Alan Moore’s Watchmen was arguably the first post-modern superhero comic book, looking at the neuroses and psychology of the men and women who choose to don the capes and tights.It was groundbreaking when it was published way back in 1986. Zack Snyder’s nearly shot-for-panel 2009 film was decidedly less so.
As comic-based films have sprung up over the last decade, they have developed their own ironic asides and commentaries on the inherent outlandishness of the form. Snyder’s attempt to bring Watchmen to life flopped partly because in the 24 years since its publication, everyone has picked up on and internalized Moore’s critiques.
Enter Kick-Ass. Based on the comic by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. and directed by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake), Kick-Ass is the culmination of the last decade’s superhero renaissance. Whereas Moore played off of the tropes of the Golden Age of comics and Cold War paranoia, Kick-Ass takes off of comic book-based films and the Obama era’s appropriate sense of optimism and can-do spirit.
The film follows Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a nobody in a school of nobodies in a city full of nobodies, who one day asks, “Why do you think nobody’s ever tried to be a superhero before?” He then takes it upon himself to don a green wetsuit, a mask, and rid the streets of crime as a superhero named Kick-Ass.
The first half of the film is one long wink and nod to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. Peter Parker tried to jump apartment rooftops as a naïve, young superhero. So, Lizewski gives it a shot. He also lives in a house that strongly resembles the Parker abode (on a street that strongly resembles the one where Parker and Mary Jane Watson grew up in the movie). Vaughn pays homage to his predecessors in the genre—the elders that paved the way for him—but doesn’t forget to throw in a few masturbation jokes for good measure.
As entertaining as it is to watch Dave flop and flail trying to beat up the bad guys, the real fun in Kick-Ass comes from a father-daughter superhero duo, dubbed Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage). Hit-Girl is an eloquently profane eleven-year-old girl who was raised to love butterfly knives and sub-automatic weapons the way most girls love Barbie dolls. And as Big Daddy, Cage gets the chance to try out his own variation on Christian Bale’s grizzled Batman voice, often to hilarious effect.
Vaughn ably dips his fingers into all of the major comic book films of the last decade, pulling out pieces to craft a tapestry that illustrates modern comic book culture. I cannot predict if Kick-Ass will be entertaining 24 years from now, but right now and right here, it’s a damn good time.