Director: Matthew Vaughan
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moritz, Mark Strong, Nicolas Cage
Review: 4 stars (of five)

The first thing Kick-Ass wants to be is a fun, fast-paced action movie with interesting characters. Nails it.

Secondly, it wants to be more violent than your average comic-book movie, more “adult” in the cheap sense of the word that is about profanity and attitude and is, thus, juvenile. Yeah, it earns the R rating, but doesn’t go nearly as far down that road as it might have, so maximum points there, too.

It also wants to give you a realistic representation of the idea of superheroes—no alien refugees, no mythical princesses, just fists and bullets and knives. The film kinda drops the ball on that, because while its titular hero is pretty much a high-school schmuck with a billy club and a thick skull, hardcore crimefighters Big Daddy (Nicolas “Mr. Nuance” Cage) and Chloe (“I’m 11 and they made me say ‘cunt'”) Moretz engage in the sort of antics you’d see in the recent Batman movies.

Also, if we were taking this thing realistically, then our teenage hero is an idealistic nut, but Cage is a systematic child abuser risking his daughter’s life and scarring her psyche forever. So, let’s agree right now not to take the big action comic-book movie for verite, all right?

Writer Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughan do a great job of adapting the comic, by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.* While this film feels nothing like their adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, it’s an equally fine example of capturing the spirit of the source material while making movie-friendly alterations to the details. It’s a bit bewildering that Goldman introduces as many new minor flaws as she fixes, but so it goes. The overall structure of the movie is strong, even if a few loose ends remain.

It’s the casting that makes the film work. Aaron Johnson is excellent as the teen dweeb whose comic-fueled idealism leads him to put on a mask and help people. Moretz, who was interesting but underused in the recent Diary of a Wimpy Kid, is fantastic here as half-pint hurricane Hit Girl. Mark Strong, a bad guy in Stardust and Sherlock Holmes, is solid as the main heavy here, and even Nic Cage’s bizarrely unreal acting style works here, since he mostly talks to a young child.

Vaughan keeps the movie chugging along, with several threads coming together in the expected orgy of violence, and several interesting side plots (and at least one that isn’t). As your comic book movies go, this is better than Spider-Man 3, on par with Dark Knight (minus Heath Ledger’s amazing performance), but not quite a Spider-Man 2 or an Iron Man. Miles better than the X-Men sequels, Superman Returns or anything with the Hulk.


* Especially if you compare this to the other Mark Millar adaptation, Wanted, which was neither anything like its comic source nor remotely watchable.