Today: July 19, 2024

Ass-Kicking – From Comics to Screen

As we welcome the new Kick-Ass film to our screens this August we also brace ourselves for a flurry of naysayers and sensitive souls who wag the finger at violence in movies. But whilst Kick-Ass 2 is indeed a riot of baseball bats, guns, knives, nunchucks, handbags, ‘sick sticks’ and bitey Alsatians, it’s also an adaptation from Mark Millar’s graphic novel series. Where was the finger-wagging when they hit the shelves?

The launch of Kick-Ass 2 was made more controversial thanks to the tweets of Jim Carrey, who plays ex-mobster Colonel Stars and Stripes in the movie: “I did Kickass a month b4 Sandy Hook and now in all good conscience I cannot support that level of violence.” Carrey then pulled out of any promotion for the movie, much to the surprise of his fellow cast and the film’s Writer and Director Jeff Wadlow. Clearly, Carrey didn’t want to be seen to be glamourising violence and sending out the wrong message, but what is ironic is that his character is a born-again Christian who refuses to carry a loaded gun. And surely the message of Kick-Ass 2, and the comic books and film that preceded it, is that violence has severe repercussions? Kick-Ass doesn’t make being a superhero look fun, or cool. It looks like it hurts, a lot.

Millar himself joined in the debate when he posted a blog stating: “Kick-Ass avoids the usual bloodless body-count of most big summer pictures and focuses instead on the consequences of violence, whether it’s the ramifications for friends and family or, as we saw in the first movie, Kick-Ass spending six months in hospital after his first street altercation.” He makes a valid point here – Superman lays waste to whole cities when he gets in a scrap, let alone what Thor does when he has a barney with his adopted brother.

Perhaps it’s this new sense of ‘realism’ in comics, and their cinematic offspring, that causes offence. When Kick-Ass asks his buddies “How come nobody’s ever tried to become a superhero?” he gets the response: “If anyone did it in real life they’d get their ass-kicked – they’d be dead in, like, a day.” These days we expect to see a bit of blood, some broken bones and a body count – it would be really bad storytelling if there were no peril. We’d surely get bored if our heroes were invincible and had nothing to lose.

If you took the aforementioned ‘finger-waggers’ into a comic book shop and picked up pretty much anything to hand they would likely wrap their eyes around decapitations, spewing guts, blood spatters and spine ripping, all rendered in fine ink and all anatomically correct. Gone are the days of innocuous speech bubbles and showing mercy to criminals. We appear to live in a brutal age. Perhaps this is the post-Alan Moore/Watchmen age?

What is curious, however, is that if you isolate a still image (for example, a single moment of brutality) in a panel on a page the violence is less diluted than if it were a blur within 24 frames on a screen. Movie editors can cut around action, add music and effects to distract you and, in the case of Wadlow, write funny dialogue to sweeten even the darkest moments. So, if anything, the movie-version is usually a lot less graphic than what you, the reader, cooked up in your own warped mind.

Maybe this realism is a sign that comic book writers and movie directors are tuning into a general feeling that ‘we’ (the viewer/reader) need to relate more to the hero/anti-hero, and the only way to do this is to make them just a bit more like us. They need to screw up a little and bleed a little, and be put in real-life situations no matter how mundane. This is part of the appeal and charm of the Kick-Ass series. And, as if we need reminding, a teenage boy wearing a garish green and yellow wetsuit squeals, “this isn’t a comic book!” as he’s dangling over the edge of a broken skylight…

Kick-Ass 2 opens in UK cinemas on 14th August.

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