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Kick-Ass

It’s surely no coincidence that when Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), the comic-book-reading New York teenager who decides to buy a coloured wetsuit and become the superhero of the title, winds up in hospital after his first outing as a vigilante, he reads ‘Watchmen’. Like that story, the series by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr, on which ‘Kick-Ass’ is based is a comic about comics, presuming a substantial knowledge of the icons and conventions of the superhero genre. It’s an index of how successfully that genre has established itself in the Hollywood mainstream over the past decade that such postmodern, self-referential fare is now deemed apt fodder for major studio releases.

Puzzled that no one has ever tried to put comic-book theory into practice, Dave hits the streets in the name of righteousness, overcoming early setbacks to achieve hero status with a little help from MySpace and YouTube. He also attracts the attention of father-and-daughter vigilante team Big Daddy and Hit Girl (Nicolas Cage and Chloë Moretz) and arouses the enmity of crime lord Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), whose son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) sees a chance to dabble in the hero game himself.

Director Matthew Vaughn (‘Layer Cake’, ‘Stardust’) directs with efficiency and a good sense of action while Johnson puts in an engaging turn that maintains sympathy and helps paper over some of the plot’s more jerky, episodic aspects. Wearing its sources on its Spandex sleeve, ‘Kick-Ass’ fairly bulges with references to other comic-book movies, especially the ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Batman’ franchises; Cage’s stilted delivery as the Dark Knightish Daddy is a nice touch. There’s some intriguing play around ideas of closetedness – a perennial concern of the genre – with Dave’s secret life leading classmates to presume he’s gay. Other conventions are touched upon but left unexplored: while it is constructed around three father-child pairings, for instance, the film leaves Dave’s single dad a cipher.

The bond between pre-teen Hit Girl and her Big Daddy, meanwhile, is as intense as it is outrageously violent, rooted in such affectionate larks as his shooting her at close range to familiarise her with the use of bullet-proof vests. The duo are responsible for many of the picture’s numerous fatalities, shown in more detail and with more gusto than in most superhero films (or most 15-rated films, for that matter). The sight of Hit Girl slicing and dicing half a dozen thugs to the accompaniment of the ‘Banana Splits’ theme tune locates ‘Kick-Ass’ in the post-Tarantino landscape of hyperfictional ultraviolence. Any gestures at a version of realism or the pathos that might result from someone actually trying to be a superhero are lost in the wash.

Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday April 2 2010
Duration: 117 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Chloe Moretz
Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Nicolas Cage
Aaron Johnson
Xander Berkeley
Mark Strong