High-school comics geek Dave (Johnson) sets out to become a real-life superhero, Kick-Ass, but ends up beaten to within an inch of his life. His example, captured by cellphone-cam, does achieve viral fame and he is blamed for a series of attacks on the empire of local crime-boss Frank D'Amico (Strong). Those were actually carried out by former cop Damon McReady (Nicolas Cage), whose daughter, Mindy (Moretz), is a foul-mouthed moppet with a disturbing fondess for weapons. The pair, known as Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, help bail Kick-Ass out of some stick situations, as when he tries to help his friend Katie (Fonseca). D'Amico demands the head of Kick-Ass "on a stick," and plans to unmask the superhero on a live Internet broadcast, to discourage any others inspired by his example. Again, with the help of Hit-Girl, Dave escapes, but there's a terrible toll taken during his extraction, and it's up to the pair to go into D'Amico's lair and make him pay.
It's nice to see comic-book movies with a harder edge; the results have a certain grounded realism, in a way that the blundering, PG efforts of Marvel can't match [the same creator, fellow Scot Mark Millar, was also responsible for Wanted]. Here, damage happens: people die, and it's not pleasant or just for a plot device [something explicitly referenced early on]. It also helps that Dave is an endearingly-normal kind of guy, basically likeable - contrast Scott Pilgrim - though Mindy steals the film effortlessly, right from her first appearance, and in particular her demolition of an apartment full of thugs, joyously carried out over The Dickies' Banana Splits. [Not everyone was impressed by her, the Daily Mail's Christopher Tookey saying "It deliberately sells a perniciously sexualised view of children and glorifies violence, especially knife and gun crime, in a way that makes it one of the most deeply cynical, shamelessly irresponsible films ever.. But I'll write more about this separately, I think.]
Back at the film, rather than in the dark recesses of Tookey's mind, the finale is a marvellous piece of action-cinema, Hit-Girl chewing her way through a horde of minions. I can't help speculating the film might have been amazing if it had centered on her, and the dysfunctional relationship with Big Daddy, with Kick-Ass as a supporting character, rather than the focus. It also does occasionally struggle with crossing the gap between being a comic-book adapatation and a parody of comic-books and their adaptations, wanting to be both: the first-half is more of the latter, before it shifts up a gear or two in the the final stages. That I enjoyed the mayhem more is perhaps indicative of something about my moral sensibilities - or lack thereof, mutters Tookey. Perhaps, for all their flaws, superhero stories are simply damn good fun.