Summary: Dave Lezewski is your average nerd. That is until he buys a scuba outfit online and decides to start crime fighting like his favourite comic book super heroes. When one of Dave’s fights is put on youtube he becomes an internet and real life phenomenon known as Kick-Ass. But things turn south when he meets some real life super heroes, and some real life villains, and now his life and his balls are in danger.
When Kick-Ass was released in 2008 it was an instant phenomena. Comic shop goers were drawn to the appeal of a run of the mill teenager taking up the mantle of his heroes and living out his (and their) fanboy wet dreams. The first prints were quickly bought up by patrons and the comic had to be reprinted. With only several issues published, it was announced that Kick-Ass was going to be made into a film.
Word of mouth brought on by viral marketing? Check. A large quickly growing devoted fan base? Check. The option to be made into a movie despite having no definitive ending and less than half of the source material? Check.
As a fan of the comic book series (and yes, I gobbled up the series along with everyone else when it came out, although it didn’t give me literal wet dreams) I was really excited to see how the movie would embody the comic. As a whole, the series is violent, dark, and gives you the sense that Dave’s disconnect with reality and fiction comes from his disillusionment with the world at large. All pretty heavy stuff for a movie. So I was not surprised to see that the film on a whole was sanitized (although not necessarily up to a bald headed genie/gypsy’s standards).
I can hear the confusion echoing around the stratosphere now. How was Kick-Ass a sanitized version of Kick-Ass? It features an 11 year old stabbing people with a katana, playing with balisongs, and shooting people in the skulls. How is it in any sense of the word cleaner? And to that I say, you my friend did not read the comics. The comics make the movie look like a Disney film, resplendent with dancing and singing elephant seals in a kick line while Hugh Jackman sings a jaunty tune about pollination.
The movie glosses over a lot of the racial profiling, gender stereotyping, homophobic slurs, profanity, and the comics attempts to magnify the grittier aspects of the world at large.
Whereas the movie is narrated after the end of the film, the comics are narrated from the point of the torture scene near the end of the film. In Kick-Ass the title character, well-meaning Dave Lezewski is being beaten up on video streamed over the internet by the mob along with father of the year turned vigilante Big Daddy (AKA Nicholas Cage in one of his first good movies in a decade). In Kick-Ass, nebbish Jew type Dave Lezewski is alone with electrodes attached to his balls. Dave tells the mobsters everything they want to know and Big Daddy is murdered, but only after explaining how he’s the worst father of all time with a fabricated tragic back story. The movie ignores all of this and allows Big Daddy to die with dignity and purpose and Dave to escape without having his balls electrocuted.
It is also interesting to take note of the characterization of Dave’s love interest Katie between the comics and the movies. In the comics, she is a stuck up bitch who won’t give Dave the time of day. In the movie, she is an out of his league girl who is not stuck up despite the fact that she is beautiful and everyone loves her. You think this would make her a stuck up bitch. Despite this, in both versions she is convinced that Dave is gay which allows them to have a platonic relationship of cuddling and watching “Will and Grace”, during which Dave occasionally gets a boner (I’m reading between the lines here). The differences arrive once again when Dave reveals to Katie that he is not actually gay. In the comics she is horrified and sends him a picture of herself giving someone a blow job to punish him. In the movie she is so honored to have him lie to/mislead her so he could fondle her panties that she immediately forgives they live happily ever after in a castle made out of gumdrops.
There are a lot of other smaller changes brought to the movie in order to give it more of a mass appeal to the public. For instance, the gang violence prevalent in the comics is perpetrated by African Americans and Puerto Ricans (generally against us honkies– I’m white so I can use racial slurs against myself, right?). They also make a lot of homophobic remarks, removed from the film for obvious reasons, which changes all the violent offenders into white gangster type hoodlums. Black/Hispanic gangsters = racial profiling. White gangsters = an attempt to please the masses.
The driver of the car which initially hits Kick-Ass is also altered for the film. In the comic, the car is being driven by a woman who is distracted because she’s too busy gossiping with her friend. A blatant crack on women and their inability to drive, or merely a coincidence? Regardless of the intent the filmmakers chose to replace the vapid woman with a well-to-do businessman, showing that even men can be poor drivers.
However, the largest character change comes in the form of Red Mist, who becomes a super hero in order to get closer to Kick-Ass. In the comics, he is an evil, deceitful spoiled brat who has no qualms about setting up Kick-Ass so his father, mob boss John Genovese (Frank D’Amico in the movie) can finally catch the superheroes (Big Daddy and Hit-Girl) ruining all his drugs deals. In the movie, he is portrayed as a lonely boy who just wants the approval of his father and to one day take over the family businesses (the family business being whacking people). He does not start off as a villain, but is merely altered by the circumstances he finds himself in. Who wouldn’t deem it necessary to avenge their father when your old friend blows him up with a bazooka?
The two things the movie gets most right are Hit-Girl (the eleven year old power house who kills mobsters like she’s making a cake in an Easy Bake Oven- which is actually pretty hard, damn 2 watt light bulbs) and the references to nerd culture.
Again, Hit-Girl was slightly toned down for the movie (i.e. she never uses the word “guinea”) but she is still the most awesome middle school kid ever. She can withstand getting tossed out of windows, and knows how to hold her own against grown men AND drunken prostitutes. In the comics she sports a Hello Kitty backpack which she keeps her supplies in (including coke which her father convinces her is a government developed chemical to give her energy) and says adorable things like, “It’s fucking clobbering time”. I also fully stand behind her costume change from comic to film. It would have been wrong to alter Kick-Ass’ scuba suit, but the all purple jumpsuit, school girl skirt and purple wig combo they give to Hit-Girl is A+.
Both the movie and the series had a lot of allusions to comic books and superheroes. In the movie Katie mentions her love of both Scott Pilgrim (GAG!) and Shojo Beat (reminisces about high school). In the comics Dave talks about Galactus, Joss Whedon, and his love of Danny Elfman. And in my favourite panel he says, “Six weeks ago I was”Heroes” Season One. Now, as far as the ‘net was concerned, I was Season fucking Two”. The bit that really got my heart a flutter was at the end of the film when Dave reveals that his adventure was made into a comic series, and the actors are reading the original comics from Mark Millar. I don’t know why, but I get a big boner whenever someone breaks the 4th wall.
Despite all the differences between the source material and the film, I still immensely enjoyed Kick-Ass. It may not have gotten everything right, but it would be ridiculous to expect adaptations to remain 100% true to the original when the media they are presented in change. Watchmen changed the space alien ending completely and I still loved that film. And despite the butterflies and OMG true love, and homogenization of the comic series I still really enjoyed the film. It kept the dark comedic spirit of the series alive and gave the characters more depth than they could have achieved in the few issues of Kick-Ass that were released. All in all Kick-Ass pretty much kicked ass.
*I should really stop making that joke in these posts.