For a writer, Mark Millar likes to talk an awful lot, but that’s only because he’s so damn excited about what he’s doing. With Kick-Ass 2, based on his comic of the same name, heading to theaters nationwide this week, he’s got an awfully good reason to be excited. And considering his other comic book series The Secret Service is in pre-production with director Matthew Vaughn and he’s consulting on FOX’s Fantastic Four reboot, we’ve got plenty of reasons to be excited for him too.
Just how are things going in Millarworld? To find out, I sat down with the Scottish scribe to talk about Kick-Ass 2, the status of his Secret Service film, and why going creator-owned is so important to the industry.
NERDIST: It’s been four years since the last movie. What can we expect from this one? I know it differs a little bit from the comic.
MARK MILLAR: Just a little, actually, not too bad. Maybe a couple of pacing things are slightly different, I’d say probably 90% are scene for scene. Anything Jeff changed, he improved on. Nothing just for the sake of it. He did a great job keeping all the best bits and improving the things that didn’t work as well. It’s adapted from two comics. It’s adapted from a Hit-Girl comic which forms the first 30 minutes of the movie and then it’s Kick-Ass 2 for the final hour. It’s a bit long as a comic. It’s 12 issues, so some stuff had to be clipped from the Hit-Girl comic. Generally speaking, that’s pretty faithful. Kind of like the first movie a bit. The same level as the first movie, and I couldn’t be happier with it. I’ve watched it on so many levels. I’ve seen it as a screenplay, I’ve seen it as a plot, I’ve seen every single step. And then I’ve seen it as a rough cut. Obviously, watching the actors while they’re performing. Then, finally, a polished cut six weeks ago with the music edits.
It’s amazing. It’s like watching those 40 weeks of a fetus becoming a person. It feels like cells coming together, and eventually you’ve got a bald thing climbing out of a womb. That’s what it felt like sitting in that room. It was awesome. And if it had been crap, it’d have been so disappointing [laughs]. But luckily, it’s turned out great. I’m really, really happy with it. I sat and watched it with David Kosse, who’s the head of Universal from Europe. David and I were in a screening room watching it in London. During it, he leaned over and said, “This is awesome.” [laughs] And I said, “It’s awesome, isn’t it?”
N: Is there any challenge in adapting your own work? Do you find it precious? Do you find it easy to just sort of cut stuff out and move it around? How closely did you work with Jeff?
MM: Matthew, who directed the first film, said to me before I met Jeff, “Look, trust me, this guy’s gonna be perfect.” And Matthew’s got a great eye. If you look at Matthew’s filmography, there’s no shit. Everybody, by the third film, has done crap. You know, everyone. Even Spielberg, you know, with 1941. Matthew’s coming out to movie five that he’s directed, and they’re all great. He’s excellent. And he said, “Trust me, this guy’s brilliant.” And then Jeff comes out with a great screenplay and then after that followed through with a great movie. I was involved when he wanted to me to be involved. We spoke on the phone maybe every second day and I also stood back as Matthew did and realized he’s a very talented filmmaker and doesn’t need my help, you know? So I let him go with it.
N: Very nice. One thing I really like about you as a writer is that you take something in the superhero genre and take that as a prism through with to examine real world issues. Like in The Authority, using things like military interventionism, and now with Kick-Ass it takes vigilantism and puts it in a context of “What if this was real? What if actual people were doing this?” Putting that in contrast with the recent Jim Carrey debacle, it sort of struck a chord with me, because it doesn’t seem like the film glamorizes violence. It tries to present it in a realistic manner. Obviously, it has to be visually exciting…
MM: Obviously Jim saw the first movie, right? And he loved it! Jim dressed up as Kick-Ass and went on Conan O’Brien, you know?
N: So, when it comes to stuff like that? Is tone and intent something you have to be very conscious of?
MM: Very. Yeah. If you have a child… Killing people… you have to be super careful. It can look cool, but you can’t say it’s the right thing to do. So she and the movie is asking herself, “What am I doing? I should be having a boyfriend, I’m fourteen, you know?” You see the consequences of violence. I see something like White House Down, Man of Steel, any of these movies. You don’t really see the consequences of 250,000 people who would have died in Metropolis.
N: Exactly. Yeah. Thank you. [laughs]
MM: [laughs] I like the fact that Kick-Ass is so small and so the budget is only 28 million. We don’t have the CGI sets. We just have the guy get hurt and then he lies in bed the next day after he’s been beaten up. Felons are coming after him and his family’s in genuine peril. The whole point of Kick-Ass is the consequences of violence. It’s cool when you see violence. You know, violence is fun. I love Django, that’s my favorite film this year. Violence can be massively entertaining. In the same way, it’s fun and aesthetically pleasing sometimes. But violence without consequences is pornography essentially. And Kick-Ass is entirely about the consequences of violence. I feel very relaxed about it.
