Mark Millar's Kick-Ass get the big screen superhero treatment
The big screen adaptation of Mark Millar’s comic, Kick-Ass, will have its Scottish premiere this month. Henry Northmore speaks to Coatbridge-based Millar, and one of the film’s stars, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, about producing the epically funny, and ultra-violent, feature.
How come no one has ever ‘done a Batman’? In a world full of disenfranchised youth, disillusioned loners and delusional outsiders, where superhero movies top the box office, comics sell by the bucket-load and Spider-Man is one of the biggest pop culture icons of all time, why haven’t more folks decided to give it a go themselves? It would seem easy just to choose an identity, pull on a mask and go out to deliver some vigilante justice.
It’s an observation that also struck Scottish comic writer Mark Millar, and inspired his recent comic series Kick-Ass. The books are set in a world of ordinary people, where no one has any super powers at their disposal, but where a new group of heroes have decided to step forward, hoping to achieve something more than the comic book icons; hoping for something real.
‘For my entire life I’ve wondered about this,’ says Millar. ‘Is real life so exciting that nobody’s ever fantasised about this? As a kid I genuinely planned to do this: Kick-Ass is genuinely autobiographical. When I was about 15, Frank Miller was doing Batman Year One, Alan Moore was writing Watchmen, and it was all about realistic superheroes. It was so well-written that it convinced my friend Paul and I. We talked about it; we said, “Let’s go to the gym, let’s do karate, taekwondo, aikido, we’ll be Batman, we’ll do it.” Bear in mind this was rural Scotland – not exactly Gotham City. We spent months putting together costumes. I designed one called Mr Danger, that was kind of a Rorschach rip-off, with a hat and a trench coat and a scarf. And I’ve always thought, why has some nutter not done that?’
Kick-Ass has been a massive hit as a comic, out-selling Spider-Man on a monthly basis and securing reprints for all eight of its issues. The film adaptation of Millar’s Wanted raked in over $340 million at the box office in 2008, and now Kick-Ass is heading for similar success. The new feature is directed by Matthew Vaughn, who had previously worked with Kick-Ass’ screenwriter, Jane Goldman, on her film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s comic, Stardust. Rising talent Aaron Johnson – recently John Lennon in Sam Taylor-Wood’s Nowhere Boy – fills the eponymous hero’s chunky boots. He plays Dave Lizewski, an everyday teen who becomes Kick-Ass after buying a costume on eBay, and who tries to make the world a better place, as much for the adrenalin rush as for any altruistic motivation. Footage of him in action hits YouTube and he becomes an overnight sensation, influencing an army of fans and copycats.
The film’s collection of wannabe superheroes includes the volatile Red Mist, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, best known for his debut role as McLovin in Superbad. ‘The first few times I wore the suit I felt the most bad-ass I’ve ever felt in my whole life,’ laughs Mintz-Plasse. ‘But then about four weeks in, it got very annoying. The suit was super tight and I started getting rashes from the cape.’
This is a modern comic book fable, albeit one very obviously aimed at an adult audience. But then Kick-Ass isn’t your usual comic book movie, being packed with profanity, ultra- violence and high-octane action. It’s a project that is very close to Millar’s heart, with the Scotsman taking on co-producer duties. ‘For Kick-Ass I had total casting authority, and wanted to be involved at absolutely every level, because it’s your reputation,’ he says. ‘[Alan Moore’s] Watchmen is a magnificent piece of work as a comic, but the public perception of Watchmen now is as a slightly better than average movie as opposed to a comics masterpiece. The public perception of my work isn’t going to be the comics because that’s a niche audience.’
But it wasn’t an easy ride. Vaughn and Jane Goldman’s script was universally panned by the studios for being too extreme. They wanted to tone down the source material. ‘I’m not kidding, it was the most exciting screenplay I had ever read,’ says Millar. ‘I remember reading it thinking, “This is like Pulp Fiction.” It just had that same zing. Superhero movies are good, but they’re not Quentin Tarantino-good. And Vaughn was like: “We’re going to make a fortune, the studios are going to go apeshit when they read this.” And they all come back inside 24 hours and said they hated it. We were expecting a bidding war, not the universe saying “this is crap”. And we asked them what was wrong and they said, “Well, Hit Girl …”’
That’ll be the 11-year-old potty-mouthed super assassin Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), who has a somewhat unorthodox relationship with her father (Big Daddy, as played by Nicolas Cage), and who has already incensed the Daily Mail. ‘It’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s a movie, just get over it,’ says Mintz-Plasse. ‘Chloe is one of the sweetest kids I’ve ever worked with; that I’ve ever met in fact. She gets grounded for months if she swears in real life.’
