A comic-book adaptation with a difference, Kick-Ass gleefully subverts and pays homage to the super-hero genre.
The plot transfers Mark Millar’s comic to the screen which involves a geeky teenager (Aaron Johnson) who decides to become a superhero named Kick-Ass, which brings him in to contact with a mob boss (Mark Strong) and his son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse); and a crime-fighting father (Nicholas Cage) and daughter (Chloe Moretz) who have revenge in mind.
Embracing the superhero mythos, it also simultaneously debunks it: ‘Kick-Ass’ himself has no powers and is simply a teenager in a funny costume, whilst the other characters who suit up are mostly played for blackly comic laughs.
Crammed to bursting with references to superhero films (I lost count of the visual nods towards the Spiderman, Superman and Batman films) it is aggressively aimed at comic book fans and those who take Comic Con a bit too seriously.
This isn’t an entirely bad thing as it has a punchier attitude than most of the superhero adaptations made by the major studios and also spoofs the insatiable online consumption of comic book material.
Although when it opened a couple of weeks ago there was an expectation by some that it would be ‘controversial’, I don’t think the comedy violence or the fact that a young girl swears really bothered anyone who actually saw the film.
A key scene is a fight sequence when Kick-Ass takes on some thugs outside a diner and a nearby teenager screams to a friend that it is ‘awesome’. It almost embodies the film and its fans in microcosm.
Despite having some notable qualities, the film does have its drawbacks: it isn’t quite as subversive or clever as its fans might claim (Mystery Men covered similar territory back in the late 90s) and Matthew Vaughn still has limitations as a director when it comes to shooting and plotting a film.
That said, there are aspects that intrigued me.
If you look at the credits you’ll see that there are no less than four credited composers (John Murphy, Henry Jackman, Marius de Vries and Ilan Eshkeri) and what sounds like a lot of temp music which Vaughn got so attached to that he left in rather than use a freshly composed score. (Look out for sequences featuring what sounds like Murphy’s music for 28 Days Later and Sunshine)
The other issue that leapt out was why the major studios turned this film down as it seems certain to nail the lucrative fanboy demographic they usually crave.
Obviously there would have been concerns about some of the swearing, violence and general air of political incorrectness.
But given that major studios have released fairly extreme fare for mainstream audiences like Hannibal (brains being eaten), Bruno (extreme sexual content) and Bad Boys 2 (insane violence), I’m surprised when they get all prudish.
Perhaps the larger question that crossed their minds was whether it would breakthrough to a mainstream audience.
This meant that Vaughn had to raise the budget independently outside the studio system before selling the distribution rights to various studios such as Universal in the UK and Lionsgate in the US.
Quite how he and his producers managed to raise the reported $28m budget (which is very high for an independent production) is another interesting question but in the long run I can’t see this losing money.
When it opened in the UK a couple of weeks ago, it was overshadowed by Clash of the Titans and How To Train Your Dragon but has since earned a highly respectable £7m.
But how will it fare when it opens in the US this weekend?
On the plus side Lionsgate have a solid track record in marketing edgy fare like the Saw films to the masses.
On the downside, it is tricky to get mainstream awareness for a film like this, essentially a post-modern superhero comedy, and I suspect that some audiences outside New York and LA will find the swearing and comedy violence a little off putting.
Add some reportedly less-than-stellar tracking numbers and perhaps there is cause for concern at Kick-Ass HQ. But although it plays like an expensive cult film, in the long run I can see it having a long shelf life on DVD and TV.
Kick-Ass is tailor-made for geeky-fanboys, but then there are a lot of those about.