"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."
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):
Sado-masochism from a comic-writing half-wit
All the subtle nuance of a drive-by shooting mob hit
"Kick-Ass" is Cable-watcher (when the kids aren't home).
Yes. Yes, he is.