Nicolas Cage has a career that includes an Oscar-win, a turn as a Marvel Comics superhero, a bevy of wild and out there characters as well as some less than stellar flubs. However, many may be surprised to learn that one of his most enduring hits is the 2010 action-comedy Kick-Ass.
The film is based on a series of popular, but definitely niche, comic books written by Mark Millar and illustrated by John Romita Jr. between 2008 and 2014. The plot of both focuses on a young man named Dave Lizewski who decides to become a vigilante known as Kick-Ass and do something about the rampant crime and injustice he sees in the world. In the movie, he gets the crap kicked all the way out of him in his first outing as a masked vigilante inspired by his comic books. However, the injuries forced doctors to replace many of his bones with metal and left him with nerve damage that allows him to take a significant amount of punishment. How does Nicolas Cage factor in, you may ask?
Well, as Daredevil needed Stick and Daniel LaRusso needed Mr. Miyagi, Nicolas Cage appears as a pre-existing and significantly more successful vigilante known as Big Daddy who takes Kick-Ass under his wing. In the movie, he and his daughter, Hit-Girl, rescue Kick-Ass when he gets in way over his head while trying to deal with an entire gang of drug dealers. Big Daddy is essentially dressed as Batman and, in a delightful homage to the character’s TV roots, Nicolas Cage voices his superhero persona in the same cadence as Adam West.
Unfortunately, Big Daddy’s origin story is a lot less campy and fun than West’s Batman. Big Daddy’s real name is Damon Macready, a formerly well-respected police officer who was framed by mob boss Frank D’Amico. While he’s in jail, his wife takes her own life, leaving behind their now 11-year-old daughter, who Nicolas Cage’s character trains to be the highly capable but decidedly murderous superhero Hit-Girl. Together with Kick-Ass, they team up and seek righteous revenge on D’Amico in one of the most violent and gritty superhero movies in existence.
Without spoiling too much, Nicolas Cage is not a part of the sequel to Kick-Ass that came out in 2013. However, his star power helped contribute in large part to the film’s immense success. Box Office Mojo reports it went on to gross $96,188,903 worldwide on a reported budget of just $30 million. More than its financial success, Kick-Ass was on the vanguard of controversy surrounding just how violent comic book-based films or superhero movies could be. After all, it features a highly trained, hyper-violent 11-year-old. In many ways, Kick-Ass walked so that Kingsman: The Secret Service and Deadpool could run.
As The Hollywood Reporter noted in a 2020 profile of the movie, director Matthew Vaughn said he had to mortgage his house in order to get the film made because studios wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole, mostly because of Hit-Girl. Fortunately for film and comic fans everywhere, Vaughn was not willing to compromise on her age, knowing that comic book fans demanded authenticity to the source material.
Among those comic book fans was Nicolas Cage, who told MTV in 2010 that he understood why people were concerned about seeing the Hit-Girl character exhibit such gore-filled hyperviolence. However, like Vaughn, he understood that what made her work on the page would translate to the film audiences. He noted that if you were to go into the movie looking to be offended by the violence, you’d see that and nothing else. However, he had faith that viewers would see her as the feminist beacon of strength that she truly is. He took his discomfort over the character and channeled it into a complex performance of a man torn between his belief that what he was teaching his daughter was right, despite the world telling him he’s wrong.
An actor with Nicolas Cage’s comic book acumen almost wasn’t the one in Big Daddy’s cowl. Vaughn also admitted to The Hollywood Reporter that he initially turned to Brad Pitt to finance the film and even offered him the role of Big Daddy. However, you don’t send a Brad Pitt to do a Nicolas Cage’s job. The weird actor was out as a performer and the weirder actor was thankfully in.
Now, Nicolas Cage and Kick-Ass have solidified themselves on the comic movie industry, with the 2010 film currently trending at number 10 on Hulu.