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Mark Millar

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Don’t Give a Damn ‘Bout My Bad Reputation.

Not to get all Peter Travers up in here, but, if you’re in any way a member of the fanboy/fangirl nation, Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass is, pure and simple, kick-ass. Much as Jon Favreau’s Iron Man launched the summer of 2008 with a sleek, rousing, highly-enjoyable crowd-pleaser of a comic book film, I’m happy to report that Vaughn delivers exactly what its very quality trailer (not to mention Layer Cake and, occasionally, Stardust) promised — two quality hours of thrills, spills, and vaguely disreputable four-color mayhem.

This is not only a much more entertaining adaptation of Mark Millar’s work than Timur Bekmanbetov’s badly flawed Wanted. It’s also, in some ways and like Brad Bird’s The Incredibles, more Watchmen-y than Watchmen — a sardonic, pleasingly daft evisceration of common comic book tropes. And with a light touch, an impressive funnybook aesthetic, and great comic presence throughout, Kick-Ass is an audience movie if there ever was one, and just an all-around fun night out at the multiplex.

If you’re unfamiliar with the comic (as I was — I just knew the conceit), Kick-Ass basically centers on one question: Given that there are millions of comic book fans out there, and more than a few of them are, put charitably, maybe a little socially maladjusted, how come nobody in our world ever dresses up in a costume to fight crime? That’s the banner idea that occurs one day to thoroughly average high-school kid Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson, looking like a lankier Frodo.) And one scuba outfit purchase from Amazon and a few weeks of training (re: fantasizing) later, Dave — now known as Kick-Ass — embarks on his Hero Quest…which, well, doesn’t turn out so hot. (Minor spoiler: He quickly gets shivved, hit by a car, and left for dead.)

The silver lining of this godawful ass-kicking: Dave suffers so much nerve damage from his beatdown that he’s backed his way into a super-power — a higher-than-average pain tolerance. And so he sets out once more to fulfill his destiny, maybe impress a girl here or there also. But, while Kick-Ass is basically freelancing his way into a super-hero career, other folks take the mask-and-cowl more seriously — namely the better-trained, better-armed, and better-motivated father-daughter duo of Damon and Mindy MacCready, otherwise known as Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz). Out for revenge against a drug operation run by kingpin Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), Big Daddy and Hit-Girl tend to leave a swath of blood and entrails in their wake. This makes D’Amico livid, of course, and so he starts gunning for any and all costumed vigilantes he can find, starting with that goofy kid on Youtube in the green scuba suit…

Admittedly, Kick-Ass is ultra-violent, although always in a hyperstylized comic book sense. (At worst, we’re in Kill Bill territory here.) Like Sin City, the moral economy of Kick-Ass may be somewhat suspect, although it’s nowhere near as craven or reprehensible as some pearl-clutching critics, like, weirdly, Roger Ebert, suggest. (Basically, Ebert is mortified by Hit-Girl. I presume he’s never heard of Robin, Bucky, Kitty Pryde, Jason Todd, or any other number of endangered child sidekicks in comics. That train left the station fifty years ago.) And, yes, it’s occasionally sophomoric — if I remember correctly, we have two masturbation jokes before the credits are even finished rolling. All that being said, Kick-Ass is also breezy, propulsive, and very entertaining, and its pros definitely outweigh its cons.

There are a lot of little things about the movie that work, from Clark Duke’s sidekick banter (he’s much more engaging here than in Hot Tub Time Machine) to Mark Strong (late of Sherlock Holmes, soon of Robin Hood) continuing to grow into an A-list presence. Or seeing a post-Bad Lieutenant Nick Cage offer up a wicked Adam West impression. Or Kick-Ass and Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, nee McLovin) getting their freak on to Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” (One minor quibble: From “Crazy” to “Bad Reputation” to even the 28 Weeks Later score, the soundtrack is weirdly rote in its choices, and feels almost temp-track-y.)

But, let’s get real — In the end, this is Hit Girl’s movie, and Chloe Moretz just about runs away with the durned show. As in (500) Days of Summer, Moretz is basically playing another preternaturally adult kid sister, except this time she’s also a certifiable badass with a potty mouth and a way with butterfly knives. (As it turns out, she’ll be doing the Old-Soul routine again this Christmas in Matt Reeves’ American remake of Let the Right One In.) Still, the movie wouldn’t work at all if she wasn’t great, and this is a star-making performance. Get used to the purple wig, y’all, ’cause Hit-Girl, I suspect, is going to be a staple of both Halloween and cosplay types for many years to come. And it’s Moretz’s impish grin and impeccable comic timing that, more than anything else, makes the idea of a Kick-Ass 2 worth entertaining.

Hannibal Rising. | Kick to the Dome.

In the weekend trailer bin, our first look at Joe Carnahan’s 21st-century revamp of The A-Team, with Liam Neeson (Hannibal), Bradley Cooper (Face), Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson (B.A.), Sharlto Copley (Murdoch), and Jessica Biel. Hmm…ok, maybe. What with that tank and all, this looks aggressively stupid, but I mean that in the best way possible — we are talking about The A-Team here. And the tagline is worth a chuckle.Update: Actually, there is a plan-B. (In fact, I think I’d give my case to Hit-Girl and the Bad Lieutenant before it got anywhere near the likes of Bradley Cooper.) Witness the four-color carnage of Matthew Vaughn’s second Kick-Ass trailer, if you dare.

The Teen Titans.

In today’s trailer bin, director Matthew Vaughn borrows a little bad reputation from Freaks & Geeks to make the case for his adaptation of Kick-Ass, with Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Nicolas Cage, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. (So far, so good — from all indications, Moretz’s Hit Girl will steal the show.)

Meanwhile, Sam Worthington takes on big scorpions and sundry other Kraken-like things in the very 300-ish trailer for Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans remake, also with Alexa Davalos, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Danny Huston, Gemma Arterton, Pete Postlethwaite, Jason Flemyng and Mads Mikkelsen. Frankly, it sorta lost me with the lousy aggro-whiteboy rock, but ya never know. And “Titans Will Clash!“…ugh. Who were the ad wizards who came up with that one?

Teen Superheroing, Don’t Do it.

Four character one-sheets pop up for Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass, with Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse (a.k.a. McLovin’), Chloe Moretz (late of (500) Days of Summer, and that certifiable Mark of Quality, Nicholas Cage. “The action-adventure…tells the story of average teenager Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a comic-book fanboy who decides to take his obsession as inspiration to become a real-life superhero. As any good superhero would, he chooses a new name — Kick-Ass — assembles a suit and mask to wear, and gets to work fighting crime. There’s only one problem standing in his way: Kick-Ass has absolutely no superpowers.

Frat Club.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me [twice], you can’t get fooled again. A leaden mishmash of The Matrix, Fight Club, and various much-more-entertaining FPS shoot ’em ups, Timur Bekmanbetov’s aggressively dumb and derivative Wanted is what I’d call a total misfire…if it wasn’t totally in keeping with the similarly adrenaline-fueled, barely coherent nonsense that was Night Watch. I haven’t read the source material, although a quick peek at the Wikipedia (and the fact it was penned by Mark Millar) suggests it was probably much more wry and entertaining than this flick turned out to be (and made more sense, given it’s set in a universe with supervillains.)

As it is, however, Wanted plays like Michael Bay’s version of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, a hyperbolic, stultifying stupid, aggro-laced paean to the Columbine mentality. Now, I’m all for leave-your-brain-at-the-door actioners, and I could forgive Wanted its video game physics, its cheap-and-easy nihilism, its plagiarism from much better movies, and its intrusive whiteboy angst-metal if the movie actually turned out to be entertaining. But, a few minor setpieces aside (namely the limousine hit, which was everything ths film should’ve been in 60 seconds — perhaps Bekmanbetov should try his hand at videos), Wanted is basically the opposite of fun. Like Night Watch, it’s so bogged down by turgid plotting and long bouts of needless exposition (as well as, in this case, scenes cobbled together from other sources) that the film has no pulse. How bad is it? When a baby started screaming in my theater during the final act (when Morgan Freeman started monologuing yet again in the Fraternity’s library), prompting a yelling match between the disgruntled babyless (“Get that goddamn kid out of here!) and the babied (“F**k you! Babies have rights too!“), I was kinda thankful for, at long last, an entertaining diversion.

