Let’s be real: you can dislike Matthew Vaughn’s work, but you can’t deny that when it comes to making action films, the director has a unique style and his own mark. In fact, Vaughn’s movies often look like comic books brought to screen and include the garish colours and crude humour we love in so many of them. The result is sometimes very successful, like the first Kingsman (2015), and sometimes much less so – my review of Argylle (2024) is coming. Regardless, it only made sense for Vaughn to direct the on-screen adaptation of twisted comic book Kick-Ass, which (smartly) deconstructs the genre.

Created by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. in 2008, Kick-Ass focuses on the story of Dave Lizewski, a teenager and hardcore comic books fan from NYC, who decides to put on a costume and emulate his favourite superheroes. It doesn’t matter that Dave has no powers or training, he’s determined to make a difference and fight some proper crime. He quickly becomes popular and influential as the masked vigilante Kick-Ass, but also encounters real-life bad guys who don’t really appreciate his presence on the streets! While the original comic book is bloodier and much more violent than most (sometimes close to The Boys), Vaughn’s 2010 adaptation is on the lighter side – but remains worth a watch.

Over-the-top action at its finest

The 2010 movie stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson (future 007?) as the main protagonist, and also features a (very) young Chloë Grace Moretz as child vigilante Hit Girl, the daughter of a crazed Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage, hamming it up in every scene). Oh, and the main bad guy, a bald and ruthless mafia boss, is none other than Mark Strong! This ridiculously fun casting alone should make you want to check the movie out, but in case that’s not enough, Kick-Ass has some gleefully brutal action scenes.

Bullets, flames, blades, or tasers: nothing is off-limits when it comes to fighting bad guys, and Hit-Girl and Big Daddy know how to use their surroundings to their advantage – and to gruesome results. One particularly brutal brawl inside of a dealer’s flat involving Moretz will stick with you, and overall, the film is full of cool stylised fight scenes which will please action lovers.

Some of them are also surprisingly realistic, especially at the beginning of Dave’s training: he is not magically good at fighting and gets beaten up a lot once he hits the streets. In Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn finds the right balance between dumb humour and actual stakes (a balance he would later lose in Kingsman 2 (2017), but that’s another story!). Yes, there are jetpacks and more below-the-belt jokes than your teenage brain could ever come up with, but when death happens, it is for real, and we see it impacting the protagonists. Hit Girl’s stolen youth is also discussed briefly but in a quite subtle way, as are the consequences of Dave’s naivete – a fairly stereotypical teenager, he believes that he can win against the “bad guys” and leave unscathed… until reality catches up with him. These stakes help to make the movie more than brainless fun, and they also add to its rewatch value.

Genre-savviness and the nostalgia factor

Kick-Ass knows it is a superhero movie. Matthew Vaughn knows he is making a superhero movie. Even the characters are very aware that they are in a superhero movie. And Dave knows everything about them! This savviness allows Vaughn to play with the genre’s tropes and to offer countless fun situations, giving us a “behind-the-scenes” look on the world of real-life vigilantes. Here, we have an ultra-violent little girl who takes down men twice her size, an aspiring superhero who is slowly learning to jump from one building to another, and even some villainous mafiosi living in a giant NYC penthouse. But don’t ask Hit Girl what kind of signal in the sky the mayor shines to call her! 

The movie is a comic book brought into our world, and also gains some points because of its typical 2010s look. Okay, this one might be a little unfair, since it is just a byproduct of the time period, but Kick-Ass has aged like fine wine. It has a typically retro aesthetic and some nice vibrant colours, which pay homage to the source material. This nostalgia shot also brings us back to a time where social media was just starting to become a global phenomenon, and videos of random masked dudes on YouTube really could go viral overnight! Even Kick-Ass’ substance is nostalgic: it captures adolescence, and features both its grossest aspects and its touching idealism. 

The movie’s tone blends the garish and upbeat universe of the first superhero films that arrived on our screens in the late 2000s with some darker elements that became popular in post-2005 action (just think Mission: Impossible III (2006), or Die Hard 4 (2007)). The result is a fun and brutal ride with an impeccable original score: it will make you want to don a cape and a mask, no questions asked. Of course, Kick-Ass isn’t perfect: Vaughn haters will find it hollow, gratuitously violent and crude (and they might not be completely wrong!), and no, not all of the film’s jokes land. But Kick-Ass is an ultimate ode to teenage fantasies of sucker punching bad guys, and that makes it the perfect superhero flick for action fans.