There have only been three adaptations of Mark Millar’s comic books thus far, but it’s impressive how faithful they’ve all been. Wanted drifts from the page a bit, but it still captures Millar’s often mean-spirited characters and worlds with reverence. Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2, while having their share of deviations as well, also hew closely to Millar’s intentions of showing a geeky teenager thrust into a violent world while wearing a goofy set of pajamas.
There are violent consequences to Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) taking a crack at the life of a crime fighter, something few caped men face in modern superhero films even as whole city blocks are leveled. Both of the Kick-Ass films confront certain superhero tropes, but for Millar, it’s not done as satire. It springs from a far more genuine place.
It’s also a bloody place, so when we spoke with the comic book creator, we got to talk about expanding expectations for a second outing and the danger of glorifying all the hits.
Millar: Who you with?
Film School Rejects.
Oh, I check that outlet all the time! It’s funny, I’ve said to some of this crew that if these sites didn’t exist I would start working at nine in the morning instead of eleven, because I read everything in the morning [Laughs].
[Laughs] Do you prefer to know what people are saying about your work?
Well, just in general what’s going on. I love these sites. I’m a big magazine guy as well, but the mags have suffered because online journalism is so good and immediate. I do like to check what people are saying about me, but I like to check out everything. If you think about growing up in Scotland, I didn’t know anybody who was into this stuff, so to hear there was hundreds of thousands of people all over the world chatting about this was brilliant.
Where were all these people when I was 15? There was maybe one guy, but he was a little weird and a couple of years older than me [Laughs].
[Laughs] That does sound weird.
[Laughs] But I would still hang out with him, because he knew who Hal Jordan was.
That’s a good enough reason. Jumping from Green Lantern to Kick-Ass 2, what do you think a sequel should accomplish?
It should be bigger and better. It’s funny, I’m very interested in the historical context of things…like, prior to Empire Strikes Back or The Godfather: Part II, sequels tended to be diminishing returns. If you look at the ones from the 1950s with horror movies, those things would be, “Well, that made a lot of money, so let’s rush out the crappy followup.” Those movies were generally done by journeymen directors, and you can still see that in things like Jaws and, to some extent, Friday the 13th and all that. You’d have guys like Spielberg on the first movie, but then a TV director on the third one.
Godfather was the first one that was probably better than the original. Interestingly, a friend of Coppola’s producing Empire Strikes Back makes a movie better than Star Wars. That sense of escalation we hadn’t seen, so now we expect a sequel to be better. It’s conventional wisdom, so Kick-Ass 2 had to be better, because what’s the point?
Something that’s problematic with a few comic book sequels is that the villain tend to overshadow the hero. How do you make sure Dave remains the main focus in the comics?
I think it’s because him and Mindy are the most interesting people in it. I was actually going to kill The Mother Fucker off in the second one, but it didn’t feel right, because I always planned it as a trilogy. His character should see an ending with Mindy and Dave. Even though these are the most successful books I’ve ever done, I’m not doing it beyond the third one. That’s the end, because they all meet logical conclusions and have good screen time.
I think we like Dave so much you don’t want him disappear off-camera. With Batman, he is kind of boring, because the villains are more interesting. They play up The Joker or Riddler more. You’re never worried about Batman, but we try to make you worry about Kick-Ass. Because Kick-Ass is so vulnerable that makes it more appealing as a storyteller; he could end up killed.
Did you intend to poke fun at the comic book genre?
Satire isn’t something I’m interested in. I like it well enough to watch it, but I see it as a reinvention. I think superheroes have gone through different permutations over the years: in the Golden Age they were one-dimensional characters; with the 60s Stan Lee fleshed out the idea of a secret identity; and I try, whether it’s “Kick-Ass” or “Superior,” to make them exactly like the real world. It’s been a journey towards real, and that’s what Kick-Ass is.
There was the scene where you saw Dave deal with those consequences, where he took a violent beating with a baseball bat. Is that very much a part of the second film?
Oh God, yes. It’s not Kick-Ass unless you see the consequences, because that’s what it is. I find it funny when people say Kick-Ass or Tarantino glorify violence, because I think we both have a thing where we’ll see something horrible happen and show how it really feels. Like, someone will get smacked in the knees, then they’ll scream. If that happens in White House Down, they’re up and running again. Great movie, but your average big action flick never shows you real violence and glamorizes it.
That ear getting cutoff in Reservoir Dogs stays with you for 20 years. I still remember that scene in perfect detail, because you saw how it would feel. I don’t feel I glamorize it at all. You can do violence more cartoonishly, but the whole point of Kick-Ass is that, if you weren’t a superhero and strived for that life, the chances are you would get hurt.
I’d say my biggest inspiration for that is Richard Donner. With Superman and, in particular, The Omen, we saw what would happen if we tried to do this. The plot of The Omen is gigantic — the book of revelation is this almost unfilmable thing — but Donner reduced it to something human, showing it through the eyes of these normal people. If it was happening in real life, there’d be no angels or holes in the sky. Superman is like that as well where everything looks like Kojak. When you see Metropolis it is literally 42nd and 3rd street, where the Daily Planet offices are. For me, applying something very normal to the extra-normal is very interesting.
Kick-Ass 2 opens in theaters August 16th.