In the words of the great Dr. Peter Venkman...."We came...., We saw......, IT KICKED OUR ASS!!!" Well, mostly in his words.
Sexfoodandcomicbooks.com writer Satine Phoenix and I were lucky enough to get a two week early (in America) screening of Matt Vaughn's new movie, an adaptation of the comic book "Kick-Ass". For those of you that don't know, "Kick-Ass" is an 8 comic book mini-series by acclaimed writer Mark Millar and one of the biggest comicbook artsts of all time, John Romita Jr. We both are huge fans of this series, reading it from the very first issue released in 2008. It toys with the idea of what it would be like if a real world comicbook geek in high school decided to dawn a costume and fight crime. The book is violent, gritty, and hilarious. The movie follows almost perfectly.
Like the comic, we follow our main character Dave Lizewski, played by Aaron Johnson, through the trials of being a nerdy teenager. He gets picked on, beat up, mugged and ignored by girls. Johnson plays this part just right. He's more of a real life geek then the over-the-top one Toby Maguire played as Peter Parker. Lizewski isn't completely helpless, but he is helpless enough. He fantasizes, like any other normal comicbook fan, about dressing up as a masked vigilante and fighting back. Dave goes one step further and takes it out of fantasy and into real life as the hero Kick-Ass. As we move through the movie we find he is not the only one. We meet Red Mist, and a Father/Daughter team-up: Big Daddy and Hit Girl. This is where the hijinks start as Lizewski finds out, crime fightin' aint' easy.
Vaughn does a great job of keeping pretty damn true to Millar and Romita's original. It has the violence, the humor, the classic lines delivered by the young Hit Girl. In fact both the screen play and the comic were being written at the exact same time after issue 1 was done, so they influenced each others projects. Is that good or bad? Yes and no. It's good to get 3 great creative minds working together as some of the influences from Vaughns screenplay helped out in Millars books. On the other hand this sometimes can cause the original creator to question his original plot. Luckily it seems Millar only took the ideas that he deemed worthy of his book, Vaughn unfortunately made some good and bad changes.
**** spoilers for book and movie***
Before I morph into Fanboy, let me start by saying Satine and I loved this movie. We were involved in the characters, laughing and cheering through out. The first hour and a half of the movie was basically dead on to the book with added stuff to fill in the gaps for time and a few minor changes.
To begin, instead of starting with Kick-Ass being tortured by the mob, making the story an entire flash back, we start with the "destined to meet a taxi with his face" Hawkman looking guy jumping off a building. This sequence in the book and the movie is classic and got a huge roar from the crowd. Kick-Ass's first "heroic" encounter with would be carjackers is as brutal and surprising as in the book, if not more. One of the best scenes out of the book, Damon Macready (Nick Cage) shooting his daughter Mindy (Chloe Moretz) with a hand gun to teach her to take a bullet plays out perfectly and brought huge laughs from the audience. Mindy's first appearance as Hit Girls is fracking great, C-Bomb cussing and all. Vaughn picks the perfect soundtrack for this scene, girly punk song background music to a 5 foot kid mutilating a bunch of drug dealers with a double knife ended staff, classic. Then comes a few differences.
Nick Cage's character Big Daddy, in the books, plays out to the readers as a bad ass ex cop who is trying to get back at the mob for killing his wife. This is the story he tells Mindy and why he is training her. Towards the end of the series we find out he is just an accountant/comic book collector who is getting a rush out of being a vigilante and having a Frank Castle like made up origin story. I had mix feelings about this when reading it. On one hand its such a great revelation when you find out he is a fraud because you are shocked this guy got his little girl into all this shit just to get a high, you feel bad for him when he confesses, especially under the circumstances. But on the other hand, you wonder how the hell this guy could possibly have the training he needed to be able to go up against the mob and the money to buy all these weapons. Vaughn fixes this in the movie by making his ex cop/dead wife story real, instead of made up. This totally works for me because you would need that type of rage to be able to do the things he does, plus it makes more sense as to where the money is coming from (stealing it from the mob, instead of selling comics). Cage's portrayal of Big Daddy is an interesting choice. As Damion he is a lot more nerdy and father like than in the books. I liked this. When transformed into Big Daddy Cage chose to play him as an Adam West style Batman with some Punisher violence. I guess this works since a man of his age would relate being a super hero to the old Batman show, but he goes a little over the top for me. I actually didn't like the Big Daddy character in the Film version until the warehouse scene when you see him unleash some serious shit on the mob. All of a sudden after this sequence you look at his character totally different and with a sense of respect. His death scene is a little different, but Vaughn shot it beautifully. You just have to see it, its really well done, it got big cheers from the crowd.
Another big change from the original source involves Red Mist. I was a little annoyed that they had to pick "actor face time" over good storytelling. I like Christopher Mintz-Plasse but he doesn't deserve more screen time yet in his career if it messes with the story. Millar never revealed that Red Mist was actually the Mob bosses son until more then halfway through the series. In the movie you basically know right from the get go. I feel this was a big missed opportunity by Vaughn because it added a nice twist to the story and made you hate Red Mist who eventually turns into Kick-Ass's arch enemy.
Then comes the greatest flaw of this movie. The ending. My mind is still boggled as to why Vaughn (who had no studio backing or restraints when making this film) would choose such a lame "Hollywood" way to end the film. The book ended in a BRUTAL brawl between Hit-Girl, Kick-Ass, Red Mist, and the mob. Hit-Girl is on her own against numerous thugs fueled by the rage of her fathers death, tunnel vision mind to finish the mission, and a hit of Blow that didn't make it into the film, while Kick-Ass is fist deep in Red Mist's face. This scene plays out pretty well in the film, even though I wasn't feeling the hatred and impact from Red Mist's betrayal with Kick Ass in their throw down as I did in the book. It is however great to see Hit Girl pick off guy after guy all by her lonesome. Then comes the big mistake. The whole movie ramps up to the final confrontation between Hit Girl and the head Mob guy. Everything her and her father fought for to get to this point. You want to see her blow this guys head off. The book has her kill him and deliver a touching sentimental line to Kick-Ass... "Hug me, my Daddy just died." We finally see the little girl under all that stark hardness and it works brilliantly. But no, the movie turns into a cross between the Rocketeer and True Lies, giving it a cliche' action movie ending. I won't totally spoil it, I'll let you decide for yourself, but Vaughn seemed to totally miss the point of the book and the character arcs. That or he knew an ending like this would help them sell the movie for distribution. Regardless it was definitely the wrong move and took away from getting intimate with the characters after they accomplished there goal. Luckily by this point in the movie I was so amped and fulfilled with the rest of it that I just played it off as "whatever, I know how this is really supposed to end" But its definitely to cheesy if I never read the comics.
*** end spoilers***
In the end, while the movie has its flaws it will definitely appeal to everyone, fanboys and not. Its got great laughs, great action, and some great main and secondary characters. When I first heard that this movie was being made I said to myself "there is no way they will be able to keep all this violence." I applaud Mathew Vaughn for generally keep pretty damn true to the comic and pulling all the stops. I'm looking forward to see where these characters go next. Mask up Bitches!!!
Good ol' Joe