Is the opening ten minutes of Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass one of the finest movie openings in history? And is Kick-Ass one of the best comic book adaptations ever made? In my opinion, the answer to both of these questions is yes. Vaughn’s adaptation of Mark Miller’s darkly brilliant comic book adventure shines with a blaze of colour, violence and creativity that would ultimately spawn dozens of copycat film and tv outings. But, asides from the colourful violence and dark humour, what makes Kick-Ass such a groundbreaking film?
Let’s start with its author, Scottish writer Mark Millar. Millar began his career with DC Comics in 1994, working on titles including Swamp Thing and The Flash, his DC career culminating in Superman: Red Son. He then moved on to Marvel in 2001, working on Ultimate X-Men, Civil War and The Ultimates. However, in 2004 Millar took the brave step of creating his own universe of characters within an independent comic book studio. Millar’s new world would take his passion for the superhero and merge it into a far more urban, edgy, diverse and occasionally humorous world. This unique, exciting, dark world would give birth to Kingsman, Nemesis, Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl, to name just a few.
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In creating Kiss-Ass (aka Dave Lizewski), Millar seized on an unchanging truth of male adolescence. One embedded in the strange, baron wilderness between boyhood and manhood. While reflecting on the eternal truth that men never genuinely escape this wilderness, the boy they once were chatting away in the darkest corners of their minds while screaming for escape. But what makes up this wilderness, I hear you ask? This wilderness is a place of imagination, play and belief, and for Dave Lizewski, it’s a place where he creates the superhero he longs to be through a mix of fantasy, teenage hormones and utter stupidity.
Bringing Millar’s unique vision to the screen would not be easy; after all, how many studios would allow Dave Lizewski’s hormonal, painful and violent journey against organised crime to fly free of censorship? The answer appeared to be none; enter Matthew Vaughn, Marv Films, and one of the biggest self-funded gambles in modern movie history. While Brad Pitt’s Plan B would also come aboard, the project would remain a knife’s edge away from disaster for Vaughn throughout filming. But, this risk also ensured the success of Kick-Ass, with Vaughn and Millar free to ensure the film honoured the source material.
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Meanwhile, casting choices would prove another winning element in creating Kick-Ass on screen. Here, Aaron Taylor-Johnson had just the right mix of outsider charm, innocence and misplaced bravery to make Dave Lizewski jump from the screen. While at the same time, Chloë Grace Moretz brought a youthful spit and sawdust energy to Hit Girl, one embedded in her love of comic books. And when both leads were joined by a cast including Mark Strong, Nicholas Cage and Superbad’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kick-Ass would excel far beyond any of its contemporaries.
The resulting film echoed the mayhem and dark humour of Millar’s comic book creations while tearing up the superhero rule book. After all, with no power, there is no responsibility, right? That is not entirely true in the Kick-Ass journey, as Millar and Vaughn weave their anti-hero tale with surprising moments of emotional depth. And therefore, maybe we should think of Kick-Ass as a colourful commentary on the power of one person to make a difference, even if they have no special abilities. Whatever your take on this powerhouse of comic book carnage, one thing is undeniable Kick-Ass is an outstanding exploration of the human desire to inhabit a different role; the hazy gap between fantasy and reality taking centre stage. And beyond that, Kick-Ass continues to inspire many new TV shows and movies, sealing its place in movie history.
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