Matthew Vaughn’s KICK-ASS Movie vs Mark Millar’s KICK-ASS Graphic Novel!


How to begin.

Let us be blunt and unsubtle, since that is in a nutshell what KICK-ASS, The Movie, wallows in.

Woah, tell me how you really feel.

Okay, since you asked. 🙂

I’ve never had to go back and retweak a review. But my first viewing of KICK-ASS, I immensely disliked one particular part of the film, one character’s story arc (and I still dislike it), and it strongly colored my whole perception of the film.

And I think my original review, which follows focused too heavily on just that negative aspect of the film.

But there is a lot to like about KICK-ASS, a lot to like about Matthew Vaughn’s direction, and Matthew and Jane Goldman’s script, brings a lot of originality, strength, and humor to the source material. There’s lot of innovative, fun stuff in the script that wasn’t in the source material, and Matthew Vaughn’s commentary is as interesting as the film.

So that’s my revised review, because I felt my original review (below) while I still stand behind all the problems I had with the film, there’s a lot of great things that went into this film as well that deserved a bit of praise.

Okay onto the original review:

Having just finished the DVD (not having read the Graphic Novel first) I’m unusually divided on the film. I’m glad I didn’t pay to see this in the movie, or buy the DVD, but the film isn’t a simple one to dismiss or enjoy.

Why?

Because the movie while well made and well performed, I thought was way too morally bankrupt and more than a bit irresponsible. Not everything that comes into your head, should go out your mouth. And having a little child spout language that would give a sailor pause, which only nominally phased me while watching the film, but really began to trouble me in hindsight, serves questionable sensationalist and prurient needs. Ultimately the creators’ needs.

The film was a well paced, garishly colored spider-man type take off as constructed through the slightly demented psyche of series creator Mark Millar. However the caveat being it is a normal teen kid, nerd, who decides to don a costume and fight crime.

So brain off, it is a typical blood and bullets action flick, right? Well not quite.

Have we pushed the envelope of adults, being effed up, violent, cursing sociopaths so far that we have to now try and get children to act out these fantasies? I don’t know, it didn’t quite sit right with me.

Less for what the film is then what the film opens the door to.

Everything, all values, sacrificed to the selfish needs of ever more egregious creators, and an ever more deadened audience.

And perhaps that selfish need, to push the envelope, when weighed against the needs of the story, the needs of the young actress, and the needs of the young viewers who will ultimately get their hands on this movie, dressed up as a kid’s comic movie, perhaps the writer and director’s needs… should be outweighed. Not by committee, but by themselves.

Not everything that comes into our heads, should come out our mouths, or worse yet a young actress’ mouth.

Young Actors generally have a hard life. As they find their childhood chewed up in service of people who just “Want to have a laugh” as the brits would put it (Yes, I know Millar is Scottish).

Millar, spoke somewhat jokingly about, during the auditions, being slightly disturbed hearing his lines uttered by these young girls. A whole generation of Jon Benet Ramsey’s in the making?

And he should be disturbed. “Humanity is also our business” to quote the THIRD MAN. Because to some extent it’s a bit of child endangerment, and bad parenting, and something a bit seedier, that you have to embrace, and ask others to embrace, in order to portray these things.

The creators’ need to be shocking for shocking’s sake, which may work in the rather insular world of comics where people are “in” on the conventions you’re attempting to satirize and transgress, works less well in the broader world of cinema.

Making mountains out of molehills? Possibly, but at what point does paying a child actress to do what we want, to bring someone’s fantasy to life, cross the line? At what point does art stop and something not terribly unlike pornography begin? And whose responsibility is it to ask these questions, seek these answers and monitor that line? At what point does the creators’ responsibility to his muse, to his characters, perhaps take back stage to his responsibility to a child actor and to larger society? Do the comic book lines, this child actress is asked to recite and internalize, do these lines have weight and purpose and value transposed to the world of the quick and the warm? Or are they part and parcel of the withering of culture, and the desensitization of man?

Those are difficult questions. And I’m not saying I have the answers, but I’m saying the KICK-ASS film blithely wallows in its transgressions, without even given those transgressions the weight of acknowledging them. Which could have potentially made them mean something. And that omission seems more than a bit of a shame.

And you have to put that weight on the screen-writers of Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman.

Having not been a fan of Millar’s WANTED comic, while being a huge fan of the much different, and much more moral, WANTED movie, scripted and humanized by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas; I went into the KICK-ASS film (where Millar had greater input) with a bit of trepidation.

Mark Millar.

I think he’s a talented writer. Starting out in main-stream comics as Hardy to Grant Morrison’s Laurel, he has written a couple things I am quite enamored of. He’s written more things that I am not a fan of.

I think it comes down to Millar is somewhat, or wants to be, the Takashi Miike of comics; absurdest and shocking for shocking’s sake. But that is when Miike, as I have stated before, in films like DOA or FUDOH is at his weakest and most boring, in films where he surrenders to the lowest common denominator in himself, when he eschews all limitations, and fills the screen with violence, body fluids, and excrement.

