Kick-Ass started in 2008 as a comic-book, created by Scottish comic-book author Mark Millar and released under one of Marvels subsidiary imprints. Mark Millar has developed a substantial reputation in the 00s and is currently the worlds top-paid comic-book writer. Staring out on UKs 2000 AD, Millar gravitated to work on DC Comics and Marvel, creating the Ultimate X-Men (2001-9) revamp, turning out hit stories like Superman: Red Son (2003) in which Superman is raised in the Soviet Union, and Marvels The Ultimates (2002-4) and Civil War (2006-7), as well as a number of original independent titles such as Chosen (2004) and Wanted (2003-5). The latter was filmed as the James McAvoy-Angelina Jolie Wanted (2008), although bore little resemblance to Millars original work. The Ultimates also formed the basis of the two animated Marvel films Ultimate Avengers (2006) and Ultimate Avengers II (2006).
A film version of Kick-Ass was pitched to director Matthew Vaughn around the same time as Millars comic-book started. Matthew Vaughn came to notice as producer of several Guy Ritchie films Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Snatch. (2000) and Swept Away (2002), before making his directorial debut with the Ritchie-styled gangster film Layer Cake (2004). However, the film that gained Matthew Vaughn attention was his second one, the Neil Gaiman-adapted fantasy Stardust (2007), which became a modest word-of-mouth hit despite mixed reviews. This made Matthew Vaughn into a name noticed in Hollywood and he was at one point being attached to direct the film version of Marvel Comics Thor (2011). Vaughn nevertheless has some difficulty raising the financing for Kick-Ass due to the degree of violence and adult content and eventually did so independently. In particular, the image of a foul-mouthed 11-year-old girl attracted considerable outrage from conservative parental groups after R-rated trailers of Kick-Ass were released to the internet. Vaughn was subsequently given the reins of a real superhero film with X: First Class (2011) followed by two further Mark Millar adaptations, the spy films Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) and Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017). Vaughn co-writes with Jane Goldman who has tuned the scripts for each of his films since Stardust, as well as other works such as The Woman in Black (2012), The Limehouse Golem (2016) and Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children (2016).
Kick-Ass arrived with an enormous anticipation. The blogosphere was abuzz red hot with the slaverings of fanboys ever since the trailers and posters went out. The film certainly makes a play for the fan market with numerous in-jokes various comic-books namedropped and used as comparison points, even in terms of preferred artists like the Steve Ditko version of Spider-Man. In his pop quiz, Nicolas Cage asks Chloe Grace Moretz the name of John Woos first film and she not only answers correctly but also gives the Cantonese title. A movie theatre billboard announces The Spirit 3 finally someone else recognises the merits of Frank Millers unjustly slammed version of The Spirit (2008)! That said, despite its clear pitch to the fan audiences, Kick-Ass opened to far less box-office than was expected by industry prognosticators, clearly indicating that the fanboy market has difficulty carrying something to the wider sphere.
I must admit, while all the hype called Kick-Ass 2010s cult masterpiece, I found it enjoyable but underwhelming. The film emerges an uneasy mix of a Judd Apatow nerd comedy I kept thinking of Superbad (2007), no doubt due to the presence of Christopher Mintz-Plasse and an ultra-violent vigilante drama along the lines of one of The Punisher films. The film walks an uneasy line between parodying the superhero and in trying to be one as well, frequently teetering well over onto one side of the line and then back to the other, leaving us unsure whether we are meant to be rooting for or laughing at our heroes.
I happily went with Kick-Ass during the initial scenes as we follow Aaron Johnson through his determination to become a superhero, constructing his costume and going into action. Aaron Johnson is well cast in the part and Lyndsy Fonseca sweetly appealing opposite him, while the comic deflations work amiably. Kick-Ass never does anything radically new to reinvent or deflate the superhero film in these scenes (or anywhere). Maybe its distinction is that it is the first superhero film to embrace the YouTube and MySpace generation, all of which play crucial plot points in the film. About 40 minutes in, Kick-Ass deviates from its nerd superhero comedy and suddenly takes a turn for something different. This is the point that Aaron Johnsons venture into the drug den is interrupted by Chloe Grace Moretz who bloodily eliminates the entire gang. It is from this point that Kick-Asss Judd Apatow-styled nerd comeuppance comedy suddenly kicks into a very different gear. Without any doubt, Chloe Grace Moretz wipes the entire movie out from under everyone else, including the name actors more than thrice her age. Matthew Vaughn comes up with some fairly kick-ass action scenes, including a climax with a gun-toting Chloe Grace Moretz entering an apartment building and massacring an army of armed goons. It is also in these scenes that Kick-Ass crosses the line from a deflated superhero comedy into a fanboy fantasy that is ultimately no different from the very comic-books it seeks to parody and deflate.
When a film like this drags its superheroes into reality, the only options open to it as a story are either to show the disparity between the comic-book fantasy and the harsh reality and/or tell a story about the non-superheroes triumphing over the odds despite. In this regard, Kick-Ass wants to have its cake and eat it it wants to both have everyday nerd superheroes but also have a full fantasy of comic-book triumph where the heroine can demonstrate amazing combat skills and the hero can ride rocket backpacks in to save the day. Though making a virtue of the heroes with no powers, the film has to cheat several times in order to give its heroes some advantages by outfitting Big Daddy with a vast arsenal of weapons and gadgets and allowing Hit Girl to become an expert martial artist and conveniently have a suitcase containing three million dollars under her bed. Even nerd superhero Aaron Johnson gets the ability to feel diminished pain due to his nerve endings being blocked shades of Darkman (1990). The far superior Defendor did the deflation of the superheroic ideal much better by showing the gaping distance between Woody Harrelsons comic-book ideals and the reality on the street and allowing no convenient plot devices to aid him. Kick-Ass contrarily seems to want to play into rather than deflate it. The film notedly opts for more traditional happy ending morality than the comic-book where the heroine Katie Deauxma turned on and humiliated hero Dave Lizewski after finding out that he wasnt gay.
It is in trying to both have its cake and eat it too, Kick-Ass seems ever so calculated. It seems intended more as a work designed to tweak certain things that are going to get its fanboy audience worked into a lather of excitement much ultra-violence involving wire-flying martial arts and big guns; an acerbically foul-mouthed young girl heroine; a comeuppance fantasy where the comic-book reading nerd gets the girl and becomes a hero; a tick list of references to other comic-books to win the insider approval of its audience more than it ever emerges as a work of outstanding genre-bending originality.
Most of the cast, although not Matthew Vaughn as director, reunited for a sequel Kick-Ass 2 (2013).
(Winner for Best Actress (Chloe Grace Moretz) at this sites Best of 2010 Awards).