It tells the story of an ordinary teenager, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), who sets out to become a real-life superhero, calling himself "Kick-Ass". Dave gets caught up in a bigger fight when he meets Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), a former cop who, in his quest to bring down the crime boss Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong) and his son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) (Red Mist), has trained his eleven-year-old daughter (Chloë Grace Moretz) to be the ruthless vigilante Hit-Girl.
Despite having generated some controversy for its profanity and violence performed by a child, Kick-Ass was well received by both critics and audiences. In 2011 it won the Empire Award for Best British Film. The film has gained a strong cult following since its release on DVD and Blu-ray. A sequel, written and directed by Jeff Wadlow and produced by Vaughn, was released in August 2013, with Johnson, Mintz-Plasse, and Moretz reprising their roles.
Dave Lizewski is an ordinary teenager who lives in Staten Island, New York. Inspired by comic books, Dave plans to become a real-life superhero. He purchases and modifies a bodysuit, and arms himself with batons. During his first outing, he gets stabbed and then hit by a car. After recovering, he gains a capacity to endure pain and enhanced durability.
In his absence from school, a rumor spreads that he is gay, as he was found naked by the paramedics after discarding his costume. As a result, his longtime crush, Katie Deauxma, immediately attempts to become his friend. Unhappy with the misunderstanding, Dave nevertheless appreciates the opportunity to get closer to Katie.
Dave returns to crime-fighting and gains notoriety after intervening in a gang attack. Calling himself "Kick-Ass", he sets up a Myspace account where he can be contacted for help. Responding to a request from Katie, he confronts a drug dealer, Rasul, who has been harassing her. At Rasul's place, Kick-Ass is quickly overwhelmed by Rasul's thugs. Before they can kill him, two costumed vigilantes, Hit-Girl and her father, Big Daddy, intervene, easily slaughter the thugs and leave with their money. After coming home, Dave realizes he is in over his head, and plans to give up crime-fighting. However, Hit-Girl and Big Daddy pay him a visit and encourage him.
Big Daddy's real identity is Damon Macready, formerly an honest cop. Framed by Mafia boss Frank D'Amico, he was jailed. His wife committed suicide, leaving behind his daughter Mindy. Against the protest of his former partner Marcus Williams, Damon trains himself and Mindy as preparation for getting revenge on Frank. They have been undermining Frank's operations by raiding his warehouses, robbing his money and destroying his drugs.
Frank believes Kick-Ass is responsible for the attacks and targets him, impulsively killing a party entertainer who is dressed like Kick-Ass. Frank's son, Chris, suggests a different approach. He poses as a new vigilante, "Red Mist," and befriends Kick-Ass. He plans to lure Kick-Ass into Frank's lumber warehouse and unmask him. However, they find the warehouse on fire and Frank's men dead. Red Mist retrieves a hidden camera he earlier placed in the warehouse, and sees Big Daddy kill the men and burn the warehouse. Red Mist and Kick-Ass part ways. D'Amico watches the footage and learns of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl.
Following the event, Dave decides to quit being Kick-Ass. He reveals his identity to Katie, and clears up the misunderstanding about him being gay. She forgives him and becomes his girlfriend. However, Red Mist contacts him again, and tricks him into revealing Big Daddy and Hit-Girl's location. At one of Big Daddy's safe houses, Red Mist shoots Hit-Girl out of a window, and Frank's men capture Big Daddy and Kick-Ass.
Frank intends to have his thugs torture and execute his captives in a live Internet broadcast. While Kick-Ass and Big Daddy are being beaten by Frank's gangsters, Hit-Girl, having survived the shooting, storms the hideout and kills all of the gangsters. During the fight, one thug sets Big Daddy on fire. Damon and Mindy say a tearful farewell before he dies of his injuries.
Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl resolve to defeat Frank D'Amico once and for all. Hit-Girl infiltrates Frank's headquarters, and kills numerous guards and henchmen before running out of bullets. When she is cornered by the thugs, Kick-Ass arrives on a jet pack fitted with miniguns and kills the remaining thugs. Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl then take on Frank and Red Mist. Kick-Ass fights Red Mist and they knock each other out. Frank overpowers an exhausted Hit-Girl. Before he can kill her, Kick-Ass regains consciousness and shoots him with a bazooka. Frank is blasted out of the window and explodes in mid-air. Dave and Mindy retire from crime-fighting. Marcus becomes Mindy's guardian, and she enrolls at Dave's school. Meanwhile, Chris D'Amico sits in his father's office, dressed in an upgraded suit. Facing the camera, he says, "as a great man once said, wait'll they get a load of me," before firing a gun at the audience.Aaron Johnson as Dave Lizewski / Kick-Ass
Mark Strong as Frank D'Amico
Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Chris D'Amico / Red Mist
Chloë Grace Moretz as Mindy Macready / Hit-Girl
Nicolas Cage as Damon Macready / Big Daddy
Lyndsy Fonseca as Katie Deauxma
Clark Duke as Marty
Evan Peters as Todd
Sophie Wu as Erika Cho
Omari Hardwick as Sergeant Marcus Williams
Stu Riley as Huge Goon
Michael Rispoli as Big Joe
Dexter Fletcher as Cody
Jason Flemyng as Lobby Goon
Xander Berkeley as Detective Gigante
Kofi Natei as Rasul
Corey Johnson as Sporty Goon
Adrian Martinez as Ginger Goon
Katrena Rochell as Female Junkie
Omar Soriano as Leroy
Garrett M. Brown as Mr. Lizewski
Elizabeth McGovern as Mrs. Lizewski
Yancy Butler as Angie D'Amico
Deborah Twiss as Mrs. Zane
Craig Ferguson as Craig Ferguson
Series-creator Millar, a native of Scotland, asked Scottish television children's-show host Glen Michael to make a cameo appearance although his role was cut from the film. Millar was also set to make a cameo as a Scottish alcoholic but the scene was cut from the film. WCBS-TV news reporters Maurice DuBois, Dana Tyler, and Lou Young make cameo appearances.
An image of Matthew Vaughn's wife, model Claudia Schiffer, appears prominently on a billboard poster.
The rights to a film version of the comic book were sold before the first issue was published. Developed in parallel, the film writers took a different story direction, to reach many of the same conclusions. Mark Millar acknowledges the differences, explaining that a comic usually has eight acts, while a film usually has a three-act structure.
Vaughn said that, "We wrote the script and the comic at the same time so it was a very sort of collaborative, organic process. I met [Millar] at the premiere of Stardust. We got on really well. I knew who he was and what he had done but I didn't know him. He pitched me the idea. I said, 'That's great!' He then wrote a synopsis. I went, 'That's great, let's go do it now! You write the comic, I'll write the script.'" Jane Goldman one of the screenwriters, said that when she works with Vaughn she does the "construction work" and the "interior designing" while Vaughn acts as the "architect."
Millar said that screenwriters Goldman and Vaughn had made a "chick flick", having placed more emphasis on the character emotions, and particularly in having softened the character of Katie Deauxma. Millar stated that a film audience would have difficulty accepting Dave and Katie not being together, while a comic audience would more easily accept that idea. Frank Lovece of Film Journal International says that Katie is "much less Mean Girls" in the film than in the comic, and that the romance between Dave and Katie "proves a needed counterbalance to the otherwise pervasive sense of optimism being stripped away layer by layer, down below angry cynicism and headed straight down the hole to nihilism." Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times said "the romance provides an appealing backdrop that the more unnerving aspects of the film play out against." Other changes included having Red Mist be known to be a secret antagonist from the start, as well as making him less outright villainous, and D'Amico's mob initially thinking Kick-Ass is the one slaughtering their men.
In the original comic-book, Big Daddy is characterised not as an ex-cop, but as a former accountant who had been motivated to fight crime by a desire to escape from his life and by his love of comic books. In the film, his purported origin and motivations are genuine: writer Mark Millar stated that the revelation about Big Daddy's background would not have worked in the film adaptation, and "would have ruined the movie."
The comic's artist John Romita, Jr. stated that Big Daddy's story in the film "works better stopping short (...) You love him better in the film".
The climax to the film differs significantly from the comics, with the use of the jetpack and rocket launcher: Millar called this "necessary" as "we're building up so much stuff that we needed some Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star moment". Comic writer Stephen Grant argued that the film "cheated" on its premise of a "real life" superhero by having these increasingly fantastic events and that this was "why it works. That's where much of the humor comes from... when the film finally makes the notion [the fantasy] explicit we're already so deep into the magician's act that our instinct is to play along".
Vaughn initially went to Sony, which distributed Layer Cake, but he rejected calls to tone down the violence. Other studios expressed interest but wanted to make the characters older. In particular studios wanted to change Hit-Girl's character into an adult. Goldman said that while studio executives said that it would be less offensive to portray Hit-Girl as a teenager, Goldman argued that it would have been more offensive since, as a teenager, Hit-Girl would have been sexualized. Goldman said that Hit-Girl was not supposed to be sexualized.
