Nicholas Cage loves comic books. Not graphic novels, not web comics and sure as hell not sequential art. Comics about men and women in latex who dole out justice like chlamydia tests in fresher’s week: routinely, for free, and for the health of the nation. His second son is named Kal-El after Superman’s birth name. He wrote the comic Voodoo Child with his first son Weston. Clearly, comics are in his blood. Thus Cage must have seemed like a natural choice from the role of Big Daddy in Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Mark Millar’s comic Kick-Ass released earlier this year. Kick-Ass tells the story of Dave who, inspired by the same sort of comic books that Cage himself read as a kid, decides to become a vigilante superhero. Through implicitly lauding the actions of skinny geek kid vigilantism, many feared that the film would transform 2010’s Comic Con into a riot of delusional masked crusaders, taking to the street latex-clad and nun-chucks in hand. Actually, the film is so keen to be liked, that its dubious ethics are neutered by its general gap-toothed goofiness.
Big Daddy himself is an ex-cop turned lone wolf. While in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Cage plays the role of the fallen cop as a lurching amoral, steely agent of chaos, here he is a man of tough love and twisted idealism. Big Daddy, wrongly imprisoned as the patsy in a drugs bust, has a brush moustache and a receding hairline. He loves this daughter and shows this love through putting a bullet proof vest on her and then shooting her at close-range with a semi-automatic. This is the kind of exercise Big Daddy uses to put his daughter (Hit Girl) through her paces in her training to be a superhero. While another actor would play the character as a charismatic psychotic, living his delusional fantasies vicariously through his daughter, Cage strikes a curious balance. Undoubtedly his design for his daughter is a broken one, which endangers her life and removes her from schooling and friends, but Cage leaves us in no doubt that he loves his daughter. In his own addition to the script he calls her “child” and when he does so you can hear his voice soften and his eyes grow moist. He plays the role like one of those fathers who enters their kid into spelling bees and beauty pageants and then expects them to win because they know their child is the best and they love them for it. One would hope that little Kal-El isn’t being primed to be the next Superman but I don’t think we can promise anything.
Cage always looks wrong with a moustache. Cage is famous for his face – not his eyes (Johnny Depp), not his nose (Sarah Jessica Parker), not his jaw (Christian Bale) but his face. For me, those wrinkles on the forehead stand out, but otherwise I picture his face like a would a mask, undifferentiated, the features all part of the whole. Thus, a moustache on his face looks incongruous as if stuck on. My friend Tim said that in the comic Big Daddy looks, quite deliberately I suppose, like a sticky-tash-no-pants-dirty-long-brown-coated paedophile, like one the police might conjure on an E-fit. There is something skeezy about Cage’s moustache, but then you look up into his kind eyes, and you forget all that.
Interestingly, despite his recent stint in the National Treasure films and Harrison Ford still doing his own stunts in Indiana Jones while well into his 60s, Cage doesn’t show many feats of athletic prowess. He shoots a few guys and he splashes a canister of kerosene about, but otherwise Big Daddy lurks in the shadows, sniping from a balcony, plotting in his studio, controlling Hit Girl from afar like a remote-controlled assassin. He is very rarely “in the fray”. Also, his face tends towards the chunky so the general impression is of the solider gone to seed, like Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. As in Apocalypse Now, where the character of Kurtz seems to be a reflection of the by-gone days of Brando’s hulking, method acting fame, in Kick-Ass, Big Daddy seems like the strange, bitter ghost of Cage’s action hero persona, washed up but not out of the game.
More disturbing that Cage’s moustache however is his eventual immolation. As the cruel fates would have it, a man who set a warehouse to blazes earlier in the film, is now set alight like so much meaty kindling. Throughout the film, when Big Daddy is wearing his Batman mask and outfit, he speaks in a low growl, somewhere between the guttural of Bale and the noble, high-pitched tones of Adam West. Now, set on fire, his growls become snarls and yelps. If I’d put the subtitle on I’m sure there would have been words, but I couldn’t work them out. I didn’t want to. It was pitiful animal fury. A lion thrashing in its cage as it is taken away, for away, from its cub. Some reviewers read Cage’s performance of Big Daddy as an ironic homage to Adam West – a pastiche of superheros, but Cage loves comic books. If parodic, his performance is an earnest parody of reaffirmation and those final gnarly cries a savage testimony to Big Daddy’s love for his daughter Hit Girl and maybe, just maybe, Cage’s love for his son Kal-El.