Matthew Vaughn's violent, ultra-profane Kick-Ass caused a bit of a stir when it was first pitched around Hollywood. The adaptation of Mark Millar and John Romita Jr's dark comic book story was turned down by the big hitters, leaving Vaughn to go it alone and get it made by himself. Fortunately for Vaughn, and us, he had enough wealthy pals (Brad Pitt is credited as producer) to finance his high-energy action comedy and get it onto cinema screens.
A love letter to superhero stories, it's similar to last year's Watchmen in its satirical outlook on the genre, taking a step back to acknowledge the inherent silliness in donning a multi-coloured costume to battle crime. Whereas Zack Snyder's epic was cynical and bleak, Kick-Ass comes from a place of love and reverence. It's essentially the Spider-Man story pushed that little bit further, cranking up the violence, sex and language for a pandemoniac two hours with a high school loser-turned-crimefighter.
Vaughn and Jane Goldman's script centres on teen geek Dave Lizewski who, inspired by graphic novels, decides to concoct his own superhero and bring justice to the streets of New York. Events quickly turn towards a collision with Mark Strong's mob boss Frank D'Amico and his son Chris/Red Mist (McLovin actor Christopher Mintz-Plasse), while the mysterious double act of Batman clone Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his deadly 12-year-old daughter Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) also come into play.
It's the Cage/Moretz sub-story that packs the biggest emotional punch, as the pair cause mayhem in the criminal underworld and take part in the most energetic action sequences. Hit Girl, especially, who dishes out c***s and f**ks without hesitation, gleefully takes down bad guys backed by the theme music from Banana Splits and Joan Jett's 'Bad Reputation'. Cage delivers his best performance in years, hilariously mimicking Adam West's slowed down, camera-hogging delivery from the '60s Batman show. Johnson, too, is excellent as Kick-Ass, proving again that he brings added dimensions to whatever role he takes on.
Kick-Ass may lose its cultural references (the hero would surely use Facebook instead of MySpace?) and comedic edge as it enters its formula-adhering all-guns-blazing final act, but either way it's a hell of a ride. The film's admiration doesn't just extend to comics, as Vaughn pays homage to Martin Scorsese (the mobsters are Goodfellas refugees and Dave's heated mirror chats with himself are like Travis Bickle's). Sam Raimi's Spider-Man is also present in the film, with the New York so often seen in Marvel movies an important setting. The John Murphy-led score would slot well into any Hollywood action flick (weirdly it recycles Murphy's overplayed Sunshine cue), giving it the feel of a mainstream superhero adventure. Ultimately, though, Kick-Ass's punk rock full-throttle approach lends it a freshness and vigour that elevates it from the crowd.
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