Forcing my way through the post-screening throng after London’s first Kick-Ass preview, I bumped into a journalist friend who was fizzing with excitement over Matthew Vaughn’s new comic-book movie. A few paces more and I came upon two other critics, their heads bent together in despair. ‘Awful!’ ‘Morally reprehensible.’ ‘Dreadful!’
Where do I stand? On the fence, goggling with a mix of appalled fascination and guilty pleasure at the film’s dark comedy and over-the-top violence. Is Kick-Ass, based on the comic-book series by Scottish writer Mark Millar, morally reprehensible? Probably. Yet the fan boys will be yelping with joy at the very scenes – an 11-year-old girl slicing and dicing her way through assorted bad guys with a samurai sword, for example – that have had the tabloids frothing with fury and condemnation.
What just about redeems Kick-Ass, I reckon, is its makers’ awareness of just how warped the whole enterprise is. After all, they’ve constructed a cautionary tale about the perils of excessive comic-book fandom. Just look at the story’s hero, a geeky teenager, played by Aaron Johnson (last seen as John Lennon in Nowhere Boy), whose devotion to the genre is so obsessive that he decides to become a real-life superhero.
Johnson’s Dave Lizewski kits himself out in his own customised suit and mask, calls himself Kick-Ass and goes out in search of wrongs to right. Unsurprisingly, given that he has absolutely no superpowers, Kick-Ass gets his ass kicked.
By chance, however, Dave becomes a YouTube celebrity and inspires a host of copycats, which brings him to the attention of Mark Strong’s Mob boss and his goons. His antics also arouse the interest of a pair of masked vigilantes with considerably more proficient crime-fighting abilities – a deranged father and daughter duo who call themselves Big Daddy (played by Nicolas Cage at his loopiest) and Hit-Girl (Chloë Moretz, more accustomed to dubbing Disney Channel characters).
It’s Moretz’s Hit-Girl, the aforementioned sword-wielding tweenie, who has really got some people’s knees jerking. Perversely, it’s Hit-Girl’s swearing more than her chopping and bopping that has really put them in a tizzy: they find the obscenities more obscene than the violence. Yet Kick-Ass has one more feature that the tabloids seem to find even more offensive – it’s been scripted by Jane Goldman, Jonathan Ross’s wife.
As for the film itself, remember, it’s just a fantasy, a juvenile, retarded, fantasy, perhaps, but a fantasy all the same.
Kick-Ass has special previews 26-28 March & goes on general release from 31st March.