Kick-Ass & The Tale of Too Many Characters

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Kick-Ass & The Tale of Too Many Characters

In Kick-Ass, a nerdy teenager without any powers or fighting abilities decides to become a superhero, only to get mixed up in a gang war. The script, based off the comic book series of the same name, closely resembles the finished film with only minor changes between the two.

In Kick-Ass, a nerdy teenager without any powers or fighting abilities decides to become a superhero, only to get mixed up in a gang war. The script, based off the comic book series of the same name, closely resembles the finished film with only minor changes between the two. Director Matthew Vaughn co-writes the script with Jane Goldman and they provide a unique take on the superhero genre. The film rights sold before the first issue of the comic was even released, with production running into numerous roadblocks due to the intense violence and language portrayed by young actors. Interestingly, while a CGI-heavy dream sequence was removed from the finished film, action beats were extended or given increased production value. Upon release, the film found great success with both critics and audiences alike. Kick-Ass made a worldwide gross of over $96 million with only a $30 million budget.

With a 51.9% to 48.1% action/dialogue ratio, Kick-Ass goes against typical conventions of the action genre and towards the style of a more auteur-driven screenplay. The near 50-50 split between action and dialogue is something you find in the works of more accomplished screenwriters, or screenwriters intentionally looking to maintain a balance on the page. One possible reason for the increased amount of dialogue versus most action films is that Kick-Ass features a lot of voice-over on the part of the main character, Dave. Although the voice-over is fairly consistent throughout the film, guiding us into and out of the three acts, it never comes off as contrived. Because the voice-over moments are used for comedic purposes, or to heighten the comic-book style of the film, it ends up working to great effect.

In the breakdown of 70.9% internal scenes versus 29.1% external scenes, you can see a clear attempt to minimize the locations budget of the film. As the first hard R-rated superhero action film of its kind, Kick-Ass had to prove to studios that the film was deserving of a budget as high as $30 million and conserve funds where it could. While superhero action films are known for being quite expensive, Kick-Ass managed to keep costs down by repeating location usage and keeping the vast majority of its scenes indoors. While there are still ample one-off locations (59%), the use of an indoor location like D’Amico’s penthouse nearly 20 times really helps keep costs down. While there are certainly characters roaming the streets outdoors, all the action set pieces are housed internally. This allows the coordination for the stunt teams to run un-interfered by the sound department picking up background noise, or the production crew having to stop due to inclement weather. The film features 66 characters, of which there are about nine of importance. Many of the other characters serve as other students, or criminal figures. The still relatively high number of important characters comes down to the three main groups the film focuses on: Dave and his friends, Damon and his family, then Frank’s family/the criminal world. Among these groups though, Dave, Katie, Damon, Mindy, Frank, and Chris serve the most importance.

Kick-Ass is a surprisingly rare screenplay which features the significant scenes in reverse order, something a script should show if the action and plot are building well. So as a result, scenes 143-153 come up as the most significant, followed by scenes 120-125, 69-74, and 15-20. In scenes 143-153, we witness Damon’s death as well as the true height of suspense in the film. While there’s another action scene following this, this grouping of scenes is most certainly the most unsure the audience is as to the well-being of the protagonists. Scenes 120-125 showcase Mindy and Damon’s attempts to ambush the villains paired with Dave’s reluctance in continuing his journey as a costumed hero. While not the most action-heavy, these scenes feature some big turning points for our characters as they find dead-ends either emotionally or literally. In scenes 69-74, we see the aftermath of Dave’s first superhero outing as Kick-Ass and the immediate fame which ensues. This is definitely important as Dave learns that being a superhero could actually be possible. And finally, in scenes 15-20, we’re introduced to both the criminal underworld and the other vigilante superheroes that Dave will meet along his journey.

By looking at the dialogue vs action by scene plot, we can see some demarcations of the film’s three acts— albeit they aren’t all that clear. The first and second acts of the film are the most visible in the data plot, with peaks and troughs forming an entire arc. Yet where the film truly breaks into the second act is up for debate. One could make the case that Dave merely wearing the Kick-Ass costume for the first time and attempting to fight crime would be the start of act two, yet I disagree. There is no true inciting incident, or motive for Dave during these pages. He simply wants to try the superhero idea out. The true inciting incident comes quite late for the film, occurring between scenes 40-44. Getting injured allows him to become resistant to pain, making his ultimate change into Kick-Ass actually possible. The decision to continue fighting crime after the accident would mark the beginning of act two in my opinion, delaying it as late as scene 69. Act two then encompasses the majority of the film with several spikes in dialogue and action. While Kick-Ass has a more traditional conclusion, where we see the characters’ lives after the events of the film, this conclusion is quite brief. The short cluster of scenes from 177-182 denote this resolution. The focus on action during the resolution also highlights the “show, don’t tell” motto which screenwriters are told to abide by. Vaughn mostly lets the film’s resolution speak for itself rather than giving Dave a bunch of extra voice-over.

To better show you how you can identify which characters are significant, we’ll look at the number of appearances by top characters and dialogue breakdown by character charts. Here, you see that our main character, Dave, has the most appearances of a single character at 25.3% and the most dialogue overall at 30.6%. We should note however, that “others” characters compromise the largest percentage of appearances at 31.7%, but we’ll talk more about “others” in a moment. Through these two data plots, we can learn some interesting things about the rest of the significant characters in the film. For example, although she has the second most appearances of any single character with 8.25%, Mindy takes on more of a supporting role with only 7% of the dialogue. In contrast, Chris takes on a much more driving role as he appears 7.73% of the time but speaks 9.29% of the time.

By looking at the number of appearances by top characters chart in comparison with the dialogue breakdown by character chart, we also see just how large of a role the “others” characters play. “Others” characters make up the 56 characters outside the top ten most appearing or speaking characters. In other words, characters which don’t play a significant role in the story individually. “Others” rank number one in appearances with 31.7% of all appearances. While it is not rare to see a number like this in mid-large budget films, what is more shocking is how much dialogue they compromise as well. Ranking in second, “others” compromise 20.6% of all dialogue. While a large number of appearances by “others” may be typical, those costs are often offset by granting these characters fewer speaking roles. “Others” would typically rank far between sixth and tenth in terms of dialogue. Something Kick-Ass would have been able to do to increase profitability and its chances of being sold to a studio would have been to cut some of these “others,” or at least minimize the amount given dialogue. Each new actor and new speaking actor takes a large chunk of the film’s budget. While Kick-Ass did a good job with its locations, Vaughn could have paid closer attention to the number of one-off characters as well.

While unfocused in its number of characters, Kick-Ass serves as a great example of how to break genre conventions to result in a better script. With an increased focus on dialogue, and voice-over narration that plays a stylistic and comedic value, Kick-Ass’ self-awareness works in its favor. Vaughn and Goldman are masters of their craft, providing a fluidity on the page which was able to translate perfectly to the screen. By pairing down the number of locations and keeping action sequences indoors, Kick-Ass was able to balance its production budget and manage to find profit worldwide.

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