Three pieces here, on the comic-book movie sequel Kick-Ass 2. Most recently, I reviewed it for Empire:
But I also went to the set for Yahoo! in October 2012. Two features came of that, using my interviews with director Jeff Wadlow, writer Mark Millar, artist John Romita Jr, and members of the cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloe Moretz and Donald Faison.
The first is a shorter article centred on the violence controversy that Jim Carrey kicked off when he disowned the film:
The second is a longer and more general set-visit piece…
…which Yahoo!, for reasons known only to themselves, never bloody published (although they paid for it). So here’s that.
“It’s interesting making a sequel,” muses director Jeff Wadlow surveying the Evil Lair that, only minutes ago, was the location of an immense battle between the forces of good and evil (or to use this film’s parlance, between Justice Forever and the Toxic Megacunts). He’s talking to Yahoo! on the set of this summer’s blockbuster comic-book sequel Kick-Ass 2, and it’s clear that he feels privileged to be calling the shots. “The only reason we’re here is that the first movie was so fantastic,” he marvels. “I didn’t know any of these guys at the time; I just saw it in the theatre and flipped out. So my approach to everything in this film has been to be true to the fights, the photography, the performances: everything about the first one that made it so wonderful. But at the same time, we’ve got to push it further and take it to new places. We want to see more people fighting in this one, right?”
He’s certainly addressing that desire. A little earlier, we were watching the enormous rumble that took place here. Dozens of extras were involved, as well as the principal cast, most of whom are returning from last time. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is once again the dorky schoolboy Dave Lizewski, who dresses up in a wet-suit and fights crime by night. Chloe Grace Moretz is back as Mindy “Hit-Girl” Mcready, once again kitted out in her purple biking leathers. And looking rather different this time is Christopher Mintz-Plasse: no longer the Red Mist of the previous film, but reincarnated as supervillain The Motherfucker, replete with an S&M outfit that’s somewhere between Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman and the Gimp from Pulp Fiction.
“Yeah, I look great!” Mintz-Plasse laughs. “But after two takes you’re just a puddle of sweat. It’s kind of a hassle.”
Newbies this time around are Jim Carrey (who was done shooting his scenes by the time of our visit) as the scenery-chewing Colonel Stars and Stripes, and Scrubs’ Donald Faison, as Dr Gravity (spoiler: he’s not really a doctor and his baseball bat doesn’t really defy the laws of physics). “I used to dress up in my underoos playing superheroes,” Faison tells us, preening in his fetching burgundy onesie. “And now I’m Dr Gravity! Let me tell ya, it was a lot easier in my underoos than it is now. I remember seeing the first film and thinking it was exactly what superhero movies should be like. In all the other movies these cats are jumping out of buildings and falling into different galaxies and living in Asgard and shooting webs from their wrists… This is how it really is. If you put on a costume there’s a possibility that you’re going to get stabbed! I’ve been waiting to do something like this my whole life. This is the reason I got into acting, but for some reason everybody thought I should do comedy instead.”
The plot this time sees Kick-Ass teaming up with a group of other vigilantes: characters that he inspired and have been springing up since he first arrived on the scene. He feels the need to do that because he’s not so confident on his own anymore, and he’s lost his mentor in Hit-Girl, who has made a promise to her adoptive father to leave the crime-fighting behind.
“My character’s taken a considerable arc in this one,” says Moretz. “In the first one you really only saw Hit-Girl – I think you only actually saw Mindy twice in the movie. But in this one you see way more of Mindy than you do of Hit-Girl. You see this young girl struggling with who she is and what’s right, and trying to work out if she actually was brainwashed by her father or is genuinely choosing to be a vigilante.”
It’s a similar story for Dave Lizewski. “It’s a challenge to recreate that person that’s familiar,” says Johnson, “but also take him that extra step further in a journey. In this one Dave’s trying to come to terms with becoming a man. The first one was Dave creating his alter ego. This one is Kick Ass trying to work out who Dave is, and grow up a bit, and figure out if he can continue with this in his future. There’s quite an emotional element to it.”
Mintz-Plasse’s Chris D’Amico meanwhile, is out for revenge on Kick-Ass for the death of his father: a plan that culminates in the face-off happening right now.
The Evil Lair is, it must be said, a peculiar set. As befits somewhere where a hundred people can fight at once, it’s huge, but it’s also empty, like a hangar, or a car showroom, or a warehouse nightclub. Not really filling the space are pool tables and arcade machines, as well as a casually parked Ferrari. There’s a large fish tank with a moribund shark in it; a cocktail bar; some DJ decks; and a raised circular area where the Toxic Megacunts hold court.
This scene’s location in the graphic novel on which the film is based is actually Times Square in New York, but budgetary considerations have seen it brought indoors. “We had Times Square in the first draft,” explains Wadlow, “But we knew that was a long shot, and once we actually got into production we had to get real. There was always an Evil Lair scene, because there’s one in Mark’s comic, and it just seemed like too fantastic a location to not have the finale in it. It seemed a natural way to deal with a production issue and make the most of the this amazing set.”
Other differences between film and comic include some toning down of Millar’s more extreme violence, but one thing that remains undiluted is the language. After a particularly infamous line in the first film, we wonder if Chloe has an equivalent mouthful this time?
“Hit-Girl gets a few new words in this,” she allows. “I guess she’s a bit more creative! I’m not repeating it! Go and see the movie! I don’t cuss in my own time – it’s just not something that happens – but this time it’s affecting me more; those words are getting into my head! My mom isn’t cool with it… It’s funny, I counted, and in the last film I actually only cussed six times, but each time was really pivotal and really meant something. This one’s the same way. It’s not like she’s just dropping swear words all the time now because she’s older. She only uses those words when she’s Hit-Girl. She doesn’t cuss when she’s Mindy.”
As we said, today’s watchword is “extras”. The Evil Lair at the time of our visit is crammed with day-players in freakish home-made costumes, and there are more spilling out into the Pinewood grounds outside the stage. As the freaks and geeks face off, it looks like a kind of fetishised West Side Story, with sports and sex-wear adorning every character, often combined in the same costume. One guy has come dressed looking very like Mr Boogie, the evil entity from last year’s horror hit Sinister. We saw him on the monitor screen too, so if it really was him we’re in trouble. Someone else looks very like a cross between Woody Harrelson’s Defendor (one of the handful of post-Kick-Ass “real” superhero movies) and Darth Vader. We don’t actually notice anyone who’s come as Rainn Wilson’s Crimson Bolt (from the brilliant Super), but we’d like to think he’s in here somewhere.
You probably won’t spot them, but amongst this throng are comics writer Mark Millar and artist John Romita Jr. “I’m Shmuggy, one of the Megacunts,” Romita tells us with a perfectly straight face. “I’m one of the bad guys and Mark’s one of the good guys. We’ll be wrestling… They came up to us and said they were going to put us in costumes, and I laughed. And then today they came and put me in a costume. It’s just like my marriage.”
“I’m the American Ninja,” says Millar. “I have USA glasses. It’s nuts walking into your own work like this. You wonder if you’re actually in a hospital bed and you’ve gone mental. It’s stuff that should be in your head, that’s outside your head, and you’re in it, in one of your thoughts. I actually hate the idea of a cameo, unless it’s Stan Lee. I’m a bit wary of them taking people out of the movie…”
Something else that may make audiences double-take is the increased age of the characters. Three years have passed since the first film, in which time most of the young cast have altered dramatically.
“For a number of reasons this film has happened later than we wanted it to,” Millar tells us. “Part of it was that Chloe’s career, in particular, had really blown up and she was attached to loads of other movies. We’ll have to move quite fast and be a bit more savvy on Kick-Ass 3, I think, or she’s going to have five kids!”
Is Kick-Ass 3 a definite plan? It already exists as a comic (beginning with the publication of Issue #1 in June), and while box office will presumably be important in the film series’ future, as an independent production the Kick-Ass team are perhaps better placed than most to carry on regardless.
“Matthew Vaughn [original Kick-Ass director and Kick-Ass 2’s producer] is very shrewd,” says Millar. “I was concerned when he said they were bringing Universal in for this one, and worried we’d have to compromise. But Matthew has a deal basically where if anybody asks a question, he can remove them! The movie will be as we want it to be, or else we wouldn’t stay. It’s still very independently made. There are no Universal guys on set. We’re not answerable to anyone. The studios are getting a bit more like that. That kind of happens on those $200m pictures, but if something’s only $20m they don’t really give a shit.”
“I’m writing Kick Ass 3 at the moment,” he continues, “and it’s the logical conclusion of what would happen if you were a realistic superhero.” Conclusion? “I think to end it with the third one would be really cool,” Millar believes, “because nobody ever ends anything. When people are making money they don’t really ever stop. They just make seven rubbish ones. I’ve always had a conclusion in mind. From when I wrote page one of the comic I knew the final panel. Hit-Girl I think has potential, and maybe there’s a prequel there, about her and Big Daddy, because they’d obviously been around for a while. Maybe the idea of Nic Cage and a younger kid, a few years down the line, could be interesting to explore. But Dave’s story ends with 3. My agent’s going crazy because it’s the most money we’ve ever seen! But I’m adamant that we’ve got to have a bit of integrity and end it at the right time. I always wanted to get off the stage while everyone’s clapping. There’s nothing worse than hanging around too long. The original Star Wars trilogy stands the test of time for me, because they didn’t do rubbish fourth and fifth ones.”
“Well,” he reflects, “they did later…”
Kick-Ass 2 is out in the UK on August 14.