Saturday, April 17, 2010

Did "Kick-Ass" kick ass?

After a long, excruciatingly boring day at work yesterday, I came home, changed my clothes, and Kristen and I went to go see Kick-Ass.

As a precursor, a bit of history. I've been a comics geek, off and on for a very long time. Part of the reason I got back into comics was, after the crash of both the market AND the creativity in the mid-to-late 90's, Marvel released the Ultimate line.

Now the Ultimate line of comics wasn't in line with the main series versions of the popular Marvel figureheads. The whole purpose was to create a new set of continuity; to wipe the slate clean. Instead of a reboot, it was a complete re-telling of the classic Marvel stories. A lot of people hated this idea: it messed with everything everyone had come to love about these iconic characters and storylines. But what was evident, even from the get-go, was that the Ultimate line retained the heart and soul, of the classics. The same themes were there, the same emotion. It was a contemporary re-imagining of some truly legendary tales.

I said that the Ultimate line got me back into comics, and that's a half-truth. Really, my focus was Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man and Mark Millar's Ultimates books. Spider-Man, to me, took everything I loved about the webslinger and trimmed off all the fat. All of the usual suspects were there, but they were new, they were fresh...and it was fun. The whole book breathed new life into the tired Spidey mythos while retaining the gravity and spirit of the character. But again, it was fun, and despite some truly emotional storylines, it wasn't much more than a funny-book.

The Ultimates, however, was the real deal. Taking the basic Avengers team-up idea, Millar made a truly cinematic comic book, feeling more like a serialized summer blockbuster than any comic I had read before. The scope was epic, the characters were fully realized, and, best of all, it felt like you were rekindling a friendship. Bryan Hitch, the artist on the book, modeled most of the characters after actors, further cementing the idea that you were reading/watching a real Avengers movie.

The irony is, this wasn't far off.

Remember in the Iron-Man movie where Sam Jackson shows up? Nick Fury? Yeah...right out of Ultimates. Nick Fury was always a grizzled old white man...not a black guy with an eye-patch. But the Ultimates showed Fury as an elusive, mysterious head of shield with a hip new styling. By way of Sam Jackson.

Not all of the actor re-imaginings made it to screen though. Iron-Man was originally Johnny Depp, not Robert Downey Jr. Bruce Banner was originally Steve Buscemi, not Ed Norton. Captain America as Brad Pitt (Chris Evans in the upcoming movie) and Thor...Thor was supposed to look like Jesus, and Chris Hemsworth doesn't look like Jesus to me.

But it looks like the basic ideas are there. The Marvel movies are Ultimate movies more than anything else. And that isn't a bad thing. You see, the thing is that the original Marvel stories (and I mean the ORIGIN stories) were kind of hokey. Kind of two dimensional. And the costumes...Christ, they would NOT work on screen at all. So the Ultimates inspiration gave the movies a vague sense of realism, and to date it seems to be working out pretty well.

So...long story short, I kind of loved the Ultimate line, but "The Ultimates" in particular was the crown jewel. The main reason for that was Mark Millar. You probably won't recognize the name unless you're a comics dork, but you know his work.

Millar was the man behind Ultimate X-Men, which essentially fueled the style of the movies. Along those lines, he also worked with Bendis on Ultimate Spider-Man and wrote the first six issues of Ultimate Fantastic Four, which, for better or worse, inspired some choices of both of those film franchises. Millar also wrote the comic version of Wanted, which is pretty great. The movie blows, but that was because they threw out the whole premise. Really, check it out, it's awesome.

Recently, he did Marvel 1985, about all the Marvel characters invading Earth in, you guessed it, 1985. He also wrote Old Man Logan, which see's a passive Wolverine in a future where the villains finally won and most of the heroes are dead and gone. And then of course, there's Kick-Ass....

Millar, with John Romita Jr. (who's art I HATE with a fiery passion), got the go ahead from Marvel to create what they described as the most violent comic ever made. By now, you know the idea: what would happen if someone actually decided to dress up like a super-hero and fight criminals. With little to no training, you can guess how something like that might unfold. And you wouldn't be too far off.

