Based on British writer Mark Millar's comic book series, this is an ultraviolent satire from the writer/director team behind 2007's Stardust. Like that film, Kick-Ass tweaks the nipples of genre convention to create something bold, distinctive and memorable. Unlike that film, Kick-Ass's central love story is between a father and daughter, the former educating the latter by shooting her in the chest with a handgun from ten yards.
The plot concerns a normal kid, Dave Lizewski (Nowhere Boy's Aaron Johnson) - not an uber-geek or a ruffian - who dreams of being a superhero. When a mugging leaves his nerve-endings ruined, he unwittingly finds himself allied with the twisted dream team of Big Daddy (Nic Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) as they seek to take down the vicious crime-lord, Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong). Impalements, oversized microwaves and dual-handgun ballet ensue.
If film-making is a process of small judgements adding up to a single whole then Goldman and Vaughan get most the decisions right. The pacing is superb, with the snappy, fabulously foul-mouthed script bridging a series of thrillingly inventive set-pieces, chief among which are Hit Girl's introduction as she splatters the walls of a drug den to The Banana Splits theme song (a possible reference to the grandfather of the modern superhero movie, Richard Donner), as well as a first-person perspective rescue mission played out to a re-working of John Murphy's "Kaneda's Death" theme from Danny Boyle's Sunshine.
There are a couple of cons. D'Amico is a familiar mob boss with familiar patriarchal issues; he could have used a perversion or two aside from bloodlust. And Big Daddy's old police buddy (Omari Hardwick) is unfortunately sidelined, destined to remain perennial backup, as if too damn honest to spoil the party. And what about Xander Berkeley's sporadically glimpsed Gigante? Perhaps the sequel ("Balls to the Wall") will share the love more evenly.
Unlike the bloodless, toothless, sexless Scott Pilgrim Versus the World, Kick-Ass spits vile anarchy from every orifice. Both films are wish-fulfilment fantasies for grown-up geeks, but while Scott Pilgrim reduces the sub-genre to 8-bit whimsy, Kick-Ass enhances it to glorious, eye-gouging HD.