4/16/2010

Kick-Ass the Movie: "With no power comes no responsibility."

I only made it four issues into the comic Kick-Ass, it was a little too x-treme for my liking: The kind of ultra violence that children get excited about, but becomes old news once you’ve looked at spaceghetto a couple of times. It’s just a little too crazy with over-the-top blood and guts and snarky, tongue-in-cheek dialogue, and it moves out of the "shocking" territory and steps into "this is silly but not in a good way" territory. John Romita Jr.’s art is an ill-fit, all the sprays of blood and the prostitutes and gangsters are too cartoony for a story that is supposed to be “real” and gritty.

The comic tries to comment on comics and vigilantism--it's but one more cynical superhero deconstruction--while also presenting a relatively interesting, at least initially, what if: What if the people of New York City got behind a guy in a green and yellow suit who walks down the street fighting crime and saving kittens? What if it inspired copycats and became a social networking phenomenon? Basically, a comic book world, so citizens believe in super heroes as an every day thing the way the population in Marvel and DC comics do, but tempered by reality. Or "reality". Specifically, Mark Millar's view of the world which is ugly, confused, and pretty boring really.

Kick-Ass the movie, at least, does a better job of selling you on a boy who could do this. He's a normal kid who's mom is dead and who jerks off a lot, he isn't popular but isn't unpopular--he just exists. He's the reality of most comics readers, they aren't fat losers or these annoying fucks who are loud and say "Huzzah", he's just an escapist of sorts who has found something to bond with friends over.

Becoming Kick-Ass is a decision less fueled by his getting mugged everyday, and more from a lack of anything better to do. "Why hasn't anyone ever tried to be a super hero before?" he asks--a valid question even in real life that can't really be answered. When you're under age with no ambition, anything you get excited about is worth at least giving a shot, so he becomes a hero. This is more organic than the comic which muddles Golden-Age comics tropes even as it tries to shit on them.

Where Romita Jr.’s art fails to make the violence--well--violent, the live action punches and gunshots pierce, they hit and are wet and brutal. This being a movie, with real people, not drawings, the reality of a skinny kid turned crimefighter is even more apparent. Every blow is felt and you get a little nauseous when Kick-Ass is left bloodied and dying. Kick-Ass goes to the E.R, living shit beat out of him, nerve-endings broken, gets steel plates inserted to save his life. Looking at his X-rayed body, he exclaims "I look like Wolverine!"...and this is where the story of the movie loses me.

Bullet dodging and roof jumping aside, Kick-Ass is supposed to be a movie about a regular dude who puts on a suit and plays super hero. He isn't supposed to have powers or abilities, he's a regular guy with billy clubs. Slowly Kick-Ass becomes a "super" hero, and the whole point of the "With no power comes no responsibility" quote is null. He can't feel pain, so therefore he can push himself, he ends up with a gattling guns and a jet-pack, "Hallelujah" playing in the background as he saves the day to fly off into the sunset.

Dave Lizewski, the boy who becomes Kick-Ass, is essentially not a character, he's just who Kick-Ass is when he isn't in the suit. I don't mean this in a Batman way where Batman is the man and Bruce Wayne is the mask, it's that you never care enough about Dave. This is especially strange because what made the first two issues of the comic work were those injections of teenage angst and sad, reality. That's all gone. You're just waiting for Kick-Ass to hit someone in the face. The love story is, as in almost every big blockbuster, just a requirement that essentially slows down the story line. The process of taking down the big baddies is put on hold while Kick-Ass gets the girl in not an awkward high school way, but as a confident man.

What really saves the movie is the lack of CG and great acting. Nicholas Cage steals your attention in his scenes, being the loving and psychotic father while out of the suit and spouting his lines in true 60's Adam West dialect while in it, and completely scary in this "Batman with a gun and no conscience" kind of way. Chloe Moretz's Hit-Girl cuts people in half and says "cunt" like she means it, you only know she's an 11 year old girl because you can see her. Although it doesn't have a message or a moral in the end, it's sorta like comics where you just accept it as pure entertainment, not really scared of all the people who are going to hate it, and only working for the people that will love it.

In the end, just like every other person who's seen it, I think Kick-Ass kicked ass (har har) but that's unfortunately, all it does.

4 comments:

Zom said...

I pretty much agree with everything you've written.

