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In Association with
Kick-Ass (2010)
Director: Matthew Vaughn

review by J.C. Hartley

Like some aspect of evolution whereby some desirable trait takes forever to achieve but once consolidated is replicated seemingly overnight, in evolutionary terms; or perhaps like something in the world of physics where stable particles bombarded with stuff mutate at an alarming degree, or perhaps like the phenomenon I'm about to speculate upon. Why go for a dodgy image when you can explain precisely what you mean? It seemed that we had to wait forever for comicbook movies that were worthy of the comic books.

Was it just that the special effects got better, or the writing began to reflect the new status of comics after the advent of the graphic novel? Sam Rami's Spider-Man movies, The Dark Knight, Jon Favreau's Iron Man, and the first two X-Men films, were all that comics' fans could have wished for. The Daredevil picture and Ang Lee's Hulk were better films than critics gave credit for, the Incredible Hulk film was pretty good, and there was even stuff to enjoy in Fantastic Four: The Rise Of The Silver Surfer. Post Iron Man, with Marvel now a major Hollywood player, the stage seemed set for a plethora of titles, 'Thor', 'Captain America', 'The Avengers', a 'Wolverine' sequel and even a reboot of The Fantastic Four. However, like that evolutionary particle in a collider, the comic book movie has moved on apace.

Fringe titles are already being lined up for the big screen. Weird and wonderful stuff that took a while to get into print is already being mooted for production, leap-frogging over what increasingly looks like formulaic superhero flicks, but using that success and interest as a booster. So, against the Marvel big guns, and the disturbingly camp sounding DC titles of 'Green Hornet' and 'Green Lantern', we have Scott Pilgrim, 'Jonah Hex' (okay, 1970s' weirdness), 'The Losers', and Kick-Ass.

After the atrocious gun-porn of Wanted, writer Mark Millar is better served here by director Matthew Vaughn, and co-writer Jane Goldman, who collaborated on Stardust to such winsomely romantic-fantasy effect.

Dave Lizewski (Aaron Foster, Nowhere Boy) is a geek among geeks. Wondering why no one becomes a superhero for real, he buys a skin-diving suit off the Internet, and armed with a couple of batons he becomes Kick-Ass, and takes on the muggers who regularly relieve him and his friends of their cash and phones. Stabbed, and then shockingly struck in a hit-and-run, Dave pleads with the paramedics not to tell anyone they found him in the suit. Pre President Obama's health care reform, Dave obviously had good healthcare, as his reconstruction involves strengthening his bones with metal "just like Wolverine." Furthermore, nerve damage means he no longer feels pain. As a basis for super do-gooding this sounds ideal, but for Dave's total lack of fighting ability. Another bonus of Dave's ordeal is that Katie his ideal woman now takes an interest in him, rumours surrounding a story that the paramedics found him in the nude, have convinced Katie that Dave is the gay friend she always wanted. Not a perfect situation, but bearable as Dave gets to do sleepovers and apply Katie's fake tan.

When Dave, as Kick-Ass, is caught on CCTV and mobile phone footage defending someone in gang-related violence, he becomes an Internet hit. He was actually searching for a missing cat. Katie reveals that her involvement as a volunteer at a drug addict drop-in centre has led her to lend money to an undesirable who will now not leave her alone. Dave believes that Kick-Ass can frighten the man off, but to his horror he discovers that the man is a member of a violent gang, part of local crime-boss Frank D'Amico's (Mark Strong, Sherlock Holmes) distribution and enforcement network. Facing certain death, Dave is rescued by Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz), a homicidal 11-year-old who, with her father (Nicolas Cage), is part of the real superhero team Hit-Girl and Big Daddy.

Unaware of his real nemesis, Frank is convinced that it is Kick-Ass dishing out summary justice to members of his operation. Enraged, he even accidentally executes a children's entertainer dressed in a Kick-Ass suit. Frank's son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Superbad) suggests masquerading as a crime-fighter himself to lure Kick-Ass into the open and consequently dons the cape of Red Mist.

Because you really need to see this film I'm not going to litter the review with spoilers. This is the best thing I've seen Mark Strong in; both his and Johnson's American accents are superb. Vaughn stalwarts Jason Flemyng and Dexter Fletcher have likeable cameos, and there seems to be a bit of a joke that Fletcher can't do an accent, until he pleads for mercy when fed into a car-crusher by Hit-Girl and Big Daddy. The soundtrack is excellent, the Banana Splits for Hit-Girl's murderous rampage in the drug dealers apartment, Sergio Leone for her assault on Frank's office block.

Big Daddy and Hit-Girl's backstory is presented in comic-book form, and Nic Cage channels Adam West's Batman for his Big Daddy scenes. It has been suggested that his costume is an imitation of the Dark Knight's, but it seems closer to that of The Authority's Midnighter, a book that Mark Millar wrote after Warren Ellis moved on; given that Midnighter is based upon Batman anyway this is clearly just referencing gone mad.

While sort of subverting the whole superhero thing "with no powers comes no responsibility," Kick-Ass is a hugely affectionate tribute to the whole genre. Dave is Peter Parker with no brains and no radioactive spider. He does the right thing while hopelessly out of his depth, weeps and gets beaten up, gets someone killed but comes out on top. The point is that when the film makes the transition into the realm of the ultimately preposterous, it does it so thoroughly and smoothly that you are carried along with mounting excitement, and the suspension of seen-it-all-before cynicism. Good grief! It's a feel-good movie containing extreme violence. I came out of the cinema chuckling.

Kick-Ass poster

Kick-Ass Hit-Girl poster

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