The comic, without spoiling anything, centers around a Peter Parker-like character who crushes on the popular girl, is ignored by almost everyone, and comes from a semi-broken home. The difference here is that Dave, the main character, is actually a REAL teenager. He wacks off all the time, he fantasizes about his English teacher, and his friends are as dorky as he is. He's a typical teenage comic nerd, and it's eerily similar to how I remember some of my highschool experiences being. The difference is, Dave does something about it...he orders a costume and decides to fight crime.

He decides to name himself Kick-Ass, a not-exactly inspired name, and arms himself with glorified beat-sticks. After a training montage (not really training per-se, but instead a whole lot of "this is awesome!" kind of self-ingratiating), Dave decides to confront some thugs while prowling the street. It doesn't go well.

In summary, Dave gets fucked up. He's stabbed, beaten, and hit by a car. Before he passes out, he takes off his costume and hides it under a nearby car. So the ambulance comes and finds a bloody, beaten, naked teenage boy in the middle of the street.

After months of surgery, where-by many metal-plates and equally reinforced things are placed in his body (foreshadowing, much?), Dave returns to school. His crush, the popular and gorgeous Katie, starts noticing him, going so far as trying to hang out with him. Problem is, the reason she's doing it is because she thinks he's gay. Turns out, as Dave was being patched up by teams of doctors, a rumor ran around the school that Dave was found naked downtown in a particularly seedy district...a district known for it's gay prostitution. It's not a stretch to think that Dave was "working it" and a sale went down badly, and since he hasn't said differently, that's the prevalent theory. Because Katie is only talking to him because she sees him as a potential gay-best friend, Dave plays along...the first of many slightly-implausible aspects of the book.

The second, and perhaps most glaring, implausibility is that fact that Dave goes BACK to fighting crime. This time he trains though, semi-legitimately, and manages to actually take a couple of thugs down. All of this is caught on camera, and his video goes viral. He sets up a Myspace page for "hero requests" and uses that as a tip-box for potential wrongs to right. Kind of like Spider-man/Batman for the digital age.

Dave's actions come to the attention of a local mob boss, as well as other would-be heroes. Two such heroes, who've actually been training much longer than Dave, are Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, a father/daughter team out to take down the mob. The difference between Dave and BD/HG are that they KILL people. Dave's just trying to bust some skulls and scare potential criminals, but Big Daddy and Hit-Girl are all about dealing justice in the bloodiest way possible.

Additionally, the success of Kick-Ass inspires another comic book geek to don a suit. Red Mist, a mysterious and more popular version of Kick-Ass, appears seemingly out of nowhere and has a lot more resources. But like Kick-Ass, it seems his motivations are to live out his comic fantasies as opposed to the gory symphony that BD/HG are conducting. I won't say more about Red Mist, because his character is crucial and his true motives offer a turning point for the book.

But that's the basis of the comic. Let's talk about the movie.

Kick-Ass the movie actually follows pretty close to the book. The characters are close to their comic counter-parts and the violence is just as stylized. The problems lie where they depart from the comic, for seemingly unknown reasons.


First off, McLovin didn't really work for me as Red Mist. Until the end of the comic, it wasn't clear that his character, a spoiled little rich son-of-a-mobster, was playing Kick-Ass the whole time. The movie, though, states from the get-go that this guy is looking for Daddy's approval and wants to be a part of the family mob business. This takes away from the character a bit, cause at no point to you question his motivations, and a no point do you think that the guy is actually cool. He's a bitch, with Daddy issues, and while this theme is in both stories, the way that the movie reveals that early takes the wind out of the sails a bit.