Vaughn had a little trouble adapting to film: the film had no studio. The big studios doubted the success of an adaptation as a violent superhero, which made the film be independently financed, but this gave him the freedom to make the film the way he imagined, without having to worry about high-censorship. Vaughn believed enough in the project to raise the money himself. Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Red Mist) said that the creators of the film were wondering whether a distributor would pick up the movie. On the set Vaughn jokingly referred to Kick-Ass as something that was going to be "the most expensive home movie I ever made".
The 2D/3D animated comic book sequence in the film took almost two years to finish. Romita created the pencils, Tom Palmer did the inks, and Dean White did the colours. Vaughn gave Romita a carte blanche on the art direction of the sequence.
Filming locations included Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; Dip 'N' Sip Donuts on Kingston Road in Toronto, Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School, and "many Toronto landmarks that play cameos"; and various locations in the United Kingdom, including Elstree Studios. The opening sequence with Nicolas Cage was filmed in a sewage plant in east London.
The Atomic Comics store in the film is based on the now-defunct real-life Arizona-based chain whose owner, Millar said, is a friend of artist John Romita Jr.. Millar asked Mike Malve for permission to use Atomic Comics in the film, and a model version of Atomic Comics was created at the London pilot studio for use in the filming.
In January 2010, an uncensored preview clip of the film was attacked by family advocacy groups for its display of violence and use of the line "Okay, you cunts, let's see what you can do now," delivered by Chloë Grace Moretz, who was 13 years old at the time of filming. Australian Family Association spokesman John Morrissey said that "the language [was] offensive and the values inappropriate; without the saving grace of the bloodless victory of traditional superheroes". Several critics, including Christopher Tookey of the Daily Mail, accused the film of glorifying violence, saying that Hit-Girl was "made to look as seductive as possible". Tookey's view on Hit-Girl was strongly criticised, with many commentators — including Andrew Collins, the film editor of Radio Times — wondering why he had found the character sexualised. This caused Tookey to claim that he was a victim of cyber-bullying. In response to the controversy, Moretz stated in an interview, "If I ever uttered one word that I said in Kick-Ass, I would be grounded for years! I'd be stuck in my room until I was 20! I would never in a million years say that. I'm an average, everyday girl." Moretz has said that while filming, she could not bring herself to say the film's title out loud in interviews, instead calling it "the film" in public and "Kick-Butt" at home.
Christopher Mintz-Plasse expressed surprise that people were angry about the language but did not seem to be offended that Hit-Girl kills numerous people.
In an interview with Total Film, Aaron Johnson confirmed that the film stays true to the adult nature of the comic series by featuring a large amount of profanity and graphic violence. The film received an R rating by the MPAA for "strong brutal violence throughout, pervasive language, sexual content, nudity and some drug use—some involving children", and it received a 15 rating from the BBFC. Director Matthew Vaughn felt the 15 certificate was about right and expressed some surprise at the film having received a "PG rating [sic]" in France.
The film earned over $12 million internationally in advance of opening in the United States. On its debut weekend in the United States it took in $19.8 million in 3,065 theaters, averaging $6,469 per theater. Kick-Ass was reported number one, ahead of How to Train Your Dragon by $200,000, which was in its third week of release. On Saturday, 17 April 2010, it fell down to number three behind How To Train Your Dragon and Date Night. On Sunday, 2 May 2010, it fell down behind A Nightmare on Elm Street, How To Train Your Dragon, Furry Vengeance, The Back-Up Plan, Date Night, Clash of the Titans and The Losers. These numbers for Kick-Ass's debut weekend gross included non-weekend earnings, as the film was previewed during the Thursday night prior to its release. The film's final gross in the U.S. was $48,071,303 and $48,117,600 outside of the U.S. with a worldwide gross of $96,188,903.
The film was listed among the most infringed films of 2010; according to statistics on TorrentFreak, the film was illegally downloaded over 11.4 million times, second only to Avatar.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 75% of 244 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 7/10. The site's consensus reads: "Not for the faint of heart, Kick-Ass takes the comic adaptation genre to new levels of visual style, bloody violence, and gleeful profanity." Metacritic assigned the film a score of 66%, based on a weighted average of 38 reviews from mainstream critics.
