"That’s a Damien Hirst spot painting," says Matthew Vaughn, admiring the scenery on the talk track for his adap of Mark Millar and John Romita Jr’s boundary-pushing comic. Pause. “That’s a kid killing a man with a knife.” Another pause, then oceans of blood: “ And that,” he chuckles, “is beyond words…”
Excess is the defining thrust of Vaughn’s genre-dismantling teen-superhero tear-’em-up. It isn’t alone in deconstructing genre and bringing crowd-pleasing carnage simultaneously: Christopher Nolan’s Batmans and even – cover Alan Moore’s ears – the revered Watchmen did likewise.
But Kick-Ass stands out by having its revisionist cake… and then wolfing down the whole patisserie. Its postmodern, post-moral and gone-postal action-comedy beats do for messed-up superheroes what Zombieland did for the apocalypse: teasing out resonance while bringing giddy glee back to the game.
The opening scenes apply Ghost World-like alt-teen-flick snark and Superbad-ish sauce to Spider-Man 2-style adolescent angst. Peter Parker’s metaphorical squirts of ineffectual wrist-jizz are literalised in the dork-ish Dave Lizewski’s (Aaron Johnson) effusive self-abuse.
Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman keep the semi-realism on track: donning a ski-suit to fight crime, Lizewski is inevitably hospitalised. His reasons for getting back in the suit to secure fame are equally believable: a) the prospect of reaching the wide audience he craves and b) the hope of getting his bone smooched.
All good, teen-savvy, pertinent stuff, spiked with laughs. But it’s crack-pot vigilantes Big Daddy (Nic Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) who add icing. Cage is a deadpan delight, while Moretz is a bad-taste scream, exploding screen-wide like the slash-happy progeny of Kill Bill’s Bride.
Superbad’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse does well to register in an under-used role as Red Mist. But there’s nothing under-powered about the close; the multiple climaxes succumb to goon-slaying temptation but rock like a riot at a moral-minority meeting.
So why the poor box-office opening? Tough to say, but Kick-Ass seems destined for quotable disc endurance, a task its extras haul rises to. Disc two’s Making Of wasn’t available for review but disc one splits space between a terrifically affable Millar/Romita feature and Vaughn’s hungover, hilarious commentary.
Ribbing competitors (“It’s called parody, Marvel”) and duly celebrating Moretz, he also marvels at his film’s sheer audacity. With genre-mocking delirium and ballistics all present and politically incorrect, Kick-Ass takes the cake alright.