Kick-Ass the Movie: "I'm going to make you a comics reader right now"

The Kick-Ass movie is very different from its comic book predecessor. While both film and comic deal with comics' emerging place in culture, they take severely different routes and end up in totally separate places. The comic portrays nearly every character as pathetic, denouncing fanboys as losers with no life (as if it were tailor-made for hip, comics reading Complex magazine readers).

Strangely, the movie's the opposite: It's excited by comics and presents a more, well-rounded vision of comics fandom, grabbing in equal parts, the fan-boy stupidity and genuine wonder of comics. The character of Big Daddy is the perfect example of how Kick-Ass the comic and movie diverge. The comic has Big Daddy as a comics collector and accountant gone off the deep end, due to his humdrum suburban life with his wife and kid. Big Daddy tells everyone he is an ex-cop and keeps a secret briefcase of expensive comics that fund his vigilante operation. Look, I get it, collectors are sort of this dark side of comics, but they're also an increasingly marginalized subculture. He's as simple and one-sided as every other character in the comic: An irresponsible loser and failure.
The film's Big Daddy, Nicholas Cage, is all those things the comics version wishes he was, but not really any less pathetic. He's a cop out for revenge, but the movie changes his connection to comics from collector to a fan and amateur participant. He draws sketches of the crime family he is hunting--his origin is told via self drawn comic--and his suit is just Batman. Big Daddy's instantly a hero because of his crime fighting efficiency and humor, but the movie doesn't quite make it that simple.

Cage's voice while in his super suit is an incredible Adam West impression that makes the character even more weird and pathetic while, adding a really relatable and loving Dad-like quality. He's not entirely loathsome or rather, he's pathetic in a more regular, work-a-day way.

One scene shows Big Daddy putting on eye makeup and fake mustache extensions getting ready for battle. It might not sound like much of a scene, but as Big Daddy looks at himself in the mirror it's less like getting ready for battle and more like putting on the makeup of a costume. Like he's "playing", which of course he is, but Cage pulls the scene and character out of a big pit of Mark Millar snark. The scene is a comment on LARPing or cosplay, with Cage nailing the sad-weird nobility of it all. Think of the mix of mockery and reverence a documentary like Darkon provided its subjects--it's like that.

Kick-Ass the comic conveniently ignores the wonder and imagination of comics, boiling them down to reptile-brain ultra-violence and sad-sack wish fulfillment. Sure, Kick-Ass the movie has plenty of violence and something or other to say about escapism, but it balances it all out with an understanding that comics are awesome.

The high-schoolers of the film are actually excited and energized by comics. Their local comic shop is a hangout that serves coffee, and proudly displays giant posters of Hellboy. At one point, in a scene that maybe best sums up the movie's wonder-filled position on comics, Kick-Ass' buddy, played by Clark Duke, eagerly says to a girl "I'm going to make you a comics reader right now," and as she begins to read, looks over her shoulder reading it with her. It's genuinely moving and presents comics as a unifier, not a thing losers do in their rooms all alone.


Gene Phillips said...

Found your site thru Curt Purcell's blog. Good review, it makes me want to see the movie.

Your details about the Millar comic make me yet more determined not to bother reading it.

Seems like Hollywood's two for two "against" Millar, since I also thought WANTED the film better than its punk-ass model.

Jesse Reese said...

I'd say Kick-Ass is definitely worth seeing. It's not quite up on the same level as Iron Man or Star Trek as smart action movies, but that's what it's going for, and it has plenty of interesting stuff other than what I went into here.

The first issue of the comic is worth reading. It's got a lot of potential and some actually real and touching moments, but after that it goes down hill quick.

Thanks for hopping over and for the kind words.