There's a very funny, action-packed film/comic waiting to be made about realistic superheroes*, and for half an hour there it seemed like Kick Ass might've been it.

What we got was another superhero fairytale - an entertaining enough, fairytale, sure, but I wanted and thought I was going to get something else. The film *wanted* to be something else!

*Why this territory is solely the preserve of the grim n gritty is beyond me.

Greg said...

I saw Kick-Ass last night and it does intermittently kick ass. Unfortunately the filmmakers don't have the conviction to follow through on their most interesting (or even entertaining) ideas. For example, when Kick-Ass first dons the costume and attempts to dissuade the two hoodlums from stealing the car, the fight is realistically short and brutal. He manages a painful blow to the one guy's face, but that minor success is immediately trumped by the other guy stabbing him in the stomach. This in and of itself is grimly funny, and the scene should have ended there. The filmmakers decide to take it further, though, by having some random guy run over Kick-Ass then drive away. This little 'gotcha' moment got a big laugh from the audience I saw it with, but it's the sort of crass overkill that undermines the effectiveness of the scene. It does, however, demonstrate the filmmakers' attitude toward the material - anything for an effect regardless of thematic coherency. The film cynically and inconsistently makes fun of certain superhero tropes while blithely embracing others. This is most evident in the fully exuberant presentation of Hit Girl and Big Daddy. They're by far the reasons to see the film, and after awhile Kick Ass's story becomes pretty dull, and I kept anticipating their next appearance.

For a better cinematic take on how a normal person might go about trying to be a superhero, I recommend Takashi Miike's Zebraman. It's about an ordinarily feckless school teacher who's obsession with a short-lived TV show from his youth, Zebraman, inspires him to dress up in a homemade costume and fight crime. Though the show was only on air for like 5 or 6 episodes, the writer wrote enough episodes for a full season (I haven't seen this in several years). Somehow it becomes apparent that the scripts are sort of prophetic/based on fact. For example, there are, in fact, aliens in the gym and they are brainwashing the town (sort of like Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and only Zebraman can stop them. The teacher (for reasons I can't remember) becomes convinced that he is in fact Zebraman, only he doesn't have the superpowers that the scripts describe. Because he is so determined to be the real Zebraman he decides that he will train himself to fly. He goes to a secluded bridge out-of-town and precedes to jump off of it repeatedly. After a series of cuts (and in film time what must be hours), he becomes bloodied and battered. The scene ends with him in despair, his costume in tatters. In one scene Miike illustrates the sort of sad and pathetic poignancy of a man convinced he should be a superhero. It also shows a commitment to and thoughtfulness about the material that is lacking in Kick-Ass.

Jesse Reese said...

Greg-

I think what's difficult to do with Kick-Ass is get past the real life superhero theme of the movie, but once you do I think things fall into place much better. Having read through a couple issues of the comic, I knew going in that it wasn't going to be a movie about a kid actually pretending to be a super hero, and in fact the movie isn't about that at all.

I actually agree though that it does go too far sometimes mostly when it takes inspiration directly from the comic. I talk about it in my review, but once you get passed all this I think you start to notice that there are a bunch of scenes that have that pathetic poignancy you describe. Scenes like wide helicopter shots of the city, the death of Kick-Ass's mother, and especially Big Daddy's make up scene give the movie an undercurrent of thoughtfulness that the Transformers of the world lack, and makes for a smart action movie like Iron Man or Star Trek.

Vee (Scratch) said...

I will see the movie in about 3-5 weeks but I'm not in a rush and I can wait for the DVD. One, I'm amazed that some people are not aware that this is an R-rated film. Some folks thinks this is a kid film.

Second, I hear way too many reactions about the film that sounds like, "WOW, the violence was cool, she cut his head off!" I really don't hear any discussion about the ideas presented or the premise of the film. Disclaimer, I just started reading the tradebook and finished the 2nd issue. I'm sorry, I can suspend disbelief but am I supposed to buy a 10/11 year-old kid wielding two swords that probably weigh over 20 lbs. that can cut really deep?

It just sounds like the approach to this title was simply, wouldn't it be cool if regular guys became super-heroes and they got their asses kicked but also Kicked Ass?!?

Ehh . . . what do I know, some thing tells me the comic books are better than the film.

@Zom . . . why is this territory solely the preserve of the grim n gritty? Good question.