What if all it took to be a super-hero was not special powers, but the courage and the balls to put on a fancy suit and stick it to the bad guys? That’s the question Kick-Ass, from British director Matthew Vaughn, asks us to consider. After all, in this day and age, Social Media helps regular folks like Susan Boyle and Guyslain Raza (the Star Wars Kid) become overnight celebrities, so why couldn’t it help create super-heroes? Starting with this premise, the movie takes us on the wild ride of self-confessed nobody Dave Lizewski (played by Aaron Johnson) and his super-hero alter-ego, Kick-Ass, as he gains fame and fortune through a couple of instances of being in the right place at the right time.
He gets in way over his head when he takes on a crime gang to impress love interest Katie Deauxma (Lyndsy Fonseca), and encounters the father-daughter team of “real” super-heros Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz). Their secretive and violent efforts in fighting crime and corruption result in Kick-Ass’s growing celebrity, which attracts the attention of New York crime boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong).
The movie contains many genuinely funny moments, such as when we are first introduced to Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, Dave’s fantasy “flashback” showing the possible origins of his super-hero persona, and another when he deadpans in a narration how “with no power comes no responsibility”. Johnson is just the right amount of gangly geek and dorky charm, Moretz is the epitome of “cool” as Hit-Girl, and Cage is a warm and endearing psychopath, bent on violent revenge after being framed by corrupt cops leading to the death of his wife.
While I liked Kick-Ass, a few things made me fall short of loving it. The movie’s conceit depends on the fact that super-hero stories thrive on a deep moral conservatism: the epic fight between good and evil, whereas the hypocrisy is that Kick-Ass is presented through the lens of liberal American Hollywood culture, with its foul-mouthed script, lax attitude to drug use, and (IMO) almost-but-not-quite gratuitous sex scenes. In another bold move, the writers took a big step into the realm of Japanese Manga with the sexy under-aged schoolgirl assassin, and graphic and explicit portrayals of violence. This causes mixed emotions, because while I like both Western comics and Manga, this is the first time that I’ve seen the two combined like this and it doesn’t quite sit well – not fitting the “vibe” of either category, it is a new beast altogether. You can also sense this from the reactions and expressions of shock from reviewers who were expecting it to be more like other super-hero satire movies such as Mystery Men, than the more serious “graphic novels” such as Watchmen and its ilk.
Kick-Ass certainly doesn’t pull its punches.