Mark Millar is one of those comic book writers that’s either loved or hated by the community, in part thanks to his apparent attitude. Wanted basically ended on a rant telling the reader how much they sucked, Civil War was controversial at best (although part of that is thanks to how Marvel handled it), and The Unfunnies is considered one of the worst comic series ever. It really says something for Matthew Vaughn’s directorial and writing skills to turn Kick-Ass, a relatively obscure comic, into a movie that’s easy to love and doesn’t get too caught up in its message.
Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a comic book nerd who’s tired of getting mugged and having nobody do anything about it. So he buys a wetsuit online and becomes Kick-Ass, New York’s first major superhero, who promptly gets his ass kicked, especially in comparison to the foul-mouthed 12-year-old Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) and her father Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage). They all end up attempting to take down Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), one of the city’s big drug kingpins, while Dave tries to balance his social life in the mess he ends up in.
The movie really does a good job at balancing its realism. Kick-Ass is about as good at what he does as you’d expect a completely untrained high schooler to be: absolutely terrible. The only reason he ends up becoming famous is not because he’s any good at it, but because he ends up in a viral video which becomes a sensation. It paints a picture that completely satirizes the internet-based culture we live in, and the amount of people who see him as not a hero, but a novelty fad. Meanwhile, Hit-Girl and Big Daddy act like real heroes of the Punisher variety, using guns and knives to kill people, and not becoming a blip on the radar at all. And yet their father-daughter relationship is completely normal (well, as normal as it can be), compared to Dave’s practically nonexistent relationship with his father. The question becomes who are the normal people and who are the crazy ones here?
And at the same time, it doesn’t get too caught up in satire to forget to be an action film. When the action starts, the scenes are equal parts brutal and hilariously over-the-top, being self-aware of itself without being annoyingly so. It exists in a space where it knows it would be far too easy to turn over into full-on parody, or become a pure action movie, and resists every temptation to do so. And on the other side, this makes the film fully enjoyable. Judging by Matthew Vaughn’s directorial record of X-Men: First Class and Stardust, it seems like he’s found that fun balance that can be dark without edging over. He also gets great performances out of his actors. Chloe Moretz plays the sweet girl that’s also a completely insane psycho killer so perfectly. And Nicolas Cage is at his best, a low-key performance as a middle-age dad that becomes Adam West once he puts on his costume. It’s wonderful.
Kick-Ass is really a superhero film that works on some great levels. It’s a comedy, it’s a realistic take on dressing up in a costume, it’s a satire, and it never settles on any one enough for the movie to get overtaken by it. An enjoyable film all around.