The title Kick-Ass is a tribute to truth in advertising, because this film does indeed kick ass, whip booty, stomp mud holes, and never once pauses to take names. Giddily cynical, if that's even possible, this brash comic-book satire manages to both celebrate fandom and take apart the very notion of hero worship, performing metatextual backflips of such incredible dexterity they'd make Marvel Comics' Daredevil jealous. This is a stylistic leap for the superhero genre, threading the needle between camp and brooding Dark Knight seriousness, with equal doses of hyper violence and goofy humor blending seamlessly, while going over the top. Way, waaay over the top.
It's also the height of nebbish empowerment fantasy, a fable about Dave Lisewski (Aaron Johnson), a sweetly gawky teen who lives in a dinky little Brooklyn bungalow not unlike the one Peter Parker grew up in, who hangs around the comic-book store daydreaming with nerdy pals. All that four-color ink goes to his head, and with nothing more than some clubs, a catalog-ordered wetsuit, and a huge pair of cojones, he sets out on a crime-fighting career.
His first time out he promptly gets stabbed and run over by a car. After a few weeks in traction, Dave emerges with steel plates on his bones, deadened nerve endings, and the determination to get back in the fight. A tape of his exploits makes him an overnight YouTube sensation and soon enough there are copycat vigilantes roaming streets, some inept, like bratty Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and some deadly, such as the borderline psycho Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his purple wigged, ninja-skilled daughter Hit Girl (12-year-old Chloë Grace Moretz).
Quickly all of these not-so-super friends are in the gun sights of a brutal mob boss, played with vigor by Mark Strong. Cage is sublimely ridiculous, going gonzo and aping Adam West's stiff, soap-opera Caped Crusader delivery whenever he dons the Big Daddy getup, which is as close to Batman's as possible without inviting a lawsuit. The seriously underage Hit Girl is a tweak on pervy fetish artwork, particularly the schoolgirl sexpots who dominate the sweatier corners of the anime universe. She also swears like a sailor, and slices through bad guys like a Ginzu through tin cans. Uncomfortable watching a preteen curse, bleed and splatter Mafia brains with ease? You're meant to be as Kick-Ass wears its provocation as proudly as its capes.
Matthew Vaughn has shown more promise than results thus far as a director (Stardust), but he produced Guy Ritchie's best films, and has mainlined that sort of anarchic energy here. The film has a slightly more upbeat ending, but otherwise treats Mark Millar's audacious comics as near holy scripture, keeping most of the punch and wit.
Johnson's likable, but a bit too squeaky in the lead. He's the first real millennial superhero, a twerp with the ego of a titan. Violence is a means to an end here — not for justice but for thrills, and while the movie's a spoof, a media critique and a superhero fiction as self-actualization mantra, it's also just a hell of a good time.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.