'Kick-Ass" is not your usual superhero movie, and that's no small feat. Most superhero movies are unusual now, either for their envelope-pushing brutality ("The Dark Knight"), moral complexity ("Watchmen") or winking self-awareness (the "Hellboy" franchise).

In its way, "Kick-Ass" goes those movies one better, pingponging between all of them - shocking violence, mocking satire, sincere realism - without ever settling on one.

Based on the comic series by writer Mark Millar and illustrator John Romita Jr., "Kick-Ass" stars Aaron Johnson as Dave Lizewski, an average high schooler who decides to don a scuba suit and patrol the streets of New York City. (He also builds a MySpace page.) As Kick-Ass, Dave has more heart than skill, but when a video of his heroics goes viral, his career is launched. Someone even begins writing a comic book about him - weird, right?

Even weirder: Dave discovers that the world really is like a comic book. He meets the masked, bulletproof Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage, borrowing Adam West's delivery) and his sword-swinging kid, Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz, looking half her 13 years). As for villains, mobster Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong) and his son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) are more nefarious than Dave could have imagined.

Director and co-writer Matthew Vaughn, a Guy Ritchie protege, is having almost too much fun: He puts appalling words in Hit Girl's mouth, shoves bodies into microwaves and lops off limbs. But he never slips into cliche: Don't hold your breath waiting for Dave to suddenly find his muscles. (There is, however, suggestion of a sequel.)

"Kick-Ass" may be mostly a breezy, bloody lark. But it's also proof that the term comic book, once shorthand for childish simplicity, now conveys precisely the opposite.

Book series gives film a 'Kick' start 

One of the major differences between "Kick-Ass" and traditional comic-book movies such as "Iron Man" or "Spider-Man" is that the filmmakers did not have to figure out how to make their characters relatable to the present day. The film was shot while writer Mark Millar and artist John Romita Jr. worked on the books, and the last installment of the eight-issue series was published in January.

Millar, a chief writer for Marvel Comics who is known for hyper-violent, aggressive books, pitched the idea behind "Kick-Ass" to director Matthew Vaughn before a single panel of his comic book had been drawn (one of Millar's previous series, "Wanted," had been turned into a big-budget Angelina Jolie film in 2008).

"This is the first comic book adapted in the last couple of decades that is first-generation," Millar says. "Even 'Watchmen' was 23 years old when it got turned into a film. The comic book is of the 'now,' which is part of the reason why the movie feels so fresh and daring."

- Miami Herald

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