Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kick-Ass

"Super-hero-Nihilistic-Crypto-Fascist Bull-shit"


"Kick-Ass" is the latest comics off-shoot to hit the movies and the comics and film geeks have only increased the amount of saliva that's escaped their lips. There hasn't been this much anticipation for a movie since...oh, "Watchmen" and before that, "Snakes on a Plane." Both films, though eagerly awaited, and generating reams of MB's of blog-love, were disappointments as income generators for the studios who translated the hype into an actual commitment to...ya know...actually GO to see the movie. Failure to commit? Or premature ejaculation?

Don't know. Probably both.

But, "
Kick-Ass" is geared right to the enlarged heart of fan-boys, a celebration of the super-hero concept that preaches empowerment to the wish-fulfilling power-seekers, who wish-oh-wish-oh-wish that they could have a freak-accident or some inspiring tragedy or be born on another planet that can turn them from one of the disenfranchised to one of the disenfranchised—who can kick your ass.

That the movie opens the day after Tax-Day cannot be a coincidence.

It's a revenge-fantasy-placebo to those who feel they're being taken advantage of by people who've "got all the breaks" or who have power that the wannabe- hero covets. I've read a lot of comics (still do), but am critical enough to see them for what they are: Spandex Fascist Fantasies, whether you're
a Big Blue Boy Scout or you strike terror into a superstitious cowardly lot. The tables turned for me when I read a "Superman" comic where Lois Lane expressed surprise Superman knows her address. "Of course, Lois," says Mr. X-Ray Vision. "I know where everybody lives."

Creeeepy.

That re-red-boot of "
Superman" was written by John Byrne, and he is of the group of comic-book writers who are a little too reflexive in their writing, because what they know is comics history and movies, and when you read one of their breathless narratives you know what movies they've been seeing as plot-lines and lines of dialogue are lifted with and without acknowledgement. They're pop-culture pin-ball machines of borrowed movie phrases and plots that ping into comic-books and pong back into movies and television (enough to make me go *Tilt!*). One can't escape the sense that the ideas are as recycled as the pages they're printed on, and that these writers are riding the coat-tails (or capes) of the ink-stained brethren who have blazed trails before them. They provide a familiar comfort, but not an awful lot of insight. In that class of well-read writers are Brian Michael Bendis, Frank Miller...and Mark Millar.

Millar is the original...and I say that ironically...author of "
Kick-Ass" which he put to paper with artist John Romita Jr. (the second generation of Romita artists—he also provides illustrations and a nifty 3-dimensional "comic-book-within-a-comic-book sequence for the film). And his story is a sort of "Watchmen-tykes" version of Alan Moore's break-down of the conventions of comic book heroism, going beneath the costumes and exploring the motivations beyond what is described in "Kick-Ass" as "a combination of optimism and naivete"—it goes into realms of dysfunction, survivor's guilt, masochism, politics and aberrant sexuality. But "Kick-Ass" doesn't have the depth of Moore's work, while also borrowing from themes in Rick Veitch's "Brat Pack."

"
Brat Pack" is a pretty seamy examination of hero side-kicks, but there is an unstated empathy for the kids who go out "adventuring" at the behest of their driven mentors. The kids in "Kick-Ass" aren't given that much consideration, and it's all done in the name of "fun." Certainly the film has been sold by countless previews on the comedic aspect of the story.

But they leave out
the brutal beatings and stabbings, the use of firearms by hero and villain alike—there really isn't any moral delineation between the two factions and their techniques are similar—you are told that one is "good" and the other is "bad," but other than that "optimism and naivete," the two could be the same—protecting their own.

The age is bothersome. "
Kick-Ass" (a fine Aaron Johnson) and "Red-Mist" (an annoying Christopher Mintz-Plasse) are high-school age, but little "Hit Girl" (who is the best—albeit startling—thing in the movie as played by the chirpy Chloe Moretz) may be 10 or 11, and works at the behest of "Big Daddy" (Nicolas Cage), her gun-nut revenge-obsessed father. It's a bit off-putting to see her running up walls, firing hand-guns with complete abandon, whirling butterfly knives into the torsos of her victims, and chopping off legs and stabbing pushers through the sternum with a sword-capped baton. Her costume is a kinky combination of kevlar and plaid skirt. "Big Daddy" is a marksman in a bat-man suit. He loves his little girl and wants her protected in all his planned mayhem—an introductory training exercise testing the validity of her costume stopping bullets is the funniest thing in the movie—but how much love is there throwing your kid into harm's way for your own blood-lust?