Jim, one of my friends, wrote me up on this and says, “Jim Carrey’s a genius.” I said “How do you mean?” He said, “He’s just bought you guys about $30 million worth of publicity.” And the beancounters at Universal said it was about 30 million dollars worth, getting on Good Morning America and that stuff. In remote corners of the world, the news programs that next morning were talking about Kick-Ass 2. They weren’t talking about Johnny Depp’s film and they weren’t talking about Star Trek. It’s in the mainstream, which is amazing. I don’t think that was his plan, but it worked out beautifully.
N: All’s well that ends well.
MM: I’m just gonna disassociate myself from the next one.
N: [laughs] I wanted to talk Marvel with you for a little bit. Creator-owned seems to be a real trend now. A real push for creators to push for creator-owned titles, creator-owned comics, sort of moving away from the model of the Big Two. What does that mean to you? Why is creator-owned an important part of your work aesthetic?
MM: Well, two reasons. One is that creatively, that’s what I wanted to do. There’s only so many times you can have Doctor Octopus bust out of Rikers Island, fight Spiderman, you know? If Galactus hasn’t destroyed the Earth the first 34 times that he’s shown up, chances are Reed Richards’ just gonna stop him. I had a great time working at Marvel on all that, but I felt like I’ve done that. I’ve done those years. The Ultimates and all that. Had a good time. Loved the guys I was working with, but now’s the time for the next thing.
One thing I really realized which came from that was that – Stan Lee was a real inspiration to me, and I interviewed him. I had this magazine called SFX that had guys doing their jobs now interview guys who did their job forty years ago kind of thing. The guy who did it had Russell T. Davies, the guy who produced Doctor Who, about five years ago interview Verity Lambert, who produced Doctor Who in 1963. They had me interview Stan Lee. That’s where I got to know Stan a lot, and now we’re friends. I had to explain who I was and that I’d been doing Marvel comics over the last couple of years and I had written all those characters. He said in a really nice way, “Why are you doing all my characters? Why don’t you make your own characters?” He meant it in a nice way because he said “It’s a bit like me in 1962. Instead of doing Fantastic Four, doing Superman, Batman, Tarzan, Doc Savage.” And I never thought about it like that. He said, “You wouldn’t have had the Sixties without Marvel Comics.” It was like a light went on then. I thought, “That’s what I got to do next. Because pop culture atrophies if people just regurgitate their childhood, which was kind of like what I was doing. I mean, I was loving it and it was attributed to things someone else was doing.
I realized I shouldn’t just be giving things a facelift on an old person. I should be making a baby. Imagine an evolutionary time where we stopped having babies and just gave old people facelifts and shaved their heads so they’d look like babies. Essentially, that’s what happens, I guess, and what happened with DC. That’s fine because, as a four billion dollar company, that’s how they made the cash. I just felt as a writer, the next stage for me was to go on, and, plus, historically, the comic book industry is not kind to its older creators. The guys who are behind the big summer movies see nothing, generally. If you don’t own it, your family’s getting screwed out of the stuff. I wanted to make sure — and I have two daughters so far, and I plan to have more children — I wanted to make sure they’re taken care when they’re older and they can live vacuous Paris Hilton lives [laughs].
N: [laughs] Speaking of turning these creator-owned things into movies, I wanted to talk a little bit about The Secret Service. Any movement on that?
MM: All the cast is pretty much done. The lead, I think, is getting picked this weekend. We got three guys we really like, down to two pretty much guys. The final decision’s with Matthew. Matthew’s been very gracious with me. Matthew sends me all the audition tapes and we talk about it on the phone everyday and call back guys. It’s massively exciting to kind of see that coming together. To hear that Jane Goldman’s back doing the screenplay? That’s like hearing the best footballer is lacing on his boots and coming on to help his team. It’s really cool. So, having Jane back, Matthew directing, Colin Firth in the lead, Michael Caine as the head of the organization…
N: I remember when I first picked up the issue, I was like “I wanna see this as a movie as well.”
MM: Nobody could be happier than me about this. The screenplay, as Matthew and Jane do, they made it better than the book. The screenplay’s awesome. So this feels like… James Bond lost his sense of humor, you know?. It’s like when the Jason Bourne movies came out. But this is everything I like about Bond. Bond for the 21st century. It feels supercool. I don’t want Bond to look old-fashioned, but I feel it’s got to feel a bit old-fashioned. The main character is so unusual in a spy franchise. I think it’s gonna be unlike any representation before in a cool way. I’ve seen the test footage. The stunt team’s already shot about four minutes worth of fight scenes and edited them together. It just looks spectacular. You forget how great Matthew is at action. That little corridor scene at the end of the first movie where she takes everyone down. That’s my favorite action scene in the last ten years. That’s the same stuff they’re doing here. They’ve got the same choreographers and it’s just mind-blowing.
Kick-Ass 2 hits theaters on Friday, August 16th. For even more Kick-Ass goodness? Read our interviews with John Leguizamo and Donald Faison. Are you excited for the film? Let us know in the comments below!