Kick-Ass: A Follow-Up


WAY BACK in November of 2008, when I still had hair (I still have hair), I encouraged you folks to go out and read a little comic called Kick-Ass. I had only read the first issue at the time and, thereafter, I read only through the third or so. (Out of eight? I can't be bothered to Google this?) When I wrote that there 'blog post I promised a movie was in production and, last weekend, said movie opened in wide release. And last night, I observed the playing of said movie. This, then, is my response.

RESPONSE. NOT a CRITIQUE, or even a REVIEW. Just to be clear. Though there will be SPOILERS, me mateys. (Gatling jetpack. Wha-tah! How's that for timing?)

I'll preface this with a few interesting facts about this particular movie deal and my particular choices with regards to how I ingested this morsel of mixed media:
  • Obviously, I was sold on the concept (as I understood it) straight off.
  • I elected not to pursue the comic very far so I would not spend the whole movie comparing the two.
  • The comic got the movie deal from practically the first issue (can't be bothered to Google) and subsequently delayed releases of its issues in an effort to release the final one in the story arc as close to the opening date as possible.
  • The last issue of the comic that I did read -- though this was not a factor in my decision to stop reading -- I found a little off-putting.
  • I like comics, action movies and underdog stories.
To be brief: I enjoyed the movie a great deal.

All right, goodnight everybody! Tip the lamb and try your waiters!

[Then he just went on, and on, and then on about the damn movie...]

Those of you fervently tracking my 'blog, eager to analyze my responses to comicbooks and their cinematic interpretations in particular, may be reminded here of my rant on the impracticality of superheroes (see 2/14/08). It's true: Superheroes are entertaining mythology, and an answer to almost nothing practical. In that sense all this hubbub about the moral issues supposedly addressed in Kick-Ass are simply a mess of malarkey. (Points: "hubbub" and "malarkey" in the same sentence.) This film is not immoral, it's amoral, and one simply has to accept that as an aspect of the genre in order to approach it on terms remotely related to its intentions. It's reminiscent of Japanese manga in this sense (not to mention in much of its imagery) -- indulgent fantasy that knows it is indulgent fantasy. Is it immature and irresponsible? Totally. It's a teenager, and that's apt for its story.

That having been said, if this film catches on big, kids are going to emulate and probably get hurt or killed. One can easily argue that such kids will be stupid to begin with, because the movie more than emphasizes the catastrophic physical danger of vigilantism, and one would be right, but one would also be missing the point that many kids are stupid, because they're kids. They haven't had enough experience to reliably process this kind of information with some sense of distance. I know this, because I literally fantasized about sneaking out to "fight crime" when I was a teenager. I didn't see why I couldn't, nor that doing so was in itself criminal, nor even what that actually meant. More on that later. Point: This is an irresponsible movie. End of point.

I had a hell of a good time watching it. I may even buy it when it's released on DVD/Blue-Ray/DRM-FreePsychicImpression, if for nothing else than to revisit some of the brutal, beautifully choreographed "fights." (There was maybe one actual fight in the movie; the rest of the sequences were, to coin a phrase, "heroes" owning "villains.") This film takes a good ol' power fantasy that fanboys have had for at least half a century and just gives it a good, hard nudge into a more relevant setting. Relevant, but not in any sense realistic or naturalistic. Some may be fooled by the many parallels -- far more than even the new Batman films -- between the movie's environment and reality, but to those people I would say only this: Gatling jetpack.

