I readily admit that Mark Millar is one of the most interesting dudes working in comics right now. I sometimes feel like he’s a one-trick pony, though. I really, really didn’t care for Wanted, the comic not the movie. The final panel of the book pissed me off more than anything and anyone who spent their time and money following it should have been pissed off, too. Kick-Ass, though thematically removed, bore a lot of resemblance to Millar’s other book at the time, 1985. I guess his current book, Nemesis kind of sucks a dick, though. I can say one thing for the guy, at least he’s trying something different with comics and you know what they say about those who dare.
They win. At least that’s what I’m told.
I was ready for Kick-Ass. I loved the comic but I have something confess. I originally gave up on it after only two issues. I would come to regret that, of course. The book went into delay land. Word that it had been picked up for a feature production fueled the fan frenzy and pretty soon you couldn’t find back issues anywhere. Obviously, I got caught up but by the time I got to the end I was stunned. How the hell was anyone going to make a movie based on that comic? It’s extremely fucking violent and embodies all of the fears that adults have for children these days. It was also lots of fun and subtle shifts in theme and tone were able to take parts of the comic that felt like a comic and turned them into major dramatic setpieces with emotional weight. Kick-Ass, the movie, essentially became the Anti-Spiderman. This is the movie no parent would be taking their kids to and you won’t find action figures at Walmart, either.
Dave Lizewski is your average teen. I don’t mean that in any sort of synopsis lead-off way, either. It’s an established fact in the narrative. Dave is so plainly plain that he’s practically invisible in his high school. He reads comics and he hangs with a couple of guys who also read comics. His biggest question at this point in his life seems to be why aren’t there masked crime fighters out in the world? Without a good enough reason to support an argument against it, Dave suits up in a wetsuit and a mask and begins hitting the streets of New York City by night while his dad works a third shift and winds up with some traumatic wounds after a run in with some car thieves. His recovery means lots of metal plating in his body and some nerve damage that reduces his reception to pain and it also means going back out into the street to fight crime only this time, he stops a three on one beat down and winds up a Youtube sensation and an inspiration to the city. Mistaken identities, however, lead a big time coke supplier to think that Dave, now known as Kick-Ass is responsible for breaking up his operations when, in fact, it’s masked vigilante, Big Daddy and his twelve year old killing machine daughter, Hit Girl, who are responsible for the interruptions in supply. Mayhem ensues. Lots of people get shot in the head.
Let it be known that Kick-Ass is going to be the most gleefully irresponsible movie of the year. You’re going to be hard pressed to find a movie that trips so many alarms for parental advocacy groups and as you read this, Jack Thompson is writing up his opening arguments in his inevitable court case against Kick-Ass. A large portion of an entire action setpiece is framed to look like a fucking video game, for crying out loud! A grown man beats a little girl, albeit a very violent and threatening little girl, to the edge of her life. The same little girl is trained all her life by her obsessed, vengeful father to be a killer. Many would qualify this as child abuse. However, Hit Girl manages to steal the whole show and run wild with it and the entire movie displays the sort of wild abandon that clearly doesn’t care that it’s skating on really thin ice. While I’m sure that Millar’s comic scripts never meant for the movie to be an examination of parent-child relationships, it’s the hard edge of Matthew Vaughn’s movie that forces us to take a look. Every major character emerges from some kind of severely broken or flat-out fucked up home life. Kick-Ass’ dad works all night, sleeps all day and Dave barely ever sees him. Hit Girl’s father is as violent as she is and demonstrates the force of a bullet impact by actually firing on her and Red Mist’s father is one of the city’s biggest and most brutal crime figures. These are all valid observations but don’t let them fool you. Really, this movie is mostly about celebrating bad taste and pushing the envelope as far as it will go.
Honestly, how Kick-Ass walked away from the MPAA with an R rating is nothing short of astonishing.
Though a lot of people are enjoying the picture and reviewing it favorably, the ongoing dialog about Kick-Ass seems to neglect the most arresting element of the movie. Everyone is hung up on the particularly filthy mouth of Hit Girl and coarse language from the rest of the young cast but what is living in the shadow of the movie’s glossiest pieces is an staggering volume of actual dramatic weight amid the chaotic fur flying mayhem. Millar’s comic wanted nothing to do with that and Kick-Ass winds up with a cellphone photo of his object of affection blowing another guy rather than with the girl of his dreams. Not so in this film version and while Kick-Ass’ relationship angle winds up a little on the schmaltzy side, it’s still fairly heavy and emotional how the fates of certain characters play out. Rescuing the film from constant flirtation with emotional resonance, though, is a series of staggering, balls-out action scenes that manage to be both original and fun. The strobe light/warehouse firefight is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s straight up John Woo meets Sam Peckinpah.
It is everything you’ve heard about and wading through the ankle-deep pool of blood is a remarkably human story. It’s funny, it’s gleefully gory and it makes me wonder if that’s what would really happen if you put a living person in a microwave oven. Don’t miss Kick-Ass. It’s a case study in favor of adapting shorter run comic book movies. Six or seven issues is far easier to adapt to the screen than thirty years of condensed continuity. It’s the greatest boon to Kick-Ass’ success.