Kick Ass

Arriving on a tidal wave of excitable hype, owing to a canny pre-release internet campaign, director Matthew Vaughan’s adaptation of Mark Millar’s best-selling comic-book series more or less lives up to its imperative title. Kick Ass is an endearingly shambolic, eye-wateringly violent action comedy made with obvious affection for the genre.

After a funny pre-credits sequence, the story opens in classic comic-book style, with a meditative narration from Aaron Johnson’s geeky teenager Dave Lizewski. Dave has been beaten up, for the umpteenth time, by a gang of local hoodlums and is wondering, as geeky teenagers do, why nobody has ever tried to become a superhero in real life. So he goes online, buys a wetsuit and a pair of truncheons and transforms himself into Kick Ass, tireless defender of the defenceless. The first time he goes out to patrol New York, he gets his ass kicked. While recovering in hospital, Dave discovers that he has developed his own particular super-power, the inability to feel pain. The next time he goes out to fight crime, his exploits are filmed by a guy with a camera-phone, and he becomes an internet sensation.

Meanwhile, as the on-screen interstitials have it, Dave’s new fame brings him to the attention of a local Mafia boss, Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong). D’Amico thinks Kick Ass is responsible for recent setbacks in his drug-distribution racket. Enlisting the help of his own geeky teenager Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the gangster determines to uncover the new hero’s identity. But Kick Ass has found allies to help him in his quest, the father-and-daughter vigilante team of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl (Nicholas Cage and Chloe Moretz), who are heavily armed, well trained and absolutely ruthless.

The story, only slightly adjusted from Mark Millar’s original comic book, is hastily established and thereafter delivered in chunks of arch dialogue scattered amongst the high-kicking mayhem. As with the first installment of any potential superhero franchise, the focus is on how the hero came to be and who his mortal enemy is. The rest of it can wait for the inevitable sequel.

Kick Ass shares the same problem as one of its myriad inspirations, Watchmen, in attempting to frame a superhero fantasy in the real world. Vaughan shows us what it’s like when real people try to do what superheroes do, then allows his anti-heroes take on some of the characteristics of the supermen he is attempting to subvert. Slowly but surely, Kick Ass mutates into an ultra-violent, luridly coloured cartoon. That’s not altogether a bad thing, but it could have been so much more.

For all its constant references to other comic book, its hip dialogue, complex fight sequences and joyful sense of violent abandon, the thing you are most likely to remember from Kick Ass is the performance from 13 year old Chloe Moretz as the cute-but-deadly pre-teen assassin. The young actress is terrific in the role but if her blood-thirstiness and profanity-riddled dialogue are slightly overplayed, Vaughan makes a fatal error, late on, in subjecting the youngster to a particularly gruesome physical assault at the hands of the film’s bad-guy. It's a mistake, but that aside Kick Ass is a spirited and insistently outrageous cross between a superhero film and a high-school comedy, likely to repel as many as it charms.

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