I can't believe it's been ten years since 'Kick-Ass' came out. I still remember all the controversy in the press in the lead-up to the release about how an 11-year-old girl says the "C" word, blows stuff up and decapitates mobsters. It's wild to think that in such a short space of time, what was considered too vulgar for mainstream audiences has not only become a success, but has inspired many similar films and changed the superhero genre forever. Make no mistake: 'Deadpool', the most successful R-rated movie ever, would have never existed if not for 'Kick-Ass'. Amidst the tidal wave of Marvel and DC comic book movies, it's a minor miracle that this film, based off a Mark Millar graphic novel, was not only made, but is loved. So I want to take a look at how this superhero love letter came about, why it works so well, and how it's changed the genre forevermore.
The superheroes we were used to seeing adapted to the modern screen were the likes of Tim Burton's 'Batman', Raimi's 'Spiderman', or Singer's 'Farewell to the X-Men'. These are characters based off comics from the 30s, 60s and 80s. Whilst there is no mistaking these characters' everlasting and timeless values, there was no genuine adaption of a modern comic. Enter Matthew Vaughn. Through the wreckage of a Marvel Studios fallout over the creative control of 'Thor', Vaughn was as hungry and as inspired as ever to create a superhero movie, but wanted complete creative and visual control. We as recipients know all too well that this was - and mostly still is - impossible when dealing with major Hollywood studios, particularly Marvel.
Thankfully, a close friend of Vaughn's, Mark Millar, was in the middle of creating a modern graphic novel that was bloody, crude, and everything Vaughn envisioned for the big screen. The right people got in touch and the collaboration was born, and along with Jane Goldman, the team have seen through the likes of 'Kingsman', 'Wanted' and 'Logan'.
Right off the bat, you can feel that 'Kick-Ass' is unlike anything we had seen before. A sweeping camera follows the streets of New York, and a costumed vigilante arises on the edge of a skyscraper. Sure, that's a visual we are well accustomed to, but when our "hero" plunges to his death after trying to fly and is branded as a "mental health patient", you instantly realise that this film will be, if nothing else, unique. This will be different to 1978's much-loved version of 'Superman'.
But make no mistake, this is not a mockery or parody of the superhero film genre. This is a love letter to the heroes we know, and in truth it has to be, because we love superheroes. There is a reason that almost all the top-grossing films of the past 20 years are comic book adaptions - it's a universally loved medium, with universally adored characters. 'Kick-Ass' takes all the ingredients of the well-known genre, but with said recipe, creates a completely new and refreshing dish. It comes from a place of love but understands that it needs to look to the future, without destroying all that came before it. Not an easy thing to do, but when moving a genre to a new era, you're going to upset a fair few apples. We'd seen the same leap of faith taken in Nolan's 'Batman Begins', which has equal footing in changing the landscape of comic book adaptations for cinema.
Let's talk about the film itself, because it wouldn't have any cultural impact if it wasn't any good. Thankfully, it is. Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, 'Nowhere Boy', 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron') is just a regular kid. As he puts it, he's not that clever, he's not into sports, he's not a computer nerd, and he's not even the funniest in his group. But at least he has a group, his two best friends Todd (Even Peters, 'X-Men: Days of Future Past') and Marty (Clark Duke, 'Hot Tub Time Machine'), who hang out at the comic book store to talk about girls, school and everything in between. Dave poses the question: "Why hasn't anyone ever tried to be a superhero?" They laugh it off as anyone would, because this is the real world. Nobody has the time or resources to do anything befitting a Bruce Wayne rip-off.
But Dave won't let it go - his moral compass is too high and he's sick of the innocent bystanders when he and his friends get mugged on their way home. An impulse purchase of a green scuba suit, zero training, and multiple surgeries after a failed attempt to prevent a car-jacking later, and Dave is now a bona fide hero. With his damaged nerves, metal plates and a can-do attitude, nothing will get in his way. As he so eloquently puts it, all it takes is a "combination of optimism, and naivety."
