KICK-ASS is the new movie that for the first time since DEFENDOR, MIRAGEMAN, SPECIAL and the first part of SPIDERMAN where he wears the pajamas asks the question “What would happen if a comic book nerd dressed up as a super hero and tried to fight crime?” The answer is partly the same as DEFENDOR’s (he’ll get beat up badly, except when he has clubs) but partly different (a little girl will fly around spinning knives and doing kung fu, murdering dozens of people and give him a jetpack and [SPOILERS for KICK-ASS and DEATH WISH 3] he’ll kill a mob boss DEATH WISH 3 style).
Either the movie is confused or just I am, because I really thought this was gonna be about what would happen if people tried to be super heroes in the real world. I thought this mainly because the lead nerd (who buys a mask and scuba suit and comes up with the dumb name Kick-Ass for himself) narrates through the entire movie and explains explicitly and in detail that that is in fact exactly what the story is about.
Other than a wacky opening they do stick to a basically realistic world of ordinary people for a while. Until the flying murdering supergirl character, and then it becomes the movie that he was assuring us at the beginning that it was not gonna be. Either they never proof read so they forgot what the first part of the script was about, or more likely it was written by people who just have no idea what the difference is between comic strips and reality. Whatever their excuse is their postmodern subversion of comic book cliches is exactly as old and empty as what they’re apparently trying to comment on.
Did these guys get to see DARK KNIGHT and IRON MAN yet? How can you have a “super heroes in the real world” story but in a world that feels less real than the ones in the most popular super hero movies of the day? To me that seems like a conceptual air ball, like trying to do a parody of AIRPLANE. They start out with this hugely flawed premise and then they just lightly sketch out that premise and don’t go in many unexpected directions with it.
This kid Kick-Ass tells us that he’s not doing it for revenge like Batman, as if to say that’s a stupid cliche. Later we meet Nicolas Cage as Big Daddy, who dresses like Batman and is doing it for revenge, and I think everyone would agree that he’s a way more interesting character than Kick-Ass. So maybe our narrator shouldn’t be so smug about that shit. Maybe it’s a cliche for a reason.
Cage is an obvious stand-out in the movie, his alter-ego a nerdy ex-cop who brainwashes his daughter to obsess over weaponry and trains her to spin butterfly knives and shit, and his super hero talks like Adam West (a weird speech pattern that seemed to confuse the audience at the Cinerama). And yes, there’s a sprinkle of his MEGA-ACTING in a scene with a coincidental WICKER MAN parallel where he starts screaming his lines like Steven Tyler or somebody.
There are very few smart touches or details in this movie, but of what’s there two of them belong to Big Daddy:
1. You see him painting on black eye makeup, something I’ve always wondered about in the Batman movies.
2. He wears a fake mustache visible under the mask. A double disguise – real bank robber shit.
Maybe I’m being harsh. This is not a terrible movie, and has a few funny lines and what not. I liked that the nerd immediately got stabbed the first time he tried to be a super hero. Not enough stabbings of nerds in movies these days. Also there’s a couple laughs in a subplot about him pretending to be gay to get close to a girl. I never saw the one where Adam Sandler does that to see Jessica Biel’s boobs, so this version seemed pretty funny. And there’s a self-reflexive type narration line that made me laugh even though I don’t buy the idea that a teenager today is familiar with AMERICAN BEAUTY. SUNSET BOULEVARD, sure, but nobody gives a shit about AMERICAN BEAUTY.
But I don’t think it’s a very witty movie, it’s mostly the-same-old-shit in sly-commentary-on-the-same-old-shit’s clothing. I’m guessing the idea was to make it all obvious cliches, but to invest the characters with some kind of extra depth. If so they never got around to Phase II of that plan. There’s no sense of emotional reality, especially with the girlfriend character that’s probly meant to be the heart of the movie. She’s supposed to be this perfect good girl, but for reasons of plot convenience her boyfriend is a murderous drug dealer in the ghetto who looks about 40 years old. She only hangs out with Kick-Ass because she thinks he’s gay (because he got beat up [?]) but when she finds out he’s a fraud, but also dresses up as a super hero, she immediately demands to fuck him. You know, because it’s about what would really happen. Just ask those guys in CONFESSIONS OF A SUPER HERO. Women can’t fuckin control themselves around some weiner dressed as Superman. Their legs open automatically like the doors at the grocery store.
Also it gets Kevin Smith-style uncomfortable when she starts name dropping comic book artists. Gentlemen, get your boners ready. She knows about so and so who draws such and such. But she has boobies.
The main thing people seem to like about this is the little girl, Hit Girl, because she shoots people, stabs people, talks tough, blows kisses, and says “cunt” and “motherfucker.” Only… get this… she’s a kid though. Kids say the darndest things! I don’t know guys, it’s kind of funny how excited she is about buying new weapons, but you can only bang on that piano key so many times.
In her first and best scene she shows a little bit of being a kid, asking to be taken out for ice cream after taking hits in a bullet proof vest. But the rest of the time they just go for the joke where she’s an adult killing machine in a little girl’s body. Maybe if she had a little bit of dimension it would be more interesting, I don’t know. Drew McWeeny sees an “aching sadness” in her character, but I don’t see that in the movie. At the end she gets bloody revenge, lives with a responsible adult, and it ends on a joke about her beating up school bullies. It’s a happy ending. There’s no sign that that the filmatists want you to think anything else.
People are talking about the violence in the movie, as if it’s some kind of envelope-pushing shocker like Verhoeven used to make. Maybe I’m desensitized, but it didn’t seem that violent to me. More violent than the FANTASTICAL FOUR movies, sure. But again one of the serious super heroes already did it better: PUNISHER WAR ZONE is just as stupid and sloppy as this but gets more mileage out of the same joke of the super hero going way overboard in killing criminals. I can prove that mathematically, too. Kick-Ass (spoiler) uses a rocket launcher to kill the main villain. Punisher uses his on a petty drug courier. (For that matter, is this any more violent than Dolph’s Punisher? I’m not sure it is.)
If they really wanted to be edgy I think they would’ve had to have some kind of realism with Hit Girl. Like, more believable than Natalie Portman in LEON/THE PROFESSIONAL at least. How can anybody really find this disturbing when it makes that movie look like a documentary? Maybe if there was some kind of emotional or other consequence to the mass murder that happens in the movie, then we could marvel at how “fucked up” it is because it would actually mess with our emotions. Like in KILL BILL VOLUME 1 when we’re having fun and then it stops for a full minute or two for The Bride to cry about losing her baby. KICK-ASS never asks you to confront anything like that. It just plays it as a joke. We’re supposed to just be happy that the nice normal kid murdered his friend’s dad in front of him, because the dad was a Bad Guy.
(I have to admit I kind of understood the mobsters. They have the best motive after Nicolas Cage. These people are murdering all their friends and co-workers, of course they want them dