WONDERCON 2010: Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass_poster.jpgWonderCon--San Francisco's sibling response to San Diego's ComicCon--roused thousands of fans to the George Moscone Convention Center this Easter weekend on the hunt for more than chocolate eggs. My favorite is always Movies Saturday where thousands pour into the Esplanade Ballroom to get their first glimpse of upcoming blockbusters while listening to creative talent pitch their films panel after panel. I park myself in my front row seat at about 10:30 in the morning and don't leave until the early evening because--once you leave the Ballroom--good luck getting back in!

WonderCon's Kick-Ass panel included comic book creator John Romita, Jr., screenwriter Jane Goldman, and cast members Nicholas Cage, Aaron Johnson, Chloë Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Clark Duke, moderated by HitFix.

The Hitfix moderator noted that--in contrast to Dave Gibbon's reaction to having his graphic novel The Watchmen transposed to cinema after the fact--John Romita, Jr. and Mark Millar had a nearly opposite experience; their comic book wasn't even completed before they began working with Matthew Vaughn, effecting a cross-pollination between the book and the movie. He wondered how Vaughn got his hands on the story and what it was like for Romita and Millar to go through the experience with Vaughn simultaneously?

Romita quipped that--being Sicilian--"bribery and threats" worked well for him. Vaughn was in need of a project and Millar--who ran into him at a party--mentioned to Vaughn that he and Romita had successfully worked together remounting Wolverine and were working on another interesting project. Up for the gamble, Romita joined Millar in publishing their comic Kick-Ass under Marvel's Icon imprint, even as they began developing Vaughn's film. Romita praised Vaughn for having "good taste in comics" and for recognizing a quality story when he read it. By directing an animated flashback sequence in the film, Romita earned his directorial debut alongside his scribal credits.

In a world where most people get bullied upon and get their asses kicked, Romita was asked how he felt about delivering a fantasy that turns that situation on its head? "I can tell you what Mark Millar initially said," Romita answered, "that's exactly what he did when he was a kid: exercised, took martial arts classes, and planned to get a costume because he wanted to fight crime. He claims that's what he wanted to do. I think everybody in this room probably fantasized about that." When Millar first approached Romita with the project, he admitted it was a risk but offered a 12-year-old bottle of scotch if Romita could finish the script on time. Romita didn't, so he didn't get the scotch, but from the moment Millar sent him the first synopsis--and, at that time, the character of Kick-Ass wasn't even involved; it was just Big Daddy and Hit Girl--Romita enjoyed it. "Mark is out of his mind and that's the fun of it. It morphed into what it is. So it's working with Mark and working with that story that was just amazing."

When screenwriter Jane Goldman and Vaughn decided to go with Romita and Millar's unfinished comic book, it was a huge act of faith on their part because they had no way of knowing how the comic book--thereby, their movie--would end. Irregardless, Goldman was attracted to the idea of superheroes without superpowers, which--much to her surprise--hadn't been fully explored. The fact that the movie industry has been plundering the comic book characters that have been around for quite a long time encouraged her and Matthew to work from the angle of a completely fresh character.

Of course, the character of Hit Girl--the child assassin who has elicited some controversy for her colorful language--was a special challenge for Goldman, who is no stranger to controversy. The mother of two daughters, Goldman felt the character of Mindy McReady (aka Hit Girl) was a strong female role, precisely because she was pre-teen and a nonsexualized female character. That combination is almost unheard of in contemporary cinema where a sexy woman with a gun is considered to be a strong female role, which Goldman doesn't believe it is at all. It was that combination of youth and vigilante activism that struck her first, rather than the idea that people might be outraged. Further, audiences are used to seeing women and children as the victims of violence. Surely it's less offensive to see them kick off violence? As much as people might complain about linking a pre-teen girl with so much violence, anyone who sees the film and situates the character in its context, in its humor, never seems to complain.

As for whether or not she felt there was any place that went "too far" in the writing, something she felt she needed to pull back from, or whether she felt inclined to push all the tropes of the superhero as far as she could, Goldman offered that she always knew the film was intended for an adult audience; but, that being said, she never wanted to push further than the spirit of the comic, she wanted to be true to it, and tell the story as it had been told.

The readily identifiable and "delicious touchstones" Nicolas Cage has built into his portrayal of Damon Macready (aka Big Daddy), are character-driven, including Big Daddy's mask, and especially his belt. Cage remembered that when Matthew Vaughn first showed him his character's yellow belt, he instantly sourced it to the 1960s Batman TV series as the belt Adam West wore. Vaughn confirmed that's exactly what it was and asked Cage if he thought they could pull it off? Not only did Cage think they could pull it off, he felt the belt was one of the coolest things about Big Daddy's character. Not only did he decide he was going to wear it, but he decided Big Daddy should talk like Adam West in the TV series. West delivered his lines in staccato rhythm in odd inflections that didn't quite go together.

Cage added that everyone loves comic books because they're like the myths of our times; they give people power. There are people that go out and wear Batman t-shirts underneath their cop uniforms or Superman t-shirts underneath their paramedic uniforms because that's what gives them the guts to go in and get the job done. Cage figured that it was somewhat the same for Big Daddy: mimicing Adam West's portrayal of Batman gave him the guts to fight crime. Cage also remembered dating a girl many years ago whose father was a cop and he always wore these sunglasses and had that moustache that a lot of cops wear and he always called his daughter "child", which Cage thought was strange. He thought of Damon Macready as being like that guy.

