Thursday, 8 April 2010


Ever tire of the incessant whinging of superheroes like Spiderman? 'With great power comes great responsibility' - yes, we know that but in 'real' life, responsibility would unlikely come at the expense of fun. Iron Man went some way to redressing the balance but now the ultimate meta-fictional comic book tale has finally arrived, courtesy of helmer Matthew Vaughn and scriber Jane Goldman, taken from Mark (Wanted) Millar's source: Kick-Ass.

It's the bitter gin and lemon to Peter Parker's sparkling tonic: a comment on how superheroes perceive themselves, how ordinary folk perceive them and, crucially, how cinema does too. At once a witty dash through a world where caped crusaders invade a kind of plausible (though still cinematic) reality, the tone ambitiously shifts from creepy to violent, unsettling to warm, capturing every facet of a lifestyle that the real world believes doesn’t exist beyond the panels of comic books. And if any Daily Mail readers dare take umbrage at a preternaturally mature 11 year old wielding knives and cursing (her maturity however opposes her years and so deflects criticism), in a film where a chap becomes a comic hero...The joke's on you. If anything, anger should stem from the generally graphic nature of the violence itself, from public shootings to Youtube-based torture of two of our heroes (that nevertheless unites mankind against the baddies on general principle).

There are none of the tiresome life lessons of the web slinger or the Dark Knight; Kick Ass’ heroes are at once believable yet exaggerated to an extent that sanctimony is nigh impossible. Our entryway is Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson, terrifically engaging), proud owner of the ‘girl invisibility’ power, living with his widowed dad, who one day decides to become a superhero, to the scorn of his friends. No longer content spanking one out to thoughts of his English teacher, the nerd finds that with a wetsuit and set of cudgels, he can set out to do good in the world…

Except, of course, it’s not that easy and the film’s defiant, subversive tone is brilliantly set when Dave unwittingly finds his nerve ends blunted and metal plates inserted after a nasty first scrap, drawing inevitable comparisons to Wolverine. His actions soon attract the attention of mobster Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), whose operations, unbeknown to him, have been the target of vendetta-led veterans Big Daddy/Damon McCready (Nicholas Cage) and Hit Girl/Mindy (Chloe Moretz).

The latter is the true revelation of the film, Moretz giving a scarily convincing portrayal of a ball-busting miniature heroine, and clear target of any controversy that will arise. Yet Vaughn’s clear handle on the film’s tonal shifts guarantees that potential tastelessness is balanced with real heart (Moretz and a back-on-form Cage’s relationship moves to quite moving areas), before blindsiding us again with another sample of caustic wit and violent action. Likewise, the deliciously nasty Strong’s relationship with his own son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) serves to flesh out the usual tired villain dynamic, lending the film more than a degree of pathos, while steering the narrative into more dramatic areas. The soundtrack is also particularly inspired, performing clever variations on the Superman theme while, for once, finding a good use for Ennio Morricone.

Johnson meanwhile is a nicely winsome lead and straight-laced foil for the self-aware ludicrousness he gets himself into. In the end, the message is far more life-affirming than any number of X-Men or Silver Surfers: a triumph for the common man with no abilities that gets the girl and unites the worldwide community. Because a self-aware superhero is hipper and smarter than the norm, ya know?

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