We should really thank our lucky stars that director Matthew Vaughn didn't end up directing X-Men: The Last Stand like he was supposed to, before the job was turned over to Brett Ratner, who made a rather disappointing flick. Granted, a Matthew Vaughn-directed X-Men: The Last Stand would've been loads better than the Ratner film (and Vaughn did go on to direct the criminally underseen Stardust, which I loved), but then it would've been a hit and then they would've likely locked him down to direct a fourth film, or Wolverine, and then we might not have been able to see Vaughn direct Kick-Ass, perhaps the best comic book film ever made, and almost certainly the craziest.
If nothing else, this film does boast the most bizarre inception of any other comic book film, since both the film and the comic book were essentially developed simultaneously, with creators Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. writing the comic while screenwriter Jane Goldman (who also wrote Stardust) and director Matthew Vaughn worked on the script. As unorthodox as that process was, it paid off in spades for the film, which is easily the most fun I've had at a movie all year, at the very least.
It also might be one of the most controversial comic book flicks of all time as well, from mild controversies like Nicolas Cage's sometimes-funny/sometimes-not vocal channeling of Adam West (was that entirely necessary?) to the much bigger "controversy" of Chloe Moretz's Hit-Girl character, a 12-year-old assassin who can blurt out obscenities with the best of them, and by them I mean drunken sailors. I can see how this could be off-putting to some, but I am not one of those some. However, in the tradition of incessant copycatting in Hollywood, I must say I wouldn't enjoy seeing a new batch of flicks brandishing some young potty-mouthed killer, like, let's say, a Leon remake with Dakota Fanning cursing up a storm (Please don't get any ideas from that, Hollywood execs...) because this scenario fits with such glove-like perfection in Kick-Ass that it will likely fit like OJ's glove in any other scenario...
The underlying premise is so simple that you'd be amazed why no one has thought of it before... even though they have (See: Defendor, James Gunn's upcoming Super), but Kick-Ass is a film that will surely set the bar uber-high for any copycats or, in fact, any other "superhero" films that may follow. Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is just your average, slightly-dorky high school dude who digs comic books and has a small slightly-dorky circle of friends who share the same interests, which somewhat ostracizes them from the popularity caste system at any high school you'll ever go to across the country. They have Tourette's-like fits any time there is a chance with social interaction with a female and, for the most part, they seem to just try and get through their high school days unscathed. Dave, however, has a sense of justice inside him and doesn't think that it's right that the bulky and the mean can get away with whatever they want. After wondering why nobody has ever tried to be a superhero before - a notion that his friends Marty (Clark Duke) and Todd (Evan Peters) chide him about - he decides to do something about it, despite what his friends say. After purchasing a weird little costume and a few cornball renditions of Travis Bickle's mirror speeches, Dave Lizewski becomes Kick-Ass, and his "debut" performance ends up being recorded and put on the Internet to become the latest viral craze that has also spawned a number of copycat costumed "heroes." What Kick-Ass doesn't know is that the highly-trained Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his daughter Hit-Girl (the fantastic Chloe Moretz) have already been running rampant through the criminal underworld, aiming to take down the main crime lord of the city, Frank D'Amico (the always-awesome Mark Strong). When you throw in a new potential ally like Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and a strange relationship with the girl of Lizewski's dreams, Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca), who thinks he's her new gay BFF... you have so much awesomeness that I'm surprised it could all even fit into one film.
This is a film that seems to tap straight into the fanboy nerve center more than any other comic book film ever has before. It likely helps that this isn't a fully established franchise, full of years and years of comic book lore to try and pore over and try to fit into a film, thus lessening the amount of disappointment when someone's favorite villain wasn't included and so forth. Not only that, but the film just FEELS like a comic book without making it bluntly clear that the film should feel like a comic book. We get the subtle little nuances like the "Meanwhile..." box that pops up in the corner of the film at times, to the fantastic, multi-layered storytelling of screenwriters Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn that feels like it leaps out of the page, and, of course, the tremendously satisfying action sequences, which bravely strides all over the razor-thin line of realism and comic-book wow-factor in ways rarely seen on film. One of my favorite "holy shit" scenes was one where Hit Girl, brandishing this crazy dagger-on-a-rope weapon (shades of Ninja Assassin), basically gets a gun-wielding baddie's arm so tangled up that she makes him kill himself. I literally leapt out of my seat in a giddy wave of awe that I haven't experienced in a theatrical setting in years upon years, both because it's such a crazy comic-book move, but also, the way it's pulled off, makes it seems entirely plausible. To be honest, I initially was a tad worried about Matthew Vaughn directing this film, since it seemed action-heavy and, well, he really isn't an action director, but I've learned after this film to never doubt Matthew Vaughn ever again.
We get some big names here in front of the camera with Nicolas Cage who, aside from his Adam West stuff, does a fine job as Big Daddy, Mark Strong, adding to his streak of terrific performances that has spanned over the past few years and, of course, Christopher Mintz-Plasse adding to his considerable cred with another fine performance as Red Mist, a performance that is a lot deeper than you might first imagine, actually. Honestly though, the best performances here come from the rest of the cast, most of which you have likely not heard of, but will surely hear more from in the near future. Aaron Johnson, who previously earned critical raves for his turn as John Lennon in Nowhere Boy, does an incredible job in playing the dorky New York high school kid Dave Lizewski, especially since he's British. It seemed that director Matthew Vaughn had a lot of trouble finding the right actor for the role and insisted on hiring an American actor for Lizewski, until he came across Johnson, who captures the perfect essence of naivete, misguided rage and nerdyness to pull of the part. Those who saw Hot Tub Time Machine will recognize Lyndsy Fonseca as the apple of Lizewski's eye, Katie along with Clark Duke as one of his friends, Marty. However, with all respect to everyone else and their fine performances I just mentioned, everyone is going to be walking out of the theater talking about the phenomenal Chloe Moretz as Hit-Girl, to the point that I wouldn't be surprised if people started clamoring for a Hit-Girl spin-off film solely focused on her character. We not only see her at her ass-kicking best, with most of the best action scenes highlighting her incredible moves, but we also see her as the loveable, giddy pre-teen girl who wants to make her daddy proud. The fact that making her daddy proud consists of murdering rooms full of mob soldiers, or spouting off cyclic rates for high-powered rifles is almost moot because she plays the daddy's little girl just as well as the costumed vigilante. Welcome to the big-time, Chloe Moretz.
Kick-Ass not only sets the bar high for any other upcoming superhero films, but perhaps also for any other film, period, that comes out this year. While it's a super-charged popcorn film with any and every possible thing you could want in a tentpole film, it also features scenes of pure drama because your attachment level to these characters is just so very high. I'll eat these words and the computer I'm typing them on if I have nearly as much fun at any other film this year than I had at Kick-Ass. Dear Mind, Prepare to be BLOWN. Sincerely, Kick-Ass!