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There was a long list of the expected crowd-pleasers for Thursday's Hall H session-- New Moon, obviously, and Avatar and Tron for the geeks. It was only fans of comic book writer Mark Millar, and maybe a few diehard Matthew Vaughn fans (Stardust, anyone?) who walked into the Kick-Ass panel expecting to be blown away.
But holy cow. The standing ovation that greeted Vaughn after an early scene from Kick-Ass was, I'm not joking, even better than the one James Cameron got before Avatar. You could feel the temperature of the room rise, feel fanboys and newcomers alike raise their heads and say "Whoah, what the hell was that?" Kick-Ass didn't just look and sound and feel amazing, it felt different. Avatar will probably turn out to be the great industry game changer, but Kick-Ass really did feel like a whole new direction for comic book movies.
If you're not familiar with the comic-- which I wasn't in the slightest before walking into the panel-- Kick-Ass is the chosen superhero name of Dave (Aaron Johnson), a New York City teenager who decides that, just because he has no superpowers, that shouldn't keep him from becoming a superhero. The opening scene shown is hilarious and cheeky, showing a guy standing nobly in a cape at the corner of a skyscraper, with the Superman theme softly rolling in the background. The guy jumps off the building, dives with purpose in his eyes-- and crashes into a taxi. "That's not me, by the way," narrates the kid who will become our hero. "That's some Armenian guy with a history of mental health problems."
Dave spends one scene trying futilely to explain to his friends why he'd make a perfect superhero, and then tries out his new identity when he comes across a carjacking in progress. For a while things are going well, he's using the stick he's chosen as a weapon-- and then he gets stabbed in the stomach. And then he gets hit by a car. Clearly this superhero thing might actually require training.
The person with that training, as it turns out, is an 11-year-old who will come to be known as Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz). We meet her clad in a puffy pink coat and pink ski hat, in a park with her dad (Nicolas Cage, perfectly hammy for once) who wants her to take a bullet, just this once. In a shot that's a perfect example of how cinematography can be hilarious, Cage holds up a gun, shoots the little girl in the chest, and sends her flying backward. Of course, she's wearing a bulletproof vest, and this is all part of her training to become an ass-kicking heroine. She says she'll take two more bullets, but then they have to go and get ice cream, and she'll get a hot fudge sundae. "Excellent choice, baby doll," Cage says, before he shoots her again-- this time, with the gun pointed directly at the camera.
Believe it or not, that wasn't even Hit Girl's best moment. After Vaughn brought screenwriter Jane Goldman, Millar and his co-creator John Romita Jr., and the movie's actors Clark Duke and Christopher Mintz-Plasse on to the stage, he wisely saved the introduction of Chloe Moretz until after Hit Girl's big scene. Kick-Ass has arrived at a gangster's lair to stick up for some girl he's met, and once again, he's doing seemingly fine until he runs into trouble. Just when it seems all is lost, the main gangster is stabbed through the chest-- and it turns out Hit Girl, decked out in a purple bob wig and with zillions of ninja weapons, is there to save him. The little girl proceeds to annihilate the gangsters, throwing knives, chopping off legs, doing flying kicks and flips and gorgeous flight acrobatics that remind you how useless the shaky-cam fight cinematography can be. The scene, which will apparently be even gorier in the final version, takes place to goofy "girly" music, and maintains what seems to be Kick-Ass's overall tone of mixing extreme violence with a plucky innocence. Really, who wouldn't want to be Hit Girl?
Before the Q&A the footage ended with a kind of sizzle reel/trailer, in which we see Mintz-Plasse, a.k.a. McLovin, as fellow crime fighter Red Mist, and a whole selection of other action scenes that looked just as well-choreographed and shot as the Hit Girl attack sequence. Hit Girl reloads a gun while the cartridges are flying in midair. She shoots a guy through the cheek. Yes, the guys do awesome stuff too, but I-- and the entire room, really-- was most enamored with the 11-year-old assassin. You will be too.
Kick-Ass, incredibly, doesn't have a distributor yet; in the video you below you can see Vaughn's introduction, where he compares it to the scene in Gladiator where the audience gets to decide whether the gladiator lives or dies. After the ecstatic reception in Hall H, though, it's impossible to imagine that some bold distributor won't pick it up, figuring it's a cheaper way to get in touch with the Watchmen-style audience. Kick-Ass isn't without its challenges-- it features kids doing insane amounts of violence, for God's sake, and no green-band trailer could ever include the best parts. But if the word of mouth starts from here, and the rest of the film holds up to what we saw today, Kick-Ass could be the comic book event movie that sneaks up and surprises the Iron Man 2-sized juggernauts.
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