In yet another failed mission, this time trying to impress his love interest Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca, 'The Ward'), he meets fellow masked vigilantes Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage, 'Con Air', 'Mandy') and Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz, 'Suspiria', 'Hugo'). However, these heroes are no amateurs. They have big knives, slick moves and great costumes, so Dave knows he's way out his league. He wants to leave this world behind, but unfortunately for him, drug-dealing gangster Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong, 'Shazam!', 'Stardust') has his number, and he'll stop at nothing to prevent his empire from crumbling beneath him. Frank's son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, 'Superbad') gets involved trying to prove his worth to his father, and it all culminates in a brutal, violent and action-packed final act of the film.
'Kick-Ass' takes all the ingredients of the well-known genre, but with said recipe, creates a completely new and refreshing dish.
The casting is perfect. Taylor-Johnson is the right mix of regular kid and inspiring, Cage is a fun albeit damaged psycho, Strong brings gravitas and polish to the film, and Moretz is just brilliant as the sweet and deadly Hit Girl. Mintz-Plasse had a tough job trying to rub off the McLovin label; he's great and he's different enough, but let's be honest, he'll always be McLovin. Fonseca was good too, but the role didn't have a lot of meat to it. Her relationship with David is sweet, but I found the side plot of him pretending to be gay in order to get closer to Katie ages the least gracefully of everything.
I want to take this moment to shout out to Australian stunt director Brad Allan, who for me is the best action designer currently working. His vast CV includes 'Shanghai Noon', 'Scott Pilgrim vs the World', 'Kingsman' and 'Pacific Rim'. We in the film industry keep talking about how stunts should be introduced to the Academy Awards, so it's about time we started appreciating the craft. For me, Brad has created some of the most creative and interesting modern action sequences, and 'Kick-Ass' is no exception. It's bonkers at times, including set pieces with bazookas and jetpacks, but also can be grounded, with every stab and gut bust feeling real and impactful. Special mention to editor Eddie Hamilton, who has his own impressive editing credits in the 'Mission: Impossible' series and 'X-Men: First Class'. His partnerships with Brad and Matthew keep getting stronger, and I just adore the action sequences they are able to visualise. 'Kick-Ass' relies a lot on its unashamed action, as it really needed to separate itself from its predecessors.
I don't think anyone expected this movie to be a success, although it seems so obvious in hindsight. It was truly an underdog, to the point that it struggled for distribution, if only for a little while. But as the loud cheers from audiences and standing ovations from screen previews will tell you, this is a crowd-pleaser. Granted, only a particular type of crowd.
We've seen it recently with films like 'The Hunt', you can get a polarising write-up before anyone has even seen it. The Daily Mail in particular were brutal in their assessment of 'Kick-Ass', making their feelings about Hit Girl's character very clear. They didn't understand how such a young girl could be so vile, and why anyone would be interested in watching that. Boy, were they wrong. It might be because even more vulgar films have been released since, but in all honesty, even on multiple re-watches at different ages, it's just not a big deal.
I find Hit Girl to be fun, a little ridiculous, but ultimately tragic. She is raised by a single dad hell-bent on revenge, so doesn't know any better. Cage is so great in the role of Big Daddy, an avid fan of comic books, it's clear that he was so enthusiastic to go "all-in Cage". Yes, the action is brutal and the language profane, but in the last 10 years, we've seen significantly more violent movies, and so in comparison, it really isn't that bad. Had Film Twitter been as loud and influential back in 2010 then maybe the controversy would have stuck, but thankfully for me, 'Kick-Ass' was able to breathe and grow to become what it is today - an influential love letter to heroes.
Matthew Vaughn has created a name for himself in adapting modern graphic novels for the screen, and I can't wait to see what else there is in store. The 'Kingsman' prequel is set to be released later this year, but who knows, and a 'Kick-Ass' 3/reboot is always on the cards.
Dave is essentially Peter Parker without the powers. He wants to do good, he wants to help people, and even remarks himself, "with no power comes no responsibility - but that's not true." There is a message here of goodwill and values that we should all be encouraging, and as a retrospective view on this film, it was a delight to revisit. The press wanted to paint 'Kick-Ass' as a parasite, but it was just introducing comic book adaptations to the 21st century. Not quite ahead of its time, but rather catching on to the winds of change.