A black drug dealer is about to kill the helpless hero, when he’s skewered from behind by a samurai sword and falls dead to disclose an eleven-year-old girl in purple wig, domino mask, tartan skirt and fighting leathers. She snarls ‘okay you cunts, let’s see what you can do’ at the dead guy’s krewe, and proceeds to slaughter them all, bouncing off walls, wielding deadly blades, pulling insane martial arts moves. All to the tune of a thrash version of ‘The Tra-La-La Song’ from The Banana Splits. With this astonishing, deliriously irresponsible sequence, Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass – from the comic book miniseries by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr – departs from any semblance of cinema sanity. Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) is probably going to be the role model for a generation of kids who illegally download this film – and I don’t even want to know what the Rule 34 internet sites make of her. When she later does her stuff on live webcast, a geek teen confesses he’s in love and – when it’s pointed out that ‘she’s like what eleven?’ – declares ‘I’ll save myself for her’. Ewww. And let’s not get to the parent-daughter chats, demented spins on James Woods’ bedtime stories from Cop, as Big-Daddy (Nicolas Cage) tutors his precious in how to take a bullet to a kevlar vest before they go for ice cream. When, later, in tragic circumstances, she admits that other people shooting at her hurt her more, he fondly gasps ‘that’s because I used reduced rounds’. Ahhh.
Kick-Ass opens with a character in a red falcon outfit taking a dive from a building, being applauded Spidey-style by crowds, but failing to swoop and crashing fatally into a taxi. He turns out to be a copycat in a trend initiated by teenage loser Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a comic book fan who wonders why no one has ever been a superhero in real life and puts together a costume out of a ski-suit and green mask. On his first skirmish, he gets stabbed and beaten and hit by a passing car – which, paradoxically, grants him something close to a super-power, an inability to feel pain in most of his body. It relies a little too much on voice-over, drawn from the comic, to hurry things along – and is as much a loving tribute to the world of classic Marvel (Spider-Man, especially) as a pisstake/critique of superhero comicdom and movies. It’s much more faithful to the comic than the film version of Millar’s Wanted, which dropped all the comics references and stuck with the action: consequently, it keeps playing an insider’s game. In this world, superheroes do spring up – not all inspired by Kick-Ass – and become internet sensations, with clips of action on youtube and huge numbers of MySpace friends, which prompts the mob, headed by sleek vermin Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), to send a message that heroism isn’t allowed by catching and punishing the masked avengers. Kick-Ass’s street-level, mostly useless, cat-saving antics intersect with the more concerted and homicidal campaign of Big-Daddy and Hit-Girl against D’Amico, and the kingpin’s geek son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) gets in on the act by assuming his own heroic identity (‘Red Mist’), complete with custom car, in order to trap Kick-Ass into a team-up.
It’s gleefully amoral, with Punisher-levels of violence against known scumbags (Dexter Fletcher and Jason Flemyng cameo as expendables), but also goofily sweet: instead of a Christian Bale croak, Big-Daddy’s Batmanesque voice is a dead-on Adam West impersonation; Dave’s teen princess crush (Lyndsy Fonseca) co-opts him as her gay best friend to watch the Ugly Betty box set or see films with ‘Kate Hudson as a single shoe designer’ when he desperately wants to bone her (this plays out less miserably than in the comic – screenwriters Vaughn and Jane Goldman gently take off Millar’s slightly misogynist/racist edge, with no loss of humour); and Red Mist can’t quite get it together to be as ruthless as his Dad would like (though, at the end, he’s on the point of becoming a proper super-villain with ‘as a great man once said “wait until they get a load of me”’). It does see-saw between teen movie stuff and action, and despite some terrific set-pieces – a warehouse one-take fight, a last-reel jet-pack rescue, a ton of shoot-outs and beat-downs – Vaughn is ever so slightly a plodder in regular scenes, with voice-over to glue together the joins. There’s a lot of heart in the performances though, with Johnson doing well, revelatory work from young Moretz, smooth pro evil from Strong and a solid, funny, respectful turn from Cage (who doesn’t overdo it and try to take over, letting the younger leads hold centre screen). The basic premise still doesn’t strike me as that different from what Stan Lee and Steve Ditko did in 1963 – Kick-Ass can be defined as like Spider-Man, whereas Spider-Man was deliberately created to be unlike Superman.