‘Kick-Ass is masturbating in some scenes, you’ve got Hit Girl using the C-word. I suppose if you did break it down it seems controversial,’ adds Millar, ‘but I think it’s incredibly charming. People keep saying to me, “What do you think Daily Mail readers will say?” And I say, “Well, I’ve bought the Daily Mail every day for five years, and I love it!’”
In the face of adversity Vaughn stumped up some of the cash himself, then threw a dinner party and secured the rest from his Hollywood connections. Working independently gave the Kick-Ass team the freedom to create the film they had always wanted: a vibrant, smart, action movie that brings to life John Romita Jr’s comic book art. ‘Johnny is a co-producer as well,’ explains Millar. ‘And visually, it was really, really important to stay consistent with the book. We had Johnny on set, checking all the costumes, making sure he was happy. He even directed a one-minute animated sequence which people haven’t seen yet.’
And, staying true to his roots, Kick-Ass will be getting a Glasgow premiere as part of the Glasgow Comedy Festival. ‘It is odd in a way, but the film is really funny,’ Millar explains, to justify the Comedy Festival connection. ‘We thought, imagine a superhero film that’s as funny as Superbad when it’s funny, but it’s as exciting as Rocky if there’s a fight scene. We just thought: “Let’s amp everything up and turn everything up to 11 all the way through the film.’”
‘It’s bloody, violent and hilarious,’ adds Mintz-Plasse. Prepare to have your ass kicked.
Kick-Ass premieres as part of the Glasgow International Comedy Festival, Cineworld, Renfrew Street, Glasgow, Wed 24 Mar; General release from Wed 31 Mar.
Five more have-a-go superheroes
Greetings, true believers! In celebration of Kick-Ass, Niki Boyle delves into the murky underworld of skin-tight Lycra and secret identities to give you the inside scoop on five real-life superheroes, battling evil in a neighbourhood near you
Hero costume: Full body stocking, cape, mask.
About: Hailing from Seattle but fighting for various eco-causes around the world (at the time of writing, his MySpace said Dublin), Captain Ozone is very successful at keeping his true identity unknown – we’ve only been able to uncover that his full name is William J. Ozone, although there’s a possibility this is just a cunning alias. However, he does have a lot more information on his homepage. While you’re there, check out his documentary. Our favourite bit is when he chops a ‘Petrol’ sign in half using a hemp-oil-powered chainsaw.
Angle Grinder Man
Hero costume: Gold boots, leotard, cape.
Weapon of choice: An angle grinder!
About: Have you been unlucky enough to fall foul of the law for a parking violation? Fear not, for Angle Grinder Man is never far away. Using his trusty angle grinder, he removes wheel clamps by force, describing his actions as a ‘rebellion against a much deeper malaise’ in modern Britain, typified by Big Brotherly CCTV and invasive ID Cards. Need him in a hurry? Call the Angle Grinder Hotline.
Daniel ‘Lionheart’ Lerwell & James ‘Lights Out’ Lilley
Hero costume: Wigs, fishnets, stillettos.
Weapon of choice: Bruised knuckles.
About: Two lairy young hoodlums on a night out in Swansea got more than they bargained for when they started verbally abusing a couple of transvestites in the street. These transvestites turned out to be cage fighters in drag. Lerwell and Lilley both still compete regularly in the utterly brutal combat competition, so if you ever feel tempted to hurl taunts in the street, beware: you could be on the receiving end of some harsh justice from this dynamic duo.
John ‘Smeato’ Smeaton
Hero costume: Hi-vis vest.
Weapon of choice: A pair of Timberlands.
About: John Smeaton was a lowly baggage handler at Glasgow Airport until he helped foil a terrorist attack with his unforgettable superhero mantra: ‘This is Glasgow – we’ll set aboot ye!’ Having attained worldwide celebrity, his chances of having a secret identity are probably slim nowadays, but with the fortitude of 1400 pints behind him (donated by the grateful citizens of Glasgow), it’s doubtful he’ll need one.
Hero costume: Name tag.
Weapon of choice: Rolled-up newspaper.
About: Karen Hume doesn’t need a snappy nickname – her actions speak louder than words. When threatened at knife-point in RS McColl’s in Sighthill in June 2008, she grabbed the closest deadly weapon to hand – a right-of-centre local newspaper – and proceeded not only to deflect her assailant’s attack, but chase him down the street and offer a description to the local constabulary, who apprehended him soon after. Now, if only we could convince her to start wielding a copy of The List, then we would see justice served.