Things I liked:
  • The action choreography was a really rather interesting blend of tropes and innovation. For an (amoral) example, Hit Girl straight-up kills bad guys, which is really the only way an 11-year-old could be expected to defeat adults, and many of the ways in which she does this are completely over-the-top, but also gratifying in their efficiency.
  • It did not pull punches in any sense, and was not aiming for any PG-13 rating, which allowed teenagers to be non-idealized and consequences to be heavy (when actual consequences were audacious enough to appear in this movie).
  • There was a very dark humor throughout, to the extent that I can see why some people seem to think the humor ended about midway through.
  • Nicolas Cage. I know. I KNOW. He still made gratingly huge acting choices, but if ever there was a movie in which they seemed apt, this is that movie. There was also a fanboy level of appreciating that he was for a long time thought to be Tim Burton's first choice for a very different interpretation of Superman(TM). In particular, the cadence of speech he used for Big Daddy was an astonishingly bizarre, yet recognizable, riff on Adam West's Batman. Fun; lots.
  • The movie and comic took a nice risk in actualizing a commonly held fantasy with creativity and specificity -- namely, answering the question of what might happen if a teenager followed through on his power fantasy.
Ironically, this last point was what initially intrigued me with the concept, yet also provided my biggest disappointment with the film. I was already rather resigned to this disappointment from the last issue I read (in which Hit Girl makes her splashy entrance) and from the tone of the movie previews, but I can't shake it completely, because I really wanted to see the movie I had fantasized about way back in November of 2008.

The only actual fight that takes place in the film happens about a third of the way in, and involves Kick-Ass fighting three guys in defense of a fourth whom they have chased into his path and proceeded to beat on. This is months after our hero's initial confrontation, in which he is stabbed and then hit by a car, then takes a little time-out to recuperate in the hospital. Before jumping in, he tells a nearby teen to call 911. The fight goes awfully for Kick-Ass, but he manages to first distract the attackers, then straddle the victim and keep them at bay with two batons. He doesn't win in any conventional sense. In other words, he doesn't beat them, but he endures mortal danger until they have to flee, owing of witnesses and the increasing risk of the intervention of the police. I liked this scene in the comic. I love it in the film; the lighting and dressing is gritty, and the direction is frenetic enough to communicate the utter confusion that the fight entails for our hero, while staying removed enough to allow us to distinguish just enough specificity to appreciate the story of the encounter.

The movie I wanted to see -- am in fact left still wanting, quite badly, to see -- is one that continued along that line. It's shortly after this point in Kick-Ass that Big Daddy and Hit Girl are introduced as supposedly more capable superheroes (in fact: vigilantes), complete with tremendous budget and revenge subplot, and everything is amped up. This is the movie (and, I suppose, the comic [the chicken-and-egg here is nigh inconceivable]) they wanted to make and, as I said, I enjoyed it a lot. It's just: What if? I mean this question both in terms of the comic/film, and in terms of continuing what I felt was the set-up and development of the beginning of the story.

What if when our hero gets in over his head, no one is there to bail him out? What if he revisits the hospital? What if he gets involved in the world of crime so deeply that his boundaries start to blur? What if he drops out of school? What if he inspires other teenagers in both directions, heroics and villainy? What if he has to choose whether or not he'll use firearms? What if he kills someone, or even just witnesses murder, and there are actually psychological consequences? What if, somehow, through it all, he actually gets quite good at fighting crime -- what does that entail and lead to in reality? What if he discovers he can't make a difference -- but personally needs to, anyway?

Lately a lot of hybrid superhero movies have been produced, many of them setting themselves in decidedly naturalistic worlds (Defendor comes to mind) but none that I know of approach the idea in such a straight-forward way. No one has made this movie yet, and I'm afraid no one will. Even I balk at writing the story, because I have some pessimistic views about how it might be received by producers and audiences alike. Certainly last night's audience by-and-large would not be pleased with the movie in my head. Yet I'd really like to see it. I think it would be entertaining and interesting, and that it would continually surprise its audience with events that occur with such veracity that anyone can imagine the same thing happening to them. Not to mention that it's the kind of story that is best served in film; no other medium could express it with such specific verisimilitude.

I think it's a shame that Millar and Romita, the creators of the comicbook, didn't go in this direction, but they did create one hell of a ride that probably many, many more people will enjoy. I know I did. The movie does what it says it is.
 
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