This stuff is off-putting. Kids will want to see "Kick-Ass" but you've got to be a little stupid in the head to take them. The film is Rated "R" by the MPAA legitimately, but I notice why isn't spelled out. I'll tell you: persistent intense bloody violence—not "comic book action" as the euphemism goes—sexuality (and some sensuality and half-way nudity), constant endangerment to children, torture, disturbing images—one character is burned alive, drug use, and an endless stream of obscenities, some of which emanate from "Hit Girl." We're talking jaw-dropping F-clusters, and anatomy euphemisms that she didn't pick up at the school-yard—she's home-schooled (wait to go, Dad).

As I mentioned,
"Hit Girl" is fun—a "girl wonder" with acrobatic abilities and weapons accuracy that would put her in Olympic competition if it weren't for the blood-spatter in the front rows. And Chloe Moretz is a "find." I can just imagine Quentin Tarantino googling for pictures of her on the Internet. Nicholas Cage's "Big Daddy" is a tad weird. In costume, Cage uses a staccato way of speaking that's simply a bad Adam West imitation.

Ponder that phrase for a moment: "a...bad...Adam West imitation."

The other kids are a trifle...
Corey...for my taste. A little too cute in their geekitude. And Mark Strong's rackets king-pin is merely his Lord Blackwood from "Sherlock Holmes" with less style.

Matthew Vaughn can be a fine director, "Layer Cake" and "Stardust" being prime examples of him at his best two out of three. He stages the action in the same ramp-edited brutal style as "Watchmen" with the occasional bow to John Woo. And it never drags, and is quite clever in places. It ends with the vow of a sequel, with a purloined line from another super-hero movie. Been there, done that.

But "Kick-Ass" appeals to the worst of the The Fan-Boy Love Association, those "
Lost Boys" who never grow up, the "Beavis and Butt-heads" who clap and "huh-huh" at every disfigurement and perforation, and who point to the horrific validation of their comic fantasy story as being "realistic" and "adult." This isn't adult. This is fascist-framed thuggery for entertainment, whose paucity of idealism just turns into another validation for bullying to get yours.

I don't need a lunk-headed super-hero movie to do that. I can watch the news. It's a depressing, horrific spectacle—super-hero kiddie-porn.

Sing along with me now (you know the song):
I-it's
Super-hero-Nihilistic-Crypto-Fascist Bull-shit
Sado-masochism from a comic-writing half-wit
All the subtle nuance of a drive-by shooting mob hit
Super-hero-Nihilistic-Crypto-Fascist Bull-shit


"Kick-Ass" is Cable-watcher (when the kids aren't home).

Yes. Yes, he is.

22 comments:

Simon said...

I thought is was completely okay, but, yeah, the killkillkill! attitude of the whole thing was a bit disturbing.

Yojimbo_5 said...

I love the phrase "completely okay" (It's not copy-righted, is it?)

Thanks for visiting and reading, Simon (and understanding my bad attitude towards it)

It was the No. 1 movie this weekend, so I'm sure somebody must like it--we'll see how it does it's second week-end.

Mike Lippert said...

I haven't seen this yet but I haven't really anticipated it from the moment I saw the first trailer. The fact that it is R-rated and involves pre-teens doesn't really do anything for me either, and I don't really think this whole hero-as-every-day-person-thing is as original as this movie would like to believe. As far as counter-cultural cult graphic novel adapatations go, I think I'll still be picking Watchmen any day.

Yojimbo_5 said...

As usual, Mike, I find your instincts...sound.

Far be it from me to suggest that a person go or not go see a movie. If they're an adult, they have every right to blow $10. (what's the rate to lunies, these days?) The kids thing, though...then I turn into a nanny.

My reaction to the previews was: "This might be worth something if they get hurt a little bit" to show the folly of vigilantism.

Well, they did...and then they didn't.

I'm not a prude—I thought "Inglourious Basterds" was one of the best movies last year—but the "kid" thing? I couldn't get past it.

Lionsgate did this AND "Watchmen." I wonder if they green-lit this before "Watchmen" came out, hoping for a one-two punch? And Millar also wrote "Wanted" (which I didn't see, but have it on the Netflix queue).

And the whole "hero-as-everyday-person" thing goes way, way back, far before "Zorro" and "The Scarlet Pimpernel."

And I'm with you on "Watchmen." My well-thumbed copy of the graphic novel still inspires new thoughts every time I read it--and the movie did a damned fine job of telling the story, and doing it cinematically.

Thanks for stopping by again. I have been re-miss in visiting you, and I've got to get you and my other "Followers" up on my blog-list. Quid pro quo, y'know?

The Mad Hatter said...

I'm left puzzled what you are reviewing here - the actual film, or the hype and marketing surrounding it.

Bringing up so many other movies and comics makes it feel more like a comment on this film's place in comic book lore rather than a review of the film itself.

I'll grant you that the marketing of this film is misleading, but all the marketing in the world shouldn't take people's eye off the fact that it has an R rating. It earns it - for the brutal beatings, stabbings, use of firearms, scenes of people being burned alive, corse language, and lest we forget. child endangerment.

This isn't lunk-headed entertainment (for that, wait until THE EXPENDABLES drops). There is a lot to like about this movie...

A person gets questioned as to why they're trying to prevent a crime - should that really be a question?

A father is so protective of the daughter he almost lost that he never wants her to be unprotected again.

A girl grows to have a higher amount of self-confidence than girls (and boys) seven years her senior.

Sure it's all done in a very strange manner, but that's what will make it memorable.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, given all the history it would appear you brought into this movie, what were you looking to take out of it?

Yojimbo_5 said...

Mad, thanks again for reading so carefully and commenting. I appreciate it.

To answer your last question first: I wanted a good movie.

One should (SHOULD, but I can't speak for everybody) walk into a movie with no pre-conditions and preconceptions. Sure, you may know what a director/writer/producer has done in the past, but that's history. The important thing is the film before you, and what is there on the screen, what it's saying, how it's communicated. I can't tell you how many times a movie has surprised me, if it's given a chance (see my above comments re "Inglourious Basterds.") Even a bad director—and Vaughn is a good one—can improve and it's only natural with experience they will. Good directors can have an "off" day. We all do.

But, I try to walk into a movie "clean." It's only fair. And bringing predispositions into it is stacking the deck and harming one's perceptions of a film. I don't read reviews before I see a movie. I shouldn't watch the previews (as they have different priorities), but I can't help myself.

BUT...if a movie goes wrong, I'll explain, in my way, and with my perceptions, why it happened. And I could be wrong. Wouldn't be the first time (I changed my view of "Shutter Island" once I realized how well it slotted into Scorsese's body of work...and that was an instance of my NOT bringing my past knowledge into it, and it made for a premature review).

All those comics authors I cited--they've all done good work at one time or another. But their M.O. is to mine pop-culture for how their subjects will work slotted into their borrowed scenarios. The good ones will look at the subjects and ask "Why?" "Why does this work?" "Why are they unique?" "Given their past behaviors, what is their motivation?"

The instances you cited have all been done in better hands. Why is Kick-Ass doing what he's doing? Frustration and image-problems, I think. Stan Lee has made a living out of that scenario. I'm sure there are all sorts of dissertations on why Batman dons his cowl while others drop their shades. Other super-heroes are far more idealistic, and so idealistic they might not even notice when they're crossing the line to being the problem rather than the solution.

The father's motivations? Blood-lust. Revenge, merely. If he wants to "protect" his daughter, why then throw her into harm's way--this was covered in "The Brat-Pack" and whenever a new Robin puts on the tights--WHAT are you bringing a kid into your Crusade for, Bruce? The original side-kicks were there as inspiration to their young audience and to boost sales. "Kick-Ass" is rated "R." The kids aren't there to be "inspired." Empowered females? Frankly, we've been getting more and more of them and the "fan-boys" (bless 'em) embrace them.

But, I get your gist. I seemed pre-disposed not to like the film, given the background I throw into the review first. But, it's not a matter of coming to conclusions before the fact (I hadn't even read the series—evidently they were prepped concurrently—and it would be apples and oranges any way as what works in comics doesn't necessarily work in films, which is the problem I had with "Sin City"). It's a matter of explaining (from my perception) why it didn't work. If it had been GOOD, I would have explained why, too.

But, as I said. I could be wrong. I didn't find it memorable at all. In fact, I'd as soon forget about it. The sources it chooses to emulate are the memorable ones (or else why emulate them?).

But, having said all that, I take your comment seriously. If I have to explain why I say what I say, I'm not doing a very good job saying it, am I? I'll bear that in mind. Another reason to be grateful that you read it.

Simon said...

Oh, shit, I have to start copywriting my phrases now? No, for the time being, go right ahead. But I need credit.

Yojimbo_5 said...

I could give you points! But then a percentage of nothing is still nothing. ;)

Simon said...

I have nothing anyway!

Nah, just whenever you use it, you have to cite me. I'm nothing if not a publicity whore.

Yojimbo_5 said...

I'll use it as a title and site you...in the WHITE font (ooo, prestigious!)

The Mad Hatter said...

Well you're on the right track - we should always want a good movie, even if what we're about to see seems predisposed to suck.

I thought I'd retort - not to argue with you, but instead to converse. I'm recording a podcast this week with a blogger who disagrees with me quite often, but does so in a way that never insults and keeps me talking. So in honour of him, I thought I'd comment a little more...

