Kick-Ass is the first film of the year which I was truly excited about going in. Don't get me wrong, there were films I was looking forward to. I had a pretty good idea that I was going to enjoy Sherlock Holmes, and if The Road wasn't anything but brilliant, then I would've been surprised. But neither of them excited me. Holmes was too unknown, in terms of how they were going to tell the story and whether Guy Ritchie was going to be able to effectively direct this type of movie, so there was some trepidation there going in. And good as I knew the road was going to be, I also knew it was going to be incredibly bleak and hard going, and if incredibly bleak and hard going excites you, there's something wrong.
Kick-Ass though, that excited me. The comic it's sort of based on (sort of because the two were written at the same time), written by Mark Millar with art by the legendary John Romita Jr, is one of the best titles to come out last year. It was excellent, being funny and irreverant, and poking fun at superhero conventions while also revelling in them. Millar and Romita crafted a violent, bloody love letter to the superhero genre which has served them both so well over their respective careers. Publishing it through Marvel's Icon imprint, for creator owned titles, they also funded most of it themselves, something which paid dividends when it quickly became on of the best selling comics of 2009.
The film version was adapted by Matthew Vaughan and Jane Goldman, who had done so well with their adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Stardust, closely overseen by Millar and Romita, so the pedigree was good. Two of comics top creators teamed with the people who successfully adapted Neil Gaiman on one of the modern ages best comics? Yeah, that's exciting.
And thankfully, the film more than lives to the excitement.
Both the comic and the film tell the story of Dave Lisewski, a school student and comic book fan who wonders why no one ever puts on a mask and tries to fight crime in the real world. It isn't too long before Dave has got himself a costume and is prowling the streets as Kick-Ass. After being caught trying to prevent a mugging on camera, Kick-Ass quickly becomes an internet sensation, meets fellow superhero The Red Mist, and is forced to team-up with Big Daddy and Hit Girl, two rather more extreme costumed heroes, against the mob.
The idea of telling a superhero story in the real world isn't necessarily a new idea (one of the many incarnations of Superboy was set in our world, among others), but what sets Kick-Ass apart is how knowing it is. Dave Lisewski, as his own narration tells us, doesn't have a dark tragedy in his past, nor does he have any special powers or equipment. All he has is enthusiasm and a costume. So it's no real surprise that, as far as superheroes go, he's no Batman. He's barely even D-Man (yes, he's a real character. Look him up). But one thing becomes clear fairly early on. Dave is an addict, and so he keeps on putting on the costume and heading out to do good. The results are hilarious.
Kick-Ass is, first and foremost, a comedy. There aren't many films in recent memory where the audience have been laughing so hard and so loud throughout. From the opening scene of an ill-fated winged superhero, through to the twelve year old Hit Girl's introduction featuring the single greatest use of the Banana Splits theme ever, right on to the films coda and the fate of Red Mist, this isn't just a funny film, but possibly the funniest film there's been for a long time.
In particular, and perhaps most surprisingly, it's Nicolas Cage as Big Daddy who gets most of the laughs. Lets face it, Cage has hardly been lighting up the screen for the last few years, phoning in his performances in shoddy films like Knowing, Ghost Rider and, *shudder*, the just awful Wicker Man Remake. Up until now, you wouldn't be wrong to suggest his last good movie was Adaptation in 2002 (not counting his turn in one of the Grindhouse trailers). In Kick-Ass, Nicholas Cage is back to his best. In Big Daddy's civilian identity, Cage plays it mostly straight, coming across as a doting father, albeit one who's also training his daughter to be a vigilante. Put Cage in the costume though, and all of a sudden he becomes a pitch perfect Adam West Batman. It's a perfect fit for the character, and Cage is clearly loving every second of it, something which comes across in his performance. Cage has often come across as bored and disinterested in recent years, but here, he comes alive, reminding us of why he was once such a box office draw. It's almost enough to steal the whole film.
Not quite though. That honour goes to Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit Girl. Big Daddy's daughter, Hit Girl has been trained by her father to help him take down the mob and avenge the death of her mother. It's Hit Girl who gets the lions share of the action sequences (the more accomplished ones anyway), most of which are brutal, bloody and funny, made all the more so by the fact that it's an eleven year old girl fighting and swearing her way through the movie. But Moretz is also excellent during the quieter moments. She and Cage have a chemistry that means you completely believe them as a father and daughter who completely and utterly love each other, and some of their scenes together are among the most moving in the film. Moretz will next be seen playing Abby, the vampire in the English language remake of Let Me In (the English language and worse titled version of Let the Right One In). It's for this reason alone that it may be worth checking that out after all.
Though it's Moretz who steals the film, the rest of the cast acquit themselves well. Aaron Johnson plays Dave brilliantly, gradually turning him from a lovable loser into... well, a more confident loveable loser. It's a performance which combines flat out slapstick and big moments with more subtle touches. After the acclaim he received for his performance as John Lennon in Nowhere Boy, and now this, it's easy to see why he's being talked up as the next big thing. Likewise, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Red Mist manages to add some depth and genuine character moments to his usual role of the withdrawn nerd, and Mark Strong chews up the scenery as Frank D'Amico, the films main bad guy. Able support also comes from Clark Duke, Evan Peters, Michael Rispol and Vaughan Stalwarts Dexter Fletcher and Jason Flemyng.
Kick-Ass is a strong early contender for Film of the Year. It's one of those rare films which you just can't find fault with, and has a sense of fun running through it at all times. Even during it's darker moments, such as the origin of Big Daddy and Hit Girl (told brilliantly through flashbacks which utilise the artwork of John Romita Jr), the sense of fun isn't lost. The ending of both the comic and the film leave it open for a sequel, and rumour has it, Millar and Romita are working on one at this very moment, tentatively titled Balls to the Wall. We can only hope that this rumour is true, and that the same team then make the movie. We should also hope it features Hit Girl again. Moretz is up for it, and so should you be.
Kick-Ass, in both it's incarnations, is, quite simply.... well, I'm not going to say it. But that's what it is.