As Wanted begins, we are introduced to one Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy, who seemed to have learned his American accent solely from Billy Zabka movies and Sprite commercials.) Gibson is a depressed, obsequious worker drone somewhere in the Great American Cubicle Hive — Chicago, to be precise. He hates his job, he hates his boss, he hates his routine, and his “best” friend is pretty obviously sleeping with his aggravating girlfriend. Gibson is such a capital-L Loser, in fact, that his relatively common name brings up 0 hits on Google. (Sigh…would that were the most ridiculous thing about this movie.) One day, however, he is approached in the local supermarket by “Fox”, an alluring — albeit currently on the wrong side of skinny — minx (Angelina Jolie, trying but clearly bored), who immediately gets him involved in a shoot-out and car chase against a rival killer (Thomas Kretchmann).

From there, Gibson is soon initiated into a secret and ancient cabal of assassins known as the Fraternity, led by Morgan Freeman (playing Lawrence Fishburne playing Morpheus) and including members such as The Gunsmith (Common), The Butcher (Konstantin Khabensky), and The Repairman (Marc Warren). Each of these FPS Minibosses, basically, train Gibson in the arts of their order (it seems to involve him needlessly getting his ass kicked a lot) until he’s reached his full potential as a genetic prodigy, and can thus seek out and kill the murderer of his father. But who are these assassins actually killing, and for what purpose? Even total badasses, it seems, aren’t free of the occasional moral quandary.

That’s basically the set-up — If it sounds like you’ve heard variations on this story before, you have. I neglected to mention the scene involving Gibson’s father’s final mission, which [a] plays almost exactly like Trinity’s early shenanigans in The Matrix and [b] first establishes that, here, bullets not only travel for miles but can bend their trajectory in flight. This may sound like a cool idea to some, I guess — for me, it put me right in House of Flying Daggers mode. Once you’ve established something so ridiculous, it’s hard to feel invested in any of the ensuing action sequences. There’s no danger at all if the laws of physics don’t apply — You’re just going to show me what you show me, and that’s that. (I would argue that movies like The Matrix bend these sorts of rules, but don’t break them. Besides, the Wachowskis introduced a higher-level threat with the Agents anyway.) In any case, magically-bending bullets is only one example of the suspension of disbelief required here. Don’t get me started on the Loom, or the Moravian Express, or the Total Miracle Body Bath, or anything else in Wanted. Like Night Watch, it doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Again, I could have looked all that over if the movie was good fun regardless. But, it’s not. When Wanted isn’t drowning in expository gobbledygook — which is most of the time — it brays at you with idiotic macho posturing. (There’s a reason a Dubya quote came to mind above when writing this — this is a film tailor-made for “windshield cowboys” and tough guy poseurs.) In other words, Wanted is basically Fight Club for the fratboy Nickleback set, without the intellect or sense of irony that made Fincher’s movie one of the best of the ’90’s. Jolie especially does what she can — she’s a star through and through — but she can’t redeem this boring, moronic pile of dren. In other words, folks, Wanted is effing terrible. In the final moments, McAvoy breaks the fourth wall and asks us, “What the f**k have you done lately?” Sadly, I went to see this film.

Mrs. Smith & Mr. McAvoy.

The Matrixish trailer for Timur Bekmambetov’s Wanted is now online. Based on a Mark Millar graphic novel I haven’t read, it stars James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Terrence Stamp, and Thomas Kretschmann. Well, that’s a solid cast, but I dunno…this looks goofy, and I didn’t really cotton to Night Watch.

If I ruled the world.

Former Authority scribe Mark Millar offers his vision for revamping Detective Comics. (Via Neilalien.) What with Marvel finally feeling the movie mojo (Daredevil notwithstanding), it’s kinda sad to see DC languish these days. I remember the days when DC/Vertigo were pretty much firing on every cylinder while the X-Men were dinking around the Australian outback and Marvel was trying to garner new readers by having the Secret Wars Beyonder traipsing around dressed like Phillip Michael Thomas. How the mighty have fallen.

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