong element of gangster movie about the inventive narrative which gives rise to some surprisingly visceral and full-blooded action. Kick, ass then, has the capacity to shock and contains an unexpected unflinching edge that often transforms the tone from playful to outright dark.
Nicolas Cage deserves a special mention for his knowingly arch take on his own costumed hero within the film. Cage’s gleeful turn as Big Daddy in Kick-Ass someway redeems his previous ill-fated stab at comic book movies that was the appalling Ghost Rider.
Superbad’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse brings his trademark amusing goofiness to the film but he also adds an element of slyness that gives his character an air of ambivalence. In the central role, newcomer Aaron Johnson is a natural and likeable presence. He has an earnestness that really makes him an appealing hero.
Colourful, lively and surprisingly ballsy, Kick-Ass is more successful than any other comic-book movie at making the audience ponder the question, what would happen if superheroes were real? Vaughn has inspiringly reinvented comic book movies with Kick-Ass.
It will inevitably be branded Superbad meets Watchmen but Kick-Ass is so much more. A delightful, entertaining crowd-pleaser, dynamically directed with great comic flair and a striking sense of visual panache. In Kick-Ass, the fan boy’s fantasy is fulfilled; this is the film that saves the superhero movie.
Kick-Ass opens in the U.K. on April 2nd, and in the U.S. on April 16th.