Cage recalled that he learned to read at the age of four-six with comic books. "I would read Stan Lee's stories and the words were so interesting. I learned words like 'opaque' and 'inexorable' when I was six. So I've always had a soft spot in my heart for comic books. I don't want to mislead you. I don't want you to think that's all I read or that I'm on a steady diet of comics as I speak here today, but I think my interest in comic book characters is when they fall within the realm of the supernatural. I like characters that are supernatural like City of Angels [1998], based on Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire (1987)] or Ghost Rider [2007], because when you play a supernatural character, the possibilities are limitless. We're talking about infinity, imagination, you can do anything almost, you're not stuck in a context of reality, whatever that is. So comic books lend themselves to that. That's what it is. They have a big impact. People respond to myths. Comic books give us that power."

Asked which superhero he would like to be, Cage responded, "I'd be the Silver Surfer so I could fly through the universe and beat up Superman" to which Mintz-Plasse quipped: "I'd be Galactus, so the Silver Surfer could feed me planets."

Asked what made him go for the role of Big Daddy, Cage responded that as an actor he feels he has the mind of a student, he's always learning. "I can't always sing the songs that I love because it's too easy," he said. "Sometimes I have to sing songs that make me uncomfortable, that take me out of my comfort zone, so I can learn something, right? I wanted to do Macready because I didn't know how I was going to get around shooting a 12-year-old girl in the chest. It made me a little uncomfortable so I figured I'd better do it." As challenging as he found the role, it ended up being a joy for him because he got to work with Aaron Johnson and Chloë Moretz "and these guys are as good as it gets," he praised. Since he's been around for over 30 years now, Cage tries to learn when he works with different generations of actors. Working with the current generation of actors keeps him relevant. The minute he met Chloë and began working with her, he knew she was destined to become a star because of her charisma and confidence. Immediately they began riffing off each other and there was no question in his mind that the chemistry would work.

As for his favorite scene in the film? Cage didn't miss a beat: "My favorite scene in the movie, hands down, is when Aaron takes on the three hoodlums and he says something like 'I'm the guy who will take on three guys who are picking on one guy.' He said it with such conviction that I realized at that moment that was his superpower, it was as simple as that. When you see the movie, you're going to ask yourself, 'Would you do it? Would you have that level of guts?' I think a lot of us have been in that situation and wondered whether to jump in or not. That moment inspired me."

When asked about how he'd trained for his role of Dave Lizewski (aka Kick-Ass), British newcomer Aaron Johnson admitted he mainly just ran around in circles waving his arms. Both he and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (as Red Mist) basically sat back and watched Chloë Moretz do all the action. Both of them got their asses kicked more than kicking any ass. Mintz-Plasse added that--when he first read the script--it was bloody and violent and funny, "and that's everything that I want to see in a movie." He auditioned and read for the role of Kick-Ass, and Matthew Vaughn hated him right off, but offered him the role of Red Mist on the spot. As for Red Mist's look: "They were going for David Bowie. I thought it was more Rihanna, really. I got Christopher Lambert once but I refused to agree with that!"

Because she dropped the "F-bomb" in the film, let alone talked about giant cocks in the sky, Chloë Moretz was asked how her parents reacted to her performance in this role? Her mother read the script before Chloë and thought the role was awesome and unique and synched to how young kids play. She handed the script to Chloë, fully aware: "Who wouldn't want to play Hit Girl?" Chloë's favorite scene in the film is the one time you see Hit Girl become an 11-year-old girl. You enjoy seeing her kick ass and kill and root for her to do so; but, when she sees her dad in trouble, she realizes it's not a game they're playing anymore, it's real-life, and you see her become a little girl worried about her dad.

Clark Duke--who plays Dave's best friend Marty in the film--helped Aaron a bit with his American accent; but joked: "I'm Aaron's life coach, actually, I focus on health and nutrition." Duke, incidentally, has been receiving great reviews for his comic role as Jacob in Hot Tub Time Machine and his comic talent was readily apparent onstage as he shamelessly pitched for a costume of his own in the Kick-Ass sequel, which--rumor has it--Mark Millar has confirmed.

I'll be the first to admit that Nicolas Cage is not one of my favorite actors. Along with some admirable work, he's done a lot of big budget dreck. But I never wish him ill will, and am glad that Kick-Ass and The Sorcerer's Apprentice have helped him back into the limelight. He's genuinely funny as Big Daddy in Kick-Ass. He came off quite gracious on both the Kick-Ass and Sorcerer's Apprentice WonderCon panels, despite sounding like Howlin' Wolf (he had laryngitis from an allergic reaction to location shooting in Louisiana). Clearly the big draw of this weekend's WonderCon, I respected how Cage deferred to the performances of his co-workers in both films, in contrast to the grandstanding of some of the younger actors who one might criticize haven't learned to share the stage yet. Case in point would be Aaron Johnson who seemed visibly petulant that he didn't have a name card, and grumbled that his presence didn't "fucking matter." He grabbed Nicolas Cage's name card and said he would be Nicolas Cage. Cage opened his mouth to say something, thought better of it, and stayed silent, which amused his audience. It takes a touch of class, and years of experience, to know that each young actor has to learn how to carry themselves in public. Johnson's next project will be the upcoming thriller Chatroom, directed by Japanese filmmaker Hideo Nakata (Ringu, Dark Water).

Cross-published on The Evening Class.

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