Friday Reviews Part 1: ‘Kick-Ass’

Posted: August 6, 2010 in comic books, Jeff Holland, reviews, Threat Quality
Tags: , ,

Let’s just dig right in here, shall we?

Kick-Ass

Umm. Hm. Uh…well. It is certainly better than the comic, I’ll say that. Better, and then, as a result, worse.

See, the problem – and I say “problem” as weirdly as I can, because make no mistake, this is a weird complaint to have – is it removed all the horrible, wildly insulting parts from the book. Apparently, they were kind of important.

(SPOILERS a-coming) 

See, “Kick-Ass,” the book, is essentially Chris Sims’ 60-second recap, but really, even worse. Because it asks us to:

a) Identify with the lead character, who’s just the most idiotic, self-involved, and oddly racist kid (which, if that were part of the story – the kid’s got some race issues – might be worthwhile, but it never comes up as anything other than beating up a gang of cartoonish latinos, beating up a gang of cartoonish black guys, and constantly pointing out his dad’s “black girlfriend” for no in-story reason), and

b) Root for Big Daddy and Hit-Girl when they prove to be more competent than the lead kid, only then to shun them, once it’s revealed that Big Daddy’s real origin is he’s ACTUALLY just a sad-sack comic geek who wanted his daughter to have an exciting life (and funds their adventures by selling his collection of rare comics).

The comic, essentially, mocks its readership over and over again by asking them to identify with and cheer on these horrendous fan-caricatures, and also laugh when they’re systematically destroyed.

The movie’s creators twigged to the fact that this cruel blend of comic-book-fan mockery and super-violent nihilism doesn’t really work as a film narrative (not that it works as a comic either), and completely jettisoned that mean-spiritedness.

The movie streamlines Big Daddy’s motivation (he’s essentially a comic fan/cop who was framed by the lead villain and went nuts in prison, crafting his revenge fantasy into a super-hero fantasy to get his daughter on board – so it’s still child abuse that he’s training his daughter to be a murderer, but a less awful child abuse than if he were just a pathetic nobody who wished life were more like comics and brainwashed his daughter for THAT reason) and refocuses the self-flagellating narcissism of Dave/Kick-Ass (he at least knows what he’s doing is wrong  and stupid, both in the costume and by manipulating his would-be girlfriend into thinking he’s gay, and makes efforts to fix each before things spin out of control) so that it actually makes the viewer not want to take a shower later.

Unfortunately, when you remove those awful aspects, there is no longer a center to the film.

The story doesn’t work if it’s about two horribly deluded comic book fans, one of whom breaks his dad’s heart, the other of whom brainwashes his daughter, all because they want to live out adolescent power fantasies. Which is good. That’s a TERRIBLE STORY TO TELL.

But…there’s no replacement arc for the film. This movie stops being ABOUT anything pretty much right after the revised Big Daddy origin is revealed. On the one hand, it’s a super-hero parody, since the whole thing’s played for laughs; on the other, it’s pretty much straight-forward super-hero, since Kick-Ass’s character-arc mostly mirrors Spider-Man’s (once he realizes that even no power still means great responsibility); and then on the mystical third hand, it’s The Professional with masks and a bigger FX budget.

(And Nicolas Cage’s Adam West impression; I will say, if anything, this movie is saved by the uniformly great performances and action-direction – in both cases, Chloe Moretz is goddamned awesome, so keep an eye on her.)

None of it gels, because it doesn’t have that “Isn’t Everything Stupid and Horrible?” thru-line that runs at the core of Kick-Ass creator Mark Millar’s last decade of comics work.

And I don’t know how to explain what an unnerving criticism that is to bring to a comic book satire movie. But here we are.

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Comments
  1. I just watched it recently, and… yah. Honestly, I thought Nicolas Cage’s character was pretty great, especially when it became clear that he wasn’t just a loner survivalist. The “we’re taking vengeance for your mother” angle plays pretty well*

    Other than that, I felt like the action scenes were… forced. In one scene, Hit Girl is taking out a room full of people with a naginata and improvised weapons, in another, she’s constantly running out of ammunition and hiding. Huh? She seems like the kind of person that would have a stack of throwing stars stacked in each heel.

    And they seemed to be on to something when Kick-Ass discovered some kind of inner strength and faced down a bunch of gangsters, but then he’s constantly walking into dumb situations for no reason and getting beat up over and over again, until he learns that guns kill people better than sticks.

    Was this a parody of superheroes? A validation? … at the end I was just left with, “Huh. Whatever.”

    * In my mind, the conversation between Damon and Marcus went like this:

    “You owe that kid a childhood.”

    “No, Frank D’mico OWES HER A MOTHER!”

  2. Jeff Holland says:

    The logistics and relative realism of the fight scenes didn’t bother me so much because it is a 10-year-old girl straight-up murdering dozens of people without a problem. This is not a realistic thing.

    (For instance: The first time Mark Strong punched her in the face, if this was reality, would have GIVEN HER PERMANENT BRAIN DAMAGE.)

    But yeah, Dave’s character-arc does seem to wrap up with “…That was SO MUCH EASIER with guns and rocket packs!”

  3. braak says:

    I just have a hard time caring about fantasy fight scenes, I think is the thing. It’s like, once we’ve accepted that this is a non-realistic scenario, then there’s nothing that occurs that we can use to understand the outcome or nature of the fight. It gets denuded of suspense, since nothing that happens in it matters; the fight will be won according to the narrative, so you might as well just skip the thing and get to the part where she wins. And, obviously, that’s how ALL fights in movies work, because they’re not real fights, they’re part of the narrative–but in the short term, during the course of the fight, you can forget that the outcome is predetermined and succumb to suspense and surprise and things like that.

    I know it’s not a big deal, and it probably doesn’t bother anyone but me, but if she gets punched in the face, and isn’t affected by it, then why does it matter that she got punched in the face? What was the point of that happening? Is it to just showcase that she’s somehow invulnerable to physical harm? IS she somehow invulnerable to physical harm? That might make me feel better about it, I guess.

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