Another issue is Dave's relationship with Katie. Now I didn't mention this before, but in the comic, Dave doesn't reveal his alter-ego to Katie. He only tells her that he isn't gay and has loved her all along at the end of the book, and her reaction is realistically to freak out and have one of her jock-friends kick his ass. Oh yeah, and she later sends him a picture of her blowing the same jock friend while flipping the camera off, a particularly biting way to tell someone "it's over." I get that they couldn't retain all of this in the movie, but it's approach just seems...ludicrous. A little past the half-way mark of the film, Dave reveals his identity as Kick-Ass to Katie, while also professing his love. Unlike the comic, she see's this as a good thing, and proceeds to deflower a stunned Dave. Not only that, but they start DATING afterwards. Not just dating though, but turning into horny little rabbits and fucking in public parking lots against dumpsters. I have two problems with this. First, I was a teenage boy. I was horny as hell. I wacked off a lot. I had crushes, some of whom I wacked off too. It's natural. But when you GET the girl, especially when you're a geek, you don't just turn into a voyeur who bangs her in a parking lot. You might have sex like crazy, but not with reckless abandon. I get it, he wears a costume and fights crime, that empowers him, but fucking in a dirty parking lot is not only stupid, but ludicrous. My other problem is the fact that Katie even accepts this in the first place. While I think the book had the dark and unhappy ending just for the sake of making it depressing, the movie didn't have to have Dave reveal everything to her half-way through (for NO REASON no less) only for her to just say "fuck it" and fall madly in love with him. Again, ludicrous.

I also took offense to both the story of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl and Nic Cage's performance there-in. In the comic, there are TWO origin stories for these characters, with the former being similar to the movie, and the latter being the real reveal at the end. The movie took the first one and ran, completely omitting the true origin. In the book, as well as the movie, it says that Big Daddy was a cop, a good cop, and that he had been framed by a corrupt system for getting too close to the truth and was punished as such. His wife was killed (in the movie, it says she committed suicide) and he decided to take his young daughter far away and train her so that, one day, father and daughter could enact revenge on the mob that robbed them of a normal family life. This is a comic book storyline, and something that works in the first half of the book. When the book turns darker, it reveals the true origin story in full, which in itself is much darker. In the true origin, Big Daddy was obsessed with comic books. He was a fanboy, and longed to do what Kick-Ass would later accomplish: donning a costume and fighting for the side of good. He had a wife and a daughter, and one day got fed up with the boring monotony. He takes his daughter and disappears, leaving his wife to wonder what the hell happened to them. To fund his mad vision, he sells off portions of his comic collection in order to arm himself and his daughter for the battles ahead. He tells Hit-Girl the fanciful origin to justify his actions and give her a reason to fight by his side for "revenge." So really, Big Daddy is a whack-job asshole who ruined his daughters life to live out his comic fantasy. This is one of the best parts of the book...the way that this "hero" is revealed to not only be just the same as Dave, but that he took it too far and turned into a maniacal villain himself. The move COMPLETELY IGNORES this. And that's a problem. You see, Nic Cage's Big Daddy is pretty good. But he plays him as an Adam West Batman, something that only a comic geek would do. Thing is, by not revealing the true origin of this family fighting team, you take away the reason for that slice of ham. Sure, Big Daddy has Hit-Girl read comics in the movie to train her, but that's the ONLY mention of his comic obsession (besides the fact that he draws cartoon portraits of all of the mob members as a hit-list). The other problem with this is, "Where did a cop get all this money?" The movie tries to explain this by saying that, as they kill mob members during their nefarious dealings, they take the dirty money to fund their crime fighting operation. My issue with this is, where in the hell was the start up capital? Yeah, I guess he was pre-trained in some combat in the police force, but that doesn't give you access to the fire-power and gadgetry involved with taking down a group of mobsters. It's an odd and strange storytelling omission that they had no real reason to leave out. By making the fake origin the real origin, it makes the movie less tragic, less dark, and less believable.

Then again, all of my problems lie in the changes. In the book when Dave is being tortured, he has a car battery attached to his nuts. Painful, right? In the movie, he just gets beaten up.

In the book, Dave realizes towards the end that he HAS become somewhat of a super-hero, due in part to his inability to feel pain because of the surgery/metal playing. While the movie shows all of the plating in his body, they make no mention of his aversion to pain. This was a powerful scene in the book, considering someone who longed to be a super-hero (as in, have a power and not just be a hero, or a guy in a suit) actually BECAME one, to a degree. By leaving this out, you essentially tease the audience at the beginning with the foreshadowing and then never reveal the realization. Cinematic blue-balls, really.

