Come on - you can’t even beat a three week old 3D kids movie about dragons? How crappy is that? Seriously, Kick-Ass, what exactly is your problem? You are smart and funny, exciting and brilliantly anti-social. You are the post-modern geek zeitgeist personified - cinematically speaking - and provide enough moments of movie satisfaction (guilty or proper) to warrant a series all your own. Yet your first week in the trenches and the best you can pull is $19 million? 19 measly million? Avatar made that while James Cameron was taking a whiz. Something is wrong here. Something is very wrong and it’s almost impossible to find a rationale. In a typical January to April malaise, Tinseltown is pegging you as a disappointment, and if the bottom line is the only factor used to determined such a dynamic, they are right.
Granted, you’re only following a pattern set up over the last few years. Ever since Zack Snyder turned stylized homoeroticism into a lot more than 300 million at the box office, the studio suits have been looking for that breakout pre-Summer hit. They tried last year with Watchmen, and even though the revisionist superhero movie made some decent scratch, the lack of a Dark Knight-esque payday provided ample room for grousing. For every Cloverfield, there’s been a Friday the 13th or a Be Kind, Rewind. Still, when dollars can be dug up and exploited, Hollywood is right there, cynical shovel in hand. The enthusiastic response Kick-Ass received early on just didn’t translate across mainstream lines. Some may argue that those initially embracing the film were the very demo it was directed at (Comic-Con and Ain’t It Cool News Butt-Numb-a-thon types), which made a wider appeal impossible. Others have pointed to the web-based tweet lovefest and screamed Snakes on a Plane.
Unfortunately, turning this excellent coming of age entertainment into another installment of Birdemic seems silly. True, it didn’t set the turnstiles on fire, and it’s destined to get lost in the firestorm of last minute macabre (the Nightmare on Elm Street remake is coming in 10 days) and the “yep, it’s here” hoopla of Iron Man 2 and Summer 2010. Yet for everyone involved in the film, the backers and the beleaguered cast and crew, there’s a real ripple effect that’s destined, depending on the ultimate outcome, to taint their career trajectory. With its relatively low production costs and massive home video potential, Kick-Ass is not necessarily a flop. But when expectations are matched against actualities, there is bound to be more disappointment than delight. Let’s start with the distributor who gambled, and more or less lost:
Starting from a position of positivity, Lionsgate should be happy that they ended up with Kick-Ass. In a better, more enlightened world, the film would be the beginning of an adolescent cinematic religion, rife with symbolism that could be safely mimicked and material capable of multiple viewing variations. Instead, those looking to bury the currently in flux film company will see the How to Train Your Dragon defeat as the last nail in its commercial crypt. Of course, this discounts the limitations of the hard “R” rating, as well as the knowledge that DVD and Blu-ray will have a much easier time finding an audience (last time anyone checked, Netflix and On-Demand weren’t asking for ID). Some might suggest that Messageboard Nation has once again grossly over-exaggerated a film’s final appeal, but movie marketers have been in the business a lot longer than some tech savvy ‘Net geeks. The failure to find a wider audience is more Madison Avenue than MySpace.
The Comic Books by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr.
Unless you’re talking about a work that’s leaked into the literary consciousness (ala Watchmen), most comic books - and by complement, their creators - get little of a beneficial bump from a film’s success or failure. Those who loved Kick-Ass on celluloid may not respond to the work on cellulous, and the pen and ink source does alter some of the stuff that makes the movie so much fun. On the other hand, the adventurous members of the already converted might pick up a copy or two of Millar and Romita’s original and really enjoy its in your face, forward thinking approach to the genre. In either case, it’s a wash.
Trying to tap into the current couture or meme is a tricky prospect. The more you focus on hormonally charged masturbation sessions and raging pre-tween violence, the less likely you are to cross over into Mom and Pop territory. Goldman gave her adaptation of Kick-Ass a John Hughes on TMZ patina, a supercharged Sixteen Candles where rampant bloodshed and explosions replaced Long Duck Dong. Sure, it’s often hard to see the humor with all the body parts flying around, and those with their moral compass aimed squarely at “hypocrite” can’t fathom the joy in watching a murderous Hannah Montana destroy the bad guys, but that’s exactly what Goldman delivered - and since writers are almost never blamed for a film’s flop sweat, Mrs. Jonathan Ross needed worry about future employment…at least, not for now.
This was supposed to be Mr. Layer Cake‘s commercial coming out. On the other hand, so was his weak-willed adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. As a producer, he helped Guy Ritchie become a cause celeb (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch) and a pariah (Swept Away). As a director, the jury is still deadlocked. His own take on the UK crime epic was pretty damn good, but he couldn’t fit his take on the fairytale into any recognizable type. The result was a hodgepodge of ideas and approaches which failed to serve Gaiman’s glorified Brothers Grimm. Kick-Ass is perhaps Vaughn’s best, most consistent job behind the lens and yet he is once again viewed as under-serving the source. Of all the talent involved here, this fledgling filmmaker had the most to lose - and it looks like he struck out, at least in the eyes of potential employers.
Jeffery Aaron Johnson/Chloë Grace Moretz/Christopher Mintz-Plasse
McLovin need not worry. He’s got enough Superbad/Role Models juice left to propel him to even greater levels of dedicated dork typecasting. Similarly, Ms. Moretz will be cashing plenty of paychecks off the back of her Hit-Girl flack. Indeed, if anyone was a revelation amidst all the teen angst and good old Nick Cage showboating, it was the tiny gal with the potty mouth and the advanced weapons mastery. As for star Aaron Johnson, the soft spoken Englishman still has something to prove. He takes on the US teen persona perfectly and looks pretty good doing it, too. With a critically acclaimed turn as John Lennon in Nowehere Boy and long list of credits in his native Britain, he may not be destined for solid superstardom, but this isn’t his last Hollywood hurrah, either.
It’s all about money - and if Kick-Ass generates enough of it before it’s smothered by Tony Stark and the rest of the heat-stroke spectacles coming down the motion picture pipeline, we could get the Red Mist-oriented installment the ending suggests. On the other hand, Vaughn and anyone else associated with the original may have to be sent packing. When you bungle an origin story, greenback wise, it’s tough to get the follow-up call. Still, if the cast consolidates around its director and demands his involvement (and if contracts don’t already exist locking everyone into their participation) we could get the further adventures of these precocious punishers. Again, it’s all about the Benjamins, and as of today, it’s not looking very good.