A scene reminiscent of Comic-Con International in San Diego played out Friday at Chicago Comic-Con, with writer Mark Millar popping in to debut new footage from director Matthew Vaughn's upcoming film adaptation of the Millar/John Romita, Jr. comic book "Kick-Ass" for a crowded hall of fans. Though, seeing as this time, the Scottish scribe took the stage solo, it can be assumed that the Chicago version of the footage reveal had a little more swearing in it. But considering the story of the comic and film (where a teenage fanboy decides to become his own superhero leading to overwhelming amounts of violence with a rag-tag crew of similarly-inspired citizen criminal killers) presses the envelope in terms of language and violence, so it all came together with Millar's boisterous style of self-promotion.
Introduced to the assembled crowd by "Wizard" magazine editor Mike Cotton, Millar started the show describing the unlikely process by which "Kick-Ass" (which has yet to be picked up for distribution to theaters) came to screen. "[Matthew's] a good pal of mine, and he loved the book before it came out," explained the writer. "He saw the scripts ahead of time because he likes to see what other pals are up to. And he said, 'I really want to make this movie.' And what I normally do with like 'Wanted' is that we'll make the comic, and then an agent takes it out to all the whores in Hollywood, and they start bidding, and it's all out of your hands. Hopefully it all works out. Luckily 'Wanted' did. It worked out good. But what happened with this is that it's very difficult material. I though, 'They'll never make a movie out of this. It's got a ten-year-old superhero assassin swearing,' but Matthew loved it. That was all the stuff he liked about it. So he said to me, 'Look, can we just keep this away from agents, and I'll just get working on the screenplay and give it to Jane Goldman to polish and add our own stuff, and we'll do it as pals?'
"What happened was he wrote this great screenplay that everybody loved. There was nothing like this before. It felt as radical to superhero movies as the 'Pulp Fiction' screenplay felt to crime movies. Then we took it to the studio that he normally works with, and they were like, 'We love this...but can you take out the swearing, the violence, the ten-year-old assassin...'
"He said, 'To be honest, I believe in this so much, I'd like to take it out to some other studios.' And I said, 'Feel free.' He took it around, and all the studios who are now denying it - which is hilarious - all the studio heads were saying, 'We like it, but take out all the good stuff.' And Matthew, to his eternal credit, said, 'You know what? I'm going to make it myself.'"
Raising the $50 million budget to film "Kick-Ass" proved an attainable goal for the director, and although it allowed the group to make the film to their standards, Millar said it also struck him with equal parts awe and fear. "I wish I had cash like that. And he made this film as a massive financial risk to himself because he believed in it so much, and to me that's quite awesome...If you like the book, you'll love the movie because it's exactly the same thing. It's totally uncompromising. So it's a huge risk, and even though it's a brilliant film I could not be happier with, there's always that thing where I'm like, 'I hope my pal's money is all right.'"
Millar related that the only test screening the almost-completed film has had earned a 100% approval rating from the audience, which surprised all involved. "How can this be? Because some of the people were like 60-year-old women. They must have been just out of prison or sex offenders or something like that." Recalling what was said to the fans at San Diego, the writer explained how Vaughn wanted to impress, "We're taking this up to the studios next week to start bidding on it, but it all depends on what you guys think about it now. That will either create a buzz or destroy it and make it go straight to DVD." And although he now expects "a studio announcement next week," he did note that fans talking about the footage - positively or negatively - can still affect the film's fate. "The deal will be done this week, and a lot of it, believe it or not, is in the hands of the 1,000 or so people in this room's hands. If you can go on the internet immediately after this happens and just give your honest opinion - I'm pretty sure you'll like it because it's really well made and really well done - but that's the one favor I'd ask everyone...You may think it's shite. I hope you love it because we do."