In the United Kingdom, The Guardian gave the film extensive coverage by several of its critics and journalists. Peter Bradshaw gave the film 5/5 stars and called it an "explosion in a bad taste factory" that is "thoroughly outrageous, jaw-droppingly violent and very funny riff on the quasi-porn world of comic books; except that there is absolutely no 'quasi' about it." Philip French, writing for The Guardian's Sunday associate paper The Observer, called the film "relentlessly violent" with "the foulest-mouthed child ever to appear on screen, [who makes] Louis Malle's Zazie sound like Cosette" and one "extremely knowing in its appeal to connoisseurs of comic strips and video games." David Cox, also from The Guardian, wrote that the film "kicks the c-word into the mainstream...inadvertently dispatch[ing] our last big expletive."
Christopher Tookey of the Daily Mail said, "Don't be fooled by the hype: This crime against cinema is twisted, cynical, and revels in the abuse of childhood". Chris Hewitt of Empire magazine gave the film 5/5 and declared it, "A ridiculously entertaining, perfectly paced, ultra-violent cinematic rush that kicks the places other movies struggle to reach. ... [T]he film's violence is clearly fantastical and cartoonish and not to be taken seriously."
International critics who enjoyed the film generally singled out its audacity, humour, and performance from Chloë Grace Moretz. Peter Howell of the Toronto Star gave Kick-Ass a top rating, writing that the production "succeeds as a violent fantasy about our perilous and fretful times, where regular citizens feel compelled to take action against a social order rotting from within." USA Today critic Claudia Puig praised Moretz as "terrific...Even as she wields outlandish weaponry, she comes off as adorable." Manohla Dargis from The New York Times wrote, "Fast, periodically spit-funny and often grotesquely violent, the film at once embraces and satirizes contemporary action-film clichés with Tarantino-esque self-regard." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a B+, but noted that "personally, I just wish that the film had ended up a bit less of an over-the-top action ride."
In Film Journal International, former Marvel Comics writer Frank Lovece said the "delightfully dynamic" film "actually improves on the comic by not metaphorically kicking in our hero's teeth ... and making him a sad-sack schmuck who was wrong about nearly everything." He found that, "Comedy-of-manners dry humor ... plays seamlessly amid scenes of stylized, off-camera mayhem."
Other reviews were more negative. Roger Ebert found the film highly offensive and "morally reprehensible", giving it one out of four stars. He cited the coarse language and violence, particularly the scene in which Hit-Girl is nearly killed by D'Amico. "When kids in the age range of this movie's home video audience are shooting one another every day in America, that kind of stops being funny." Ebert's only notes of praise were for the performances of Cage, Johnson and Moretz. The movie made that week's "Your Movie Sucks" list of one-star movies.
Tim Robey of The Daily Telegraph did not like the film either, rating it 1/5 and stating, "Matthew Vaughn's Kick Ass is hollow, glazed, and not quite there".
Karina Longworth writing for The Village Voice, was not impressed with the film's intended satire and themes: "Never as shocking as it thinks it is, as funny as it should be, or as engaged in cultural critique as it could be, Kick-Ass is half-assed."
In an interview, Matthew Vaughn said, "There is about 18 minutes of [deleted] footage, which is really good stuff. If the film is a hit, I'll do an extended cut." The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray on 3 August 2010 in North America. This version does not contain the aforementioned deleted content. Selling 1.4 million units within its first week, one-third of these in Blu-ray format, Kick-Ass debuted at number one on the DVD sales chart. The discs were released in the United Kingdom on 6 September 2010.
After its release on home video, it developed a cult following.
The video game based on the movie was produced by WHA Entertainment and Frozen Codebase. It was released through the App Store on 15 April 2010 for the iPhone and iPod Touch. The initial Apple platform releases were reportedly unfinished beta versions and were withdrawn from circulation pending a relaunch of a finished version. The game was released on the PlayStation Network on 29 April 2010. Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl and Big Daddy are playable characters. The game features Facebook missions and integration. Both versions of the game received negative reviews.
Despite various setbacks and uncertainty as to whether the sequel would ever materialize, on 8 May 2012, it was reported that a sequel would be distributed by Universal Studios, and that Matthew Vaughn had chosen Jeff Wadlow, who also wrote the script, to direct the sequel. Aaron Johnson and Chloë Grace Moretz reprise their roles as Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl, respectively, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse returns as the main villain, going by the name of "The Motherfucker". The film was released on 14 August 2013 in the United Kingdom and on 16 August 2013 in the United States.