Kick-Ass takes all the classic superhero tropes and turns them on their head, and what you're left with is a super-charged romp that's one part wish-fulfillment fantasy and one part fan-boy comedy. Forget x-ray vision, invisibility, or superhuman strength -- Kick-Ass is all about what happens when a 17-year-old teen with no powers, training, or meaningful desire to do so buys a wet suit and some riot sticks and begins his journey to becoming the ultimate champion: a superhero. Based on the graphic novel by Mark Millar, director Matthew Vaughn maintains a balancing act between ultra-violent recklessness and rabid teenage comedy. The film goes to all the extremes, but they're completely welcome, and in a sea of superhero movies that take themselves entirely too seriously, Kick-Ass breaks out and delivers a refreshing take on the genre that leaves the audience with a pleasantly visceral experience.
Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is your average teenager, nothing special -- he hasn't been bitten by a radioactive spider like Peter Parker and he doesn't have gadgets like Batman; in fact, his only superpower is being invisible to girls. One day, while hanging with his friends at the local comic-book shop, Dave poses the pivotal question: "Why has no one ever tried to be a superhero?" He goes from nerdy teen dreaming of winning over his "Mary Jane," Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca), to costumed not-so-super hero Kick-Ass. From there it's one crazed stunt after another, which leads to a back-alley beatdown that leaves him with screwed up nerve endings and a heightened threshold for pain -- the perfect plot point for the craziness that ensues. After video footage of a confrontation with gang members outside the local hangout goes viral, everyone knows his name, but trouble brews when nemesis Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) explodes onto the scene and Kick-Ass must maintain his identity, beat the bad guys, and win the girl.
Vaughn takes care to remind the audience that Dave is still a teenage boy with angst, hormonal yearnings, and clueless friends, so as his life in the real world becomes more engaging, his life as Kick-Ass becomes less relevant. Enter Hit-Girl, played by Chloe Moretz, a trash-talking, butt-kicking, 13-year-old girl who could wipe the floor with the biggest of badasses. Trained by her rubber-suit-wearing father, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), an ex-cop-turned-vigilante, this revenge-seeking duo stops at nothing to bring resident bad guy Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong) to justice. The film is just as much about Hit-Girl and Big Daddy as it is about Kick-Ass. They fill the void when Dave is otherwise occupied, and some of the best scenes in the film are between the two.
Vaughn, along with screenwriter Jane Goldman, establishes the anti-superhero universe early in the film, and as a result the audience expects them to maintain that sensibility throughout, but the film teeters back and forth between "this isn't a superhero movie" and "this is a superhero movie," and some points in the film get bogged down with endless backstory of minor characters that are better served in comic-book form. Still, Kick-Ass is just plain fun, and trying to figure out where it fits into the genre takes away from enjoying what it really is -- a ridiculously entertaining adventure that genre fans will love. The tagline says it all: "Be honest with yourself. At some point in our lives, we all wanted to be a superhero." For anyone who secretly wished to be one, this film delivers on that fantasy with a world where bad guys are real and superheroes are geeky high school comic-book fans.