But in the last few years, with the release of turkeys like Spiderman 3, X-men: The Last Stand, and the abysmal Wolverine spin-off, it seemed like the bubble might be bursting.
Despite, their healthy box office numbers, the films were met with damp criticism and it looked like the genre was tired and bound by conventions that audiences saw coming a mile away.
Step 1 – the origin story. ‘Ordinary’ guy gets special powers, and decides to become a superhero. He struggles with this, but in the end succeeds and things are left open to a sequel.
Step 2 – things get darker; the character has to come to terms with what it means to be a superhero. There’s less set-up, the action is usually amplified, and we meet some fan favourites from the series.
Step 3 – unable to think of more interesting territory for the hero, we see a rehashing of the previous stories, with far too many super-villains thrown in, presumably to distract the audience from the lack of plot or character arc.
But with Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Mark Millar’s comic book series Kick-Ass, it looks like the genre’s found new legs, and these legs aim to do one thing...
The story follows a regular teenage boy, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) who lives a typical teenage life, reading comic books, his only super power being that he is invisible to girls. This provides a picture of an average teenager that feels more realistic than not just any comic book film, but any film in recent memory.
He suffers the usual trappings of being a normal teen; he thinks about sex all the time, he gets mugged, and he can’t tell the girl he loves how he really feels. He even resorts to pretending to be gay to get close to her.
While the story does follow the origin story for superheroes that we all know by now, it revels in defying our expectations and going against conventions.
Case and point it Kick-Ass’s first foray into crime-fighting which involves him being stabbed and hit by a car, leaving him hospitalized.
As a result, he gains the closest thing to a superpower the film gets, metal plates in his body and numbed nerve endings, meaning he can take a beating pretty well; and he does take a hell of a beating throughout the course of the film.
Enter mob-boss and primary villain Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), who thinks Kick-Ass is bad for business and wants him dead. Mark Strong yet again plays the villain well, easily switching between enraged mob boss, barking orders at lackeys, to protective but slightly disappointed father of Chris aka Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).
Thrown into the mix are Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) who are the real deal when it comes to crime fighters. Armed with guns, knives, swords, grenades, they take down the scum of the city with much more aplomb than Kick-Ass himself.
Not to mention, they’re also absolutely insane. Big Daddy is a hero cop who’s out for revenge and has been training his young daughter to become a deadly assassin. As such, they’ve got a pretty warped dynamic; the very first time we meet them he’s pointing a gun at her.
Cage is spot on with his portrayal of Big Daddy, imitating Adam West’s mannerisms when he’s dressed up in his Big Daddy costume (which is pretty much a homemade Batman costume). He reminds us why he’s the a-list actor that he is; after taking roles that haven’t exactly been warmly greeted, he seems like he’s letting loose and plays the part to perfection, what else could you expect from a self confessed comic book geek?
Hit Girl though, is going to be the thing that most audiences remember about the movie, and indeed the thing that most conservatives are going to cite as reasons the film should be shunned.
To those people, it should be said that she’s not supposed to be setting an example for other children, she’s supposed to be this insane comic book character who’s been warped by a tough childhood. Besides, the movies a 15 and it’s a comic book movie which means of course it’s going to be over the top and violent.
Hit Girl is amazing! The character rules the majority of the films action scenes with a capacity for gun-fu, swordplay, acrobatics, and one liners; all of which add up to make an instant action icon.
It’s still Kick-Ass’s film though and far from being overshadowed by the supporting characters (which would be easy given the caliber on show here), Kick-Ass is the main draw here, and we follow him eagerly; it’s his story at the end of the day and he’s the one who’s got to prove himself as a hero.
The other hero of the film is the director Matthew Vaughn, who’s made his best film to date and shown that he belongs in the upper rung of modern directors working today.
Action scenes are all brilliantly shot and choreographed, with one particular stand out being a scene in which Big Daddy single handedly takes down a warehouse full of goons, with the camera capturing the hyperkinetic action in one long take.
Kick-Ass is an amazing achievement; the rights to the comic bought up before the first issue was even published, then after studio after studio said no to the project, Vaughn went outside the studio system to fund the film. And in doing so, he found the free reign to be faithful to the OTT nature of the source material.
Both Chris Nolan’s Batman films and Zack Snyder’s Watchmen explored the idea of superheroes without powers, but both those films while being impressive in their own way, were steeped in darkness and weren’t exactly fun.
Kick-Ass shows us that comic book heroes don’t have to be dark and brooding characters, the stories don’t have to be parables of 9/11 or the war on terror or anything that’s happening politically at the moment.
This film is a welcome reminder that comic book movies can just be fun... as long as they Kick-Ass too.
If you enjoyed Kick-Ass, you might enjoy Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which is coming out later this year and is directed by Edgar Wright (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead) and stars Michael Cera (Superbad) as the titular hero.