Saturday, 24 April 2010

Kick-Ass (2010)

So, 10 years after the debut of Planetary, 24 years after Watchmen and almost 50 years after Marvel introduced it's blend of superheroics and everyday melodrama, someone has finally decided to ask "What if super-heroes existed in the real world?" I know, finally, right? To be fair though, atlhough Millar has touted his comic book Kick-Ass as a superhero deconstruction, it really isn't, and neither is the movie.

The movie starts out that way, though. Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a dorky, comic-book-loving teenager who one day decides to buy a wetsuit off eBay, grab a couple of lead pipes and fight crime. Of course it doesn't go smoothly, and the first time he takes on a couple of carjackers he gets stabbed in the gut and then hit by a car, landing him in the hospital for several months. He suffers nerve damage and his body is riddled with metal plates and pins, but luckily in the Millar-verse this makes you more physically capable, giving you a high tolerance for pain and an elevated ability to take a beating. Consequently he hits the streets again, taking the name Kick-Ass (because he always gets his ass kicked, irony etc) and soon a youtube video of him beating up some street thugs goes viral. A superhero is born.

It's an interesting concept for a story, and I can think of a few ways it could go. They could go the Taxi Driver/Observe and Report route and explore the futility and insanity of someone trying to apply comic book morality to the real world. Alternatively they could do a more light-hearted fable about how real-life heroics are all about helping people, even if it's something small like finding a lost cat or calling the police when you see someone in throuble. Well, just toss all that shit out the window, because if Mark Millar is good at one thing it's coming up with interesting ideas and then fucking them up with violence, swearing, empty nihilism and pointless provocation.

In this case all of the above come in the diminuitive form of Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), a 10 year old girl who has been trained by her father Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) to be a deadly ninja assassin. She does wire-fu, cuts off limbs, shoots a lot of people etc. It's clearly meant to be shocking and if they'd tried for any sort of depth to her character there might be some impact, but here it just seems like hollow nerd-baiting. "Hey comic book geeks, get a load of this! Comic books aren't just for kids anymore!" One prime example of empty shock value is the fact that she cusses all the time. This doesn't make a lot of sense in the context of the character, since Big Daddy's language around her is gentle and paternal (he even uses faux-curses like "gosh") . It just seems like a cheap gag.

To be fair though, some of my favourite scenes were the ones the showed the relationship between Hit Girl and Big Daddy. They were really sweet, and a scene where Big Daddy trains her for the impact of a bullet on kevlar vest was a particular highlight. She gets all the best action sequences and a lot of the best lines; "How do I contact you?" "Call the mayor. He's got a signal he shines in the sky. It's in the shape of a giant cock." Kick-Ass gets pushed into the background whenever she is around. It's pretty clear that Hit Girl was Vaughn's favourite part of the film, so much so that you wonder why they bothered with all the other shit. I'd happily watch a film just about Big Daddy and Hit Girl. I'd happily watch a film just about Kick-Ass. But these aren't two great tastes that taste great together.

I should probably talk about the differences between this film and the comic book. Probably the major deviation is in the character of Big Daddy. His backstory is that he's an ex-cop who was framed by the mob. While he was in jail his wife commits suicide so when he's released he and his daughter become superheros to get revenge. That's the end of it in the movie, but in the comic book it's revealed that he made all that shit up and he's actually just a bored accountant that left his wife, kidnapped his daughter and turned her into a deadly killing machine. That's a pretty dark twist, but I don't know what purpose it serves. I think maybe the movie did the right thing to remove it, even if it does turn the story into something a little more generic.

The other major deviation is surrounding Kick-Ass's love interest. When he is stabbed and beaten, Kick-Ass makes the EMT worker promise not to tell anyone about his costume, so everybody ends up thinking he was found naked in a back alley. Consequently a rumour starts around the school that he's gay. Because he was mugged and raped, get it? Subsequently Kick-Ass pretends to be gay so he can get closer to a girl he likes. He has to watch girly movies, suppress boners when applying fake tans etc. He comes clean at the end, and while in the movie she ends up fucking him right then and there, in the comic she responds a little more realistically and tells him to fuck off. Although I thought the movie actually improved the story structure in a lot of ways, I thought this was handled better in the comic.

The geek community's enthusiastic praise of this film has me a little baffled. They're raving about it to the point that they are criticising Roger Ebert for not liking it. I mean, I know the guy is off the mark sometimes, especially when a film offends his sensibilities, but he's entitled to his own opinion. I guess there's a romanticism to Matthew Vaughn's fuck-the-studios battle against suit-wearing spoilsports, but I think they should save their adoration for a film that uses shock tactics to say something genuine.

I know I'm being hard on this film but I did enjoy it on some level. There were some good gags and the action sequences were fun and well-staged. There were some nice touches, like Nicholas Cage doing an Adam West impression whenever he was in costume. It just seems like a missed opportunity to me. I don't mind if a movie has no real substance, but starting a movie with a good half-hour of narration about the reality of being a superhero, only to spin off into a crazy fantasy with ninjas and jetpacks and giant microwaves and cartoon mobsters.. well it just makes it seem like you don't know what the fuck you are doing. Unless they were going for some sort of post-post-modern, double-ironic superhero story. If so, please disregard everything I said.

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