The five clips shown all came from the first act of the film and were mostly pulled directly from the pages of the "Kick-Ass" comic including the opening monologue where lead Dave Lizewski (played by Aaron Johnson) wonders aloud why no one tries to become a superhero over footage of a would-be hero with a glider rig jumping off a building to his death (the music from 1978's "Superman: The Movie" played during this scene). Later bit included Kick-Ass' first encounter with criminals where the teen is stabbed in the stomach by a pair of car jackers, an early training scene between Nic Cage's Big Daddy and his daughter Hit Girl (in civilian guise) train by having Cage shoot his daughter in the chest at point blank range and the infamous action scene where the fully costumed Hit Girl breaks in on Kick-Ass' meeting with some gangster types, says the C-word and kills everyone with swords to a sped up cover of the theme from "The Banana Splits."
"When Chloe [Moretz] appeared, it was like seeing Jodie Foster in 1976 in 'Taxi Driver.' It was like, 'Oh my God. She sort of seems 35' but was ten," said Millar of the young actress in the Hit Girl role. "Nobody could swear like this kid...I was standing on set the day she stabbed all those guys and said the C-Word. I was standing next to her mom, and I actually took my headphones off and said, 'I'm so sorry.'
"The scene where she says the C-word, that was the big thing the studios said you can't have when they read the script. But it's there. I can't believe it. A little kid dressed as a superhero saying the C-word. What's awful though is that my daughter said to me when she was about nine and 'Wanted' came out, 'Dad, could you do a girl superhero so that I can go see it next time?' because 'Wanted' was violent. And I said, 'I'm going to create a little girl superhero, and you can go see it.' And this is what happened. Well, she'll be 18 in seven years."
A final montage clip teasing some of the bigger action pieces from the second and third act of the film was shown last, featuring many more of the costumed characters from "Kick-Ass" if briefly, including Cage in a Big Daddy costume that one fan noted looked quite different than the ski mask combo he wears in the comic. "Acting's really hard if the face is covered up," Millar explained, noting that a full covered face only works with icons like Spider-Man. "Big Daddy's doing this for his little girl who loves comics so they sort of dress up like Batman and Robin, and it makes sense that he would have a kind of Michael Keaton as Batman suit on. I wasn't sure when I saw it at first, and then when I saw Nic standing in it I thought it looks really cool. And you see stuff that's really interesting that you don't normally see in superhero movies. Like you always see in Batman in the movies with the black under his mask, under his eyes. You see Nic painting that on before he goes out. Just that life stuff of putting his costume together. All those little details make this so real. Once you've seen this, it'll be weird to watch a superhero movie again. It feels like there's been an evolutionary jump, and it'll be hard to just go back to Doctor Doom or whatever."
Though for Millar and company one of the best things about creating the character for the movie was that many of the cast came from a similar fanboy background including "Greek's" Clark Duke. "One thing we really felt on the first day of shooting was that it was me, Nick Cage, Matthew and Clark Duke and all these guys - and we realized that this is a movie about comic fans made by comic fans, guys who have collections. And instead of that kind of insincere thing where somebody comes in and does it for the dough, it's a bunch of guys who have loved this since they were four. So I hope that translates to the screen," the writer said. "Comics is amazing in the sense that it's a weird kind of family. You know what it's like. You've probably come here this weekend and met people you've got tons in common with. So comics are great for building up that grass roots kind of thing."
Asked after the future of his other big movie project, "Wanted," Millar noted that though he remains dedicated not to doing comic sequels to the original series with J.G. Jones, "the studio's got some good ideas for where to take it [on film], and we get paid literally the same amount of money again even though we don't have to do anything. So bring it on." Another fan asked about the rumors that Millar and Vaughn were set to make their own Superman trilogy of movies for Warner Brothers. "There was no interest in me, but they went to Matthew because he's a very well-liked Hollywood director," the writer said. "I love Superman, but 'Kick-Ass' has been such an amazing experience that I realized I'd rather be George Lucas. We just go off and make our own movies and we own them...that's the model I'd like to follow with future stuff."