In the book, Big Daddy has his brains blown out. In the movie, he is burned alive, allowing him to see his daughter one last time and provides an awkward death scene/goodbye moment.

In the book, Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl lead a last-ditch assault on the penthouse suite of the mob-boss. Kick-Ass beats the shit out of the traitorous Red-Mist in a truly one-sided manner. Hit-Girl confronts the mob-boss, and he gets the upper hand, beating her face with a meat-tenderizer. Kick-Ass bursts in, shoots the mob boss in the balls, and Hit-Girl gets the kill-shot by slamming a butchers knife into his skull. In the movie, something far-more ridiculous happens. Hit-Girl takes the elevator up alone, taking out a bunch of mobsters single-handedly. She runs out of ammo and gets cornered with no way to fight back. Kick-Ass shows up, WITH A FUCKING JET-PACK, and mows down the rest of the mobsters with the jet-packs attached gattling guns. He and Hit-Girl proceed to the final room, which houses Red-Mist and his mob daddy. Red-Mist tackles Kick-Ass into a judo-training room, and they duke it out, eventually knocking each other out and ending in a draw. Hit-Girl fights the boss hand to hand, and gets beaten down. Just as she is about to be shot in the face, Kick-Ass wakes up, grabs a nearby bazooka, and shoots it at the mob-boss, shooting him out the window to explode over the New York skyline. He then FLIES Hit-Girl home with his random fucking jetpack.

I already mentioned how Dave's reveal to Katie ends in the book, but Hit-Girl ends up with her mother (remember, in the book her mother was fully alive). She ends up going to school and living a relatively normal life, though it does show her kicking some bullies' asses. In the movie, she ends up living with Big Daddies old cop partner, and going to the same school as Dave, also showing her kicking some bullies asses. The movie ends with Dave getting the girl and living happily ever after. The book ends with Dave in the fetal position crying in his room. The very last scene of both the movie and the book is the same, showing Red-Mist monologuing about how he's going to be the worlds first super-villain. Roll credits.

Now, I realize, movies need to change certain things from their respective source materials. It's reality. For instance, the whole thing with Katie sending Dave a picture of her blowing some dude. Wouldn't quite work. Going into the movie, I knew they would end up together, but I thought it would mirror the book in that, first off at least, she hates him for lying to her, but then she realizes that he's a hero and he really does love her, and she comes around. I pointed out the problems with the movies real approach, so no need to re-iterate. The movie also, wisely, trimmed some fat from the book regarding Dave's dad coping with his wife's death, some of the Myspace shit, and a couple other nagging plot details.

What I don't understand is why they changed so much. This movie was hard-R rating from the get-go, so why not show Dave's balls hooked up to a car battery? Why not show the mob boss being shot in the balls? Why not show the darker origin of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl? It just seems like change for the sake of change, and that's not always a good thing.

Now you might think I hated the movie from all this ranting. I really, really didn't. In fact, I liked it quite a lot. The casting and acting was pretty perfect, aside from Nic Cage and McLovin, though admittedly I kind of hated both of them going into it. The girl that played Hit-Girl (too lazy to look up most of these people's names) was perfect, equals parts cute and horrifyingly destructive. The actor that played Kick-Ass was believable, and his friends offered some comic relief. Mark Strong was awesome as the mob-boss, and the actress that played Katie did well with what she had. If I hadn't read the comic, I would've LOVED the movie, as it was stylish, funny, vulgar, bloody and an all around manic romp.

But the fact is, I did read the comic. And since Millar is a cinematic comic writer, I see no reason to change most of the story as it was written. That's the real fault of the movie, and I don't really know who was to blame. I don't think every movie should stick to the source verbatim (Watchmen SUCKED and it was almost a direct adaptation), but with something like this it's just dumb to try to fix what works. I really do think that this movie is a step in the right direction when it comes to comic movies, but the unneeded changes really brought down the experience for me.

In summary, if you haven't read the comic, see Kick-Ass ASAP. It's really a fun flick. If you had read the comic, be aware of the changes and gauge your expectations accordingly. Had I not fallen into the hype-machine and tempered my expectations, I would have fallen absolutely in love. As it is, I just have a half-stiffy.

No comments:

Post a Comment