Published at: July 24, 2009, 11:37 a.m. CST by mrbeaks
Matthew Vaughn was nervous as hell when he stepped out onto the Hall H stage Thursday at Comic Con. It was after 6 PM, and this crowd had seen everything. They'd traveled back to Victorian era England with Robert Zemeckis, gone down a rabbit hole with Tim Burton and (surprise!) Johnny Depp, and spent twenty minutes on Pandorum with James Cameron. In 3-D.
As we learned last week, Vaughn needed to make more than an impression with this lot. He needed to whip that crowd into a frenzy and get 'em demanding more KICK-ASS - because if no one's demanding it, the film, which Vaughn financed independently, may never be seen. Why? There are lots of reasons for this, but let's just come out and state the obvious: there's not a studio in town that's eager to market a film in which an eleven-year-old girl brutally and gleefully kills the shit out of grown men.
Under any normal circumstances, their reticence would be understandable. But now that I've seen young Chloe Moretz in action as the costumed crimefighter Hit Girl, I can only surmise that the studios must be averse to making a shitload of money in these rough economic times. Because this movie looks like a goddamn blast. And judging from the wild ovation (half of it standing) that greeted Vaughn's presentation, I know that I am far from alone in this assessment.
I know what some of you are thinking, so let me save you the talkback post: this is not WATCHMEN redux. That reaction had everything to do with a generation of comic book readers seeing their favorite graphic novel of all time brought vibrantly to life after decades of stop-start development. The KICK-ASS response wasn't rooted in anything that particular (or limiting); it was just a visceral outpouring of enthusiasm for an energetically-staged action set piece - one that is probably going to turn Moretz into a movie star. And it's not because you're watching a little girl impossibly hack her way through a roomful of thugs with a variety of swords and knives; it's because you're watching and believing every second of it. And impressive as that sequence is, Vaughn told me yesterday that it's not even close to her best scene in the film. Via an exclusive-to-Comic-Con trailer that topped off the presentation, we got an idea of the mayhem to come.
Of course, none of this would've worked had Vaughn not set up the world of KICK-ASS so adroitly with the first few clips, which introduced us to Aaron Johnson as the nerdy teenager who impulsively decides to become a superhero. Though Vaughn sweetened some of these scenes with a couple of rather iconic cues (Williams's SUPERMAN score was put to very good use), it's Johnson's innate charisma that endears us to Dave/Kick-Ass. He's a good every-geek. And he's very sympathetic when articulating the film's central dilemma: What's wrong with today's society that more people want to be Paris Hilton than Spider-Man? Dave desperately wants to be SPIDER-MAN, and is remarkably (if somewhat psychotically) undaunted after his first attempt at apprehending a pair of thieves gets him stabbed and run over by a car. Vaughn didn't show us the scenes of Dave's recovery, or the captured-on-camera defense of a mugging victim that turns him into a worldwide celebrity, but I felt like we saw enough to buy Johnson as Kick-Ass.
We also didn't get to see much of Nicolas Cage as Big Daddy, but we didn't really need to. Watching him turn on the H.I. McDunnough charm as he coaxes his bulletproof vest-clad daughter, Hit Girl, into getting shot in the chest with a handgun at fairly close range (they're training for the field) more than convinced me that Cage is on his game. As for Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Kick-Ass' partner Red Mist, I was sold the minute he tweaked his ankle after heroically jumping off a dumpster.
The tone of the KICK-ASS is difficult to pin down. It's equal parts homage and satire, but it's never really winking at the audience. Vaughn wants you to engage with this twisted little world, and to cheer as much as you laugh. It's tough to make this call based on less than twenty minutes of footage, but I think he's struck the right balance. He's at least turned Ms. Moretz into the most adorable killing machine in film history.
I can't wait for the rest of the world to check out KICK-ASS. After Thursday's presentation, I don't think you'll be waiting much longer.