If a movie goes wrong, I vote you still stick to what's at hand. When Siskel & Ebert used to argue, something the used to say every once in a while is "That's not on the screen". Sort of a good comeback, isn't it? What didn't work for you in KICK-ASS? Was it things that happened within the world of KICK-ASS, or were it things that your mind started wandering to as the movie went south.

It's sorta like arguing with your girlfriend about fidelity and bringing up the fact that she didn't do the dishes last week.

All of that said - do write more posts about a movie's marketing an promotion. They're interesting subjects...just not something that should often be brought up within a review.

You're right, Kick-Ass does what he does out of frustration, which is probably what leads every superhero to rise above. The difference is that he's rising above even though he has almost nothing to rise with. The Batman writers and Stan Lee did take that frustration and turn it into better stories overall...but they also blessed their heroes with either powers, training, or in the case of people like Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark, a lot of money.

Kick-Ass is an ordinary kid with a bit of nerve damage that takes up the mantle. Have we seen that before?

You're right (twice in one comment!) - Bruce should never have put any of those four kids into harm's way. There was no earthly reason to. The orphan in him got carried away trying to shelter other orphans, and he went spectaculary wrong.

Big Daddy on the other hand never wants his own daughter to feel helpless; he had to leave her once, and knows he can't protect her forever. He could have just taken her and run far away, but what would that teach her? His reasoning is admittedly clouded by revenge, but to his last breath, he never stops teaching and protecting her.

Have we really had empowered females on the screen? Especially where comic heroes are concerned?? Seems to me that everytime Hollywood has tried, they screw that up (critically and commercially). Movies seem to have a hard time getting ass-kicking women right. For every Beatrix Kiddo, we have to endure a dozen Elektra Natchios'.

It's not perfect, probably wouldn't even make my top five comic films (did a podcast on that last weekend if you wanted to give it a listen)...but it gets a lot of things right. I thought it was actually rather original, and had a lot working for it. If I can persuade you to, all I'd suggest is that sometime down the road, give it another look.

You might be surprised at what you see in it when it's had time to settle and the hype has dulled.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Jervis:

I'd rather agree to disagree than see this movie again. The hype doesn't matter. The movie does.
I explained what I didn't like about "Kick-Ass" in the review—it's sanctioned murderous thuggery (with children) for entertainment's sake. What's to like?

I'm "on the right track?" Thank you.

When Siskel and Ebert used the "That's not on the screen" retort, it was when motivations were ascribed to characters that the reviewer imposed on it—I think you and I have both been guilty of that in our discussion.

What is on the screen leads to a discussion of why it doesn't work, and I did so.

You may not like it, but it's informative, so I will keep doing so (when it's appropriate).

I'm trying to remember the "nerve damage" movie I saw, but I can't--the pins in his leg is a "Wolverine" call-back—and, gosh, they had to mention that, didn't they?

One question: if he's so nerve-damaged how can he perform sexually? It's not about doing the dishes or anything--it's what's on-screen.

Yojimbo_5 said...

The "nerve damage" bit was done in not one, but two James Bond movies (and they were back to back)-the first was Elliott Carver's teutonic henchman (the name escapes me) in "Tomorrow Never Dies" and then they used the same bit for Renard in "The World is Not Enough." But, since both films were in the Brosnan era, I'm sure "nobody" saw them (that's sarcasm, by the way).

"Yeah, but it's not a hero with nerve damage," I hear you reply.

And I'll tell you to do the dishes.

The Mad Hatter said...

You wanna talk about dishes? Let's talk about all that money you waste at the bar!

Yojimbo_5 said...

LOL

"Oh, yeah? Ever wonder why I have to drink so much? What about you and the cocaine!?"

The Mad Hatter said...

Bitch.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Whore. Just like your mother.

Yojimbo_5 said...

I think this discussion has degenerated to an Alec Baldwin phone-call.

The Mad Hatter said...

No kidding! I think this is usually the point someone would say "...a-a-a-a-nd scene!".

Fun times man, keep the good stuff coming.

Yojimbo_5 said...

I Loooove the Internet. I had a big grin on my face all day from work.

"Why are YOU so happy?" they'd grouse.

"I was arguing about 'Kick-Ass'"

(stunned silence)

Maybe we can compare notes on "The Losers" next week. And I've got "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" coming up, too.

John said...

Didn't Darkman have nerve damage?

Yojimbo_5 said...

I don't recall. Darkman is a page torn out of my movie encyclopedia. Details, details.
(you just wanted to pile on to the "Comments" section, didn't you, John (the man love to party)