But give Miike a structure to work in, give him limitations, where he must resist his own temptations, his need to just “Have a laugh”. and he produces films with a surprising amount of heart, craft, and brilliance. With humanity. Films such as the oft praised THE BIRD PEOPLE IN CHINA, and THE NEGOTIATOR among others.

And I think that same sensibility is true of Mark Millar, when he rises above the quick and easy method, of shock-jock tricks, and tries to say something, tries to tell an earnest story… he can be devastating. He can bring us THE ULTIMATES, he can bring us CROSSOVER.

And that’s because limitations aren’t the end of art, in many ways they are the engine of it. Roberto Rodriguez’s best film by a long way, is still his first, where his lack of budget necessitated the story be there, and that the story move.

But Millar’s tendency of late has been toward the extreme for extreme’s sake and I find that incredibly lazy and boring in a book or a film. And watching KICK-ASS, that’s what I was thinking: Here’s a movie that is too true to Millar’s sensationalism, and that’s why it has no heart.

Because the KICK-ASS film when it was over, I felt oddly unmoved, uninvolved, because the characters were all relatively reprehensible, the “heroes’ as well as the villains. It felt like the cut scenes of a video game, just violence, with no narrative or heart to make the violence mean anything. And nothing made sense; the cop who becomes BIG DADDY, and trains his daughter to be a cursing, mass murdering sociopath, to get revenge for his wife’s death?! Really? Really?!!

And the ‘hero’ seems to take Hit Girl’s and Big Daddy’s Mass Murder in stride a little too easily. So ultimately on a moral scale, and what is a film about Super-heroes but a morality play writ large?, I just had real issues with the film. The film walked a relatively serious line, too serious to give it any personality as a dark satire/comedy.

However, the film is not without its moments, that early scene where Kick-Ass saves a guy from a group of thugs… has real heart. And it does have definite strengths. It looks great. Director Matthew Vaughn knows how to keep the action moving, Aaron Johnson, Mark Strong, Nicolas Cage and Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit-Girl lead a strong cast, the character designs are more innovative, and I think the script in places, was strong, and interesting, but I think the lynchpin of the film, has to rest with the arc of Chloe Grace Morez as Hit-Girl, in many ways I felt her salvation to be the central theme. Perhaps the very reason the stars aligned to give birth to a Kick-Ass, so he could be there… to set her free.

That’s the idealist in me talking of course, but hopefully that’s why people go to see these modern myths played out, to remind themselves, in an increasingly rudderless age, of ideas worth defending. Ultimately the film’s moral stance, or lack of, in the script by Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman outweighs the strengths of the movie.

But is the script just being true to Millar’s source, or does it diverge?

So I came here to review the film. But thought it was necessary to also review the source material, the comic series, and see what the two medium’s shared, and how they differed, and where the movie went wrong.

I just completed it and have to say… the graphic novel addresses many of the issues I had with the movie. Excellent structure, married to I thought a far more engrossing story-arc for Hit-Girl and Big-Daddy. The true origin of Big-Daddy and Hit-Girl, is pretty ambitious, and pretty brilliant, being both sad, horrific, and costly. And gives a weight, and pathos, and tragedy that’s completely missing in the film.

Vaughn said he was worried about kids following the antics of a Kick-Ass, and I think by eschewing Millar’s downer ending, for both Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl, he does glamorize his protagonists murdering antics, rather than an ending that redeems them.

In the graphic novel, Mark Millar offers subtle and human, in-between the violence. Restraint and humanity. When Millar mixes these elements in his writing he’s great, when he loses these touchstones, in pursuit of the cheap shock, or cheaper violence, he bores me and loses me as a reader (As in his WANTED graphic novel). Thankfully and surprisingly, KICK-ASS is Millar talking to us, rather than at us… and it is for the most part effective.

And effective is a word that also describes the art. John Romita Jr, is an artist that can be hit or miss with me, but he is great in this series. His slightly cartoony art, a nice counterpoint, to the at times extreme actions depicted. All in all, quite impressed with the story points in this graphic novel, and the ending, particularly in comparison with the film, offered a nice bit of closure and humanity. That particularly addresses Hit Girl’s abuse (because that’s ultimately what her fathers’s sculpting of her amounts to, he’s taken a child and made a serial killer), and how she comes to terms with it.

In Millar’s book you get the sense that all that violence, finally causes her to break, and comes to terms with wanting to put away these adult things and embrace her childhood. You don’t get that sense of closure and healing in Vaughn’s film, and that closure would have gone a long way to salvaging the film for me.

As it is, for me the film is an intriguing misfire, and the graphic novel a surprised and shaky thumbs up (Shaky, because in the end the book’s premise is still a dangerous lie, of a normal kid taking on crime. If you have a kid getting beat on by 200lb bad guys, metal plate or no, should he survive, he’ll be san’s teeth, and with a heavy case of brain damage. And looking far worse than just a little blood artfully applied to the face. It’s a dangerous and unworthy lie.)

So final grades: KICK-ASS DVD/Movie C-/C+ (Very intriguing Director’s Commentary)
KICK-ASS Graphic Novel B-.

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