Director Jeff Wadlow on Kick-Ass 2, X-Force and more

We sat down with director Jeff Wadlow to chat about Kick-Ass 2, deviating from the comics, and what he has in store with X-Force...

It couldn’t have been easy for director Jeff Wadlow to take over the Kick-Ass reins from director Matthew Vaughn. Aside from all the pressures of turning in a sequel that can come even close to matching the cult success the original enjoyed, there was the issue of time, too: Kick-Ass’ young cast was no longer quite as young as it was by the time Kick-Ass 2 went before cameras last year. Could Wadlow explain all that in his sequel, and turn out a movie as sharply satirical as the first?

Just ahead of Kick-Ass 2′s release, James met with the director to talk about these very things, as well as lots of other comic book related stuff: deviating from Mark Millar’s source material, and what he has in mind for his forthcoming movie for Fox, X-Force.

Please NB: There’s a mildly spoiler-y exchange in the middle of the interview that mentions the conclusion of Kick-Ass 2. It’s been clearly marked in case you want to avoid it.

The original Kick-Ass was famously something of a passion project for Matthew Vaughn, and you’ve said you were a big fan of it. So when he picked you for the sequel, were you intimidated?

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Not entirely. I mean, I suppose I was a little, but allowing yourself to be intimidated is a luxury you can’t really justify because there’s so much work to do. It’s like running a marathon. You can’t stand on the start line worrying about the finish, you just have to put one foot in front of the other and go.

So did you make a conscious decision to change the tone compared to Vaughn’s version? It’s not hugely different, but I think it’s a bit less bloody and – not necessarily darker, but maybe not as satirical.

It’s funny, it’s kind of a Rorschach test. Some people think it’s less violent, some people think more, some think darker, some think more optimistic. So I don’t know what to tell you other than I set out make a movie that was not like the first, but which honoured it. I didn’t want to make what Matthew and I call a rinse-and-repeat sequel, you know, like where we did the same stuff but in a different city.

And he was excited by that, you know? They could’ve got a bunch of people to write a script and then got some music video director in to direct it, but he didn’t want that, he wanted someone with a point of view, whose voice would be heard in the film. I didn’t intellectualise it by thinking “Well, Matthew did this so I’m going to do that, or the opposite of that…” – I just held onto my love of the first film, and fought to the death to tell the story I wanted.

The first film was sort of a satire of superhero films as much as being one, and I think this one is more character-centric rather than a commentary on the genre. Did that come from you? Assuming you even agree with that assessment.

I think the first film felt more like an overt satire because it was so unique, and laid this foundation that we’ve now built off. Just because it’s a sequel, you automatically lose the newness, so the overt satire’s been done. It really did just become about the characters, for me. There are some satirical moments, but I don’t think it’s the sequel people expect in that regard. It’s not as in your face as you might think.

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And part of the altered tone has to be down to Hit-Girl, because the essence of the character has been necessarily changed now that Moretz is older.

Oh yeah, dramatically. That was one of the biggest ideas I brought to the movie. Matthew and Mark (Millar, Kick-Ass co-creator) were a bit stymied by the fact that in the comic, and in the first movie, she’s still 11 years old – but obviously, Chloe’s not! What are we going to do? So I said well, let’s not ignore it, let’s tell the story of Hit-Girl growing up and figuring out who she is.

And that forms the spine of the film, in a way.

Yeah. The first film is Dave’s, and in that one she’s intentionally one-note. It’s a bold-note, it’s one we’ve never heard before, but it is one note. In Kick-Ass 2, we tried to flesh her out and it’s more of an ensemble – her story, Dave’s story and indeed Chris’ story. 

I actually did notice that there was a theme of parental issues for each of those three…

Yeah, exactly. I think the moment you grow up is when you stop defining yourself by your parents and say “this is who I am”. Until that point you’re either like your parents, or a reaction to your parents, and I think all three of those characters have that moment in this film.

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Yeah, although Chris’ maybe comes too late to be much help to him.

Yeah, that’s the tragedy of the character. He’s an interesting villain! I think you’d be hard-pressed to think of a villain that you like so much, and given that he does some terrible things, you still enjoy him because you can’t stop feeling sorry for him. He’s put in a terrible situation where he’s got an evil father who he’s defined by, and only after he goes through this stuff does he come out of that and do you get sense of who he might really be.

*** Possible spoiler-y bit begins ***

Interestingly, a lot of people in the screening I was at left before the end credits and I was surprised to see what you did with him in that sequence. It’s certainly different to the comics, so did that come from you?

Kind of! What happened was I read Mark’s original treatment for issue seven and in that version Chris actually died, so I called him up and said “You can’t do it! If you’re thinking of doing Kick-Ass 3, as a fan, I’m begging you not to do it! He’s as important to Kick-Ass as Dave is. You can’t not have him!” but Mark said “No, he’s terrible! He does terrible things! He’s got to pay the price!” and I said “Well, I’m not saying don’t punish him, but please, don’t remove him.” So that’s why that happens. We had to make him suffer.

I spoke to Mark about this, but I wondered if we could get your take on how the ending changed from the comics. Did you just think it was too much of a downer or was there some other influence there?

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Yeah, originally the movie had the same ending as the comics. It was really Matthew who pushed back on that as being too much of a depressing note, and wanted a triumphant ending. So then I pushed back and said, “No, she can’t just be out there fighting crime, else she’s just back where she was at the start of the film and she hasn’t changed or grown, so what’s the point?” – and we actually went at it for a while about how to do it. Then eventually I had the idea for this ending where she acknowledges and accepts who she is, but also that she can’t exist in the world as it’s defined. And after I suggested that to Matthew he said to me, I remember, he said, “I think you’ve found the end of the movie!” and that’s what we went with. 

So just to go off on a superhero tangent quickly, do you mind if I field a few questions about X-Force?

Only if you don’t mind me being a bit evasive!

Alright then! So, there have been many incarnations of the team [Wadlow starts shaking his head]… no? Nothing?

All I can say is this: I bought X-Force #1 when I was a kid, I’ve read the recent run of Uncanny X-Force which I thought was fantastic, but other than that I just can’t comment on the line-up or anything yet.

So were you a superhero fan before you came to Kick-Ass and X-Force then?

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Oh, yeah, massive, massive. I collected comics from my first allowance until college, in my mid-20s, and I only stopped purely because I couldn’t afford it anymore! You know, I had to pay my rent and figure out a way to eat, by the time I stopped collecting they were like $3 an issue which is a lot compared to the 95 cents it was when I started. I’ve actually rediscovered comics in the last few years on my iPad, using the Marvel app and Comixology. I hate reading books on my iPad, but comics look amazing on it. I really enjoy it, so I’ve been filling the gaps in my back issues that way.

So changing angle on X-Force, would you say it’s a stand-alone movie, or is it something that spins out of what Fox is currently doing with the X-Men franchise?

Oooh, let’s see, what can I say? Let me put it like this. It will seamlessly exist in the X-Men cinematic universe, but it’s not a sequel.

Okay, I can sense Fox’s lawyers getting ready to release the flying monkeys, so we’ll get back to Kick-Ass. If you had the chance to make Kick-Ass 3, do you think you’d do it?

It’s funny, I sort of wear two hats. There’s my fan hat – I saw the first and I loved it. And then when I got to make the sequel, I put on the filmmaking hat. Mark actually sent me the scripts for Kick-Ass 3 and I won’t read them because I want to read it in the comics as they come out, you know? But yeah, as a filmmaker I haven’t allowed myself to think too much about a third Kick-Ass film, because we’ve all seen those sequels that are just about setting up the next movie and they’re kind of unsatisfying. I wanted Kick-Ass 2 to have a proper ending, so I couldn’t allow myself to think about what comes next. And what’s more, if I did have a good idea I should just pull it into Kick-Ass 2, right?

So you’ve just done a superhero film – your next one is a superhero film assuming all goes to plan, so I was wondering what you thought about the genre’s health right now. People are starting to say the genre’s getting tired, post-Avengers, and maybe there’s a backlash coming. Do you think that’s a valid concern, or is it just here to stay?

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Well, I don’t really see it as a genre, except in the way that maybe “comedy” is a genre. Like comedy movies aren’t going to go away. It’s more of a macro-genre. You don’t need to look any further than the Marvel films to see that – Thor and Iron Man and Captain America are all superhero films, but Thor is a fantasy, the new Captain America’s a political thriller, Iron Man‘s more of an action movie, so as long as people are doing interesting things, I think it’s here to stay because there are so many interesting ideas that have been developed over the decades that comics have been around, and we’ve finally reached a point where they can be realised on screen. So yeah, I think it’s going to be a while before they start to wind down, if ever!

Jeff Wadlow, thank you very much.

Kick-Ass 2 is out now. You can read our voluminous archive of Kick-Ass 2 interviews and stuff here.

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