Kick-Ass Turns 10 Today And It’s Still The Best Superhero Movie Of All Time
Through a decade of superhero dominance, not one film has matched the unfiltered bravura and beating heart of Kick-Ass: a hyper-violent, ultra-profane miracle of cinema.
‘I always wondered why nobody did it before me. I mean, all those comic books, movies, TV shows… you’d think one eccentric loner would have made himself a costume,’ the opening narration posits.
Indeed, what would happen if your everyday nobody tried to become a superhero? Watchmen’s answer was a Cold War parable of corruption and omnipotence on a scale hitherto undreamt of. Kick-Ass, on the other hand, banks on scrapyard compactor squelching, decapitations and a cunt-whispering tween.
On this day, 10 years ago, Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass hit cinemas. This was an archaic time: the MCU’s titanic dawn flickered ahead of Iron Man 2’s release, and DC’s universe was but a Man of Steel-shaped notion.
Not to say the subgenre wasn’t thriving, with glistening gems like Blade 2, Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight. But, crucially, this was earth-shatteringly new: a gloriously pulpy slice of homage that spilled blood, guts and expletives with enough juvenile glee to make Tarantino leap off his sofa. Some considered it to be a monster – really, it was just ahead of the curve.
Based on Mark Millar’s comicbook series of the same name – still in its inaugural run at the time of release – the film follows the genesis of Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor Johnson): a thoroughly normal, geeky teenager who ‘like most people my age… just existed’.
With just his dad at home, Dave lives a life of routine: breakfast, school, ogling his teacher and fellow pupil Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca), going to Atomic Comics with buddies Todd (Evan Peters) and Marty (Clark Duke), getting mugged by lowlife, low-hanging thugs and – authentically – ascending to his bedroom for a wank-a-thon into the twilight hours. Rinse (literally) and repeat.
One wouldn’t be sullied for picking up echoes of Peter Parker – they’re clear as day, from the opening 2002 Spider-Man-esque ‘Who am I?’ dialogue and persona sketching to Dave’s training for leaping across rooftops. However, the latter teen has no distinct superpowers, nor any ‘I will avenge you, mother!’ fire – all it took was ‘the perfect combination of optimism and naivety’.
Yet Kick-Ass’ true birth isn’t at the point-of-purchase of the green-and-yellow scuba suit – it’s after courting death. His first act as a superhero is to take on the very same scumbags that terrorise him each week – however, after landing a couple of blows, he’s knifed in the gut and pummelled by a car, with the city idly standing by. ‘Be honest with yourself, would you do anything differently?’
Dave, even with ruined nerve-endings and metal plates like Wolverine, even after multiple ruthless beatings, embodies both the might of the mundane and society’s LiveLeak complacency at the vulnerable – that’s what really makes Kick-Ass such an enduring pop culture hero.
Of course, it’s not just the thematic heft – not a single film-making component is out of sync, it’s a lightning-in-a-bottle artistic vision. Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman tread the line of self-aware parody and individualism seamlessly, winking at the audience without tripping into the self-aggrandising ego of Deadpool.
While it twists comic-book stereotypes with the real world, it’s not a playground miserably steeped in reality. Unbeknown to Dave, there’s chaos on the horizon: namely, in the form of Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz in her breakout role next to Let Me In) and Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage, whose costume is a kernel away from a cease-and-desist letter from the Caped Crusader).
Their endgame: bringing down Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) – a lumber supplier-cum-feared New York drug boss, with a career-eyed son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and tendency of chopping liars’ fingers off and making them pop in giant microwaves.
The first time we see the pair, an out-of-costume Mindy is learning how to take a bullet, with her dad at the trigger. A punishing lesson, yes, but unlike a similar yet darker envisioned scene in 2008’s Gomorrah, this is an apt intro to their loveably wacky dynamic. ‘Will it hurt?’ she asks. ‘Oh child. Only for a second sugar,’ he assures.
This is a child who’d rather get two butterfly knives for her birthday over a puppy. This is a girl who storms a drug den with the opening line: ‘Okay you cunts, let’s see what you can do. Eenie, meenie, miney, mo,’ before slaughtering goons in a blur of lost limbs.
The film attracted a fair degree of controversy for its foul-mouthed sidekick – Roger Ebert, the late famed US critic, decried it as ‘morally reprehensible’. Yet, in its flagrant disregard of what the pantheon considered ‘good taste’, Kick-Ass still feels gloriously unfazed, going against the grain in the name of proper fun, pure and simple.
Thanks to a sturdy, lean script that keeps the agency firmly with the titular hero, Dave isn’t lost in the eccentrics – and while Johnson is wonderfully endearing throughout (with the exception of an outdated gay plot-line) it’s the father-and-daughter crime-fighting duo who make the big impression. Moretz was, as we now know, a star in the making, with enough pep and charisma to make seasoned thespians quiver.
Cage cannot be afforded enough praise – this was a rejuvenation for an icon born in absurdity. One shouldn’t brush past the remarkable nuance in his performance, a delicate balance between precious sensitivity, cheesy Adam West parlance and residual rage – it’s high-calibre work from the actor.
The way it all looks, feels and sounds – it’s unforgettable. The visual language is straight up magical – colours pop from each expertly coded frame and the flair of comicbook paneling somehow merges from page to screen.
Vaughn, alongside Ben Davis as DP, proved to be maestros of bollock-tingling violence. They constructed some of modern filmmaking’s most extraordinary, exhilarating, beautifully morbid set-pieces, including but not limited to: Big Daddy’s warehouse assault, propulsive in every sense of the word (also an early glimpse of Kingsman’s style); an outrageous bazooka finale that continually ups the ante; and most of all, Hit-Girl’s Strobe (Adagio in D Minor) night-vision rescue – for my money, no other action sequence in the history of film has as much heart and soul. Tears, every single time.
The majesty of this soundtrack is something else entirely. We ping-pong from the stiffening energy of The Prodigy to the combined verve of Marius De Vries, Ilan Eshkeri, Henry Jackman and John Murphy – however, in their collaboration, it’s the latter two composers who emerge victorious.
As the film races through an emotionally blistering third act, the music stems from Murphy’s perennial epics (with fresh mixes of Sunshine and 28 Weeks Later’s Don Abandons Alice) – and it soars, inducing a tidal wave of goosebumps. It’s the aural equivalent of an orgasm.
Amid the mainstream of corporate hogwash, oddness can be a trendy commodity. However, one cannot effectively feign weirdness – one simply is or isn’t. So seminal was the film’s once-in-a-generation cult appeal, it whetted appetites for a seismic R-rated superhero boom.
Yet, they’re all doomed to walk in Kick-Ass’ shadow. ‘Show’s over, motherfuckers.’
Kick-Ass is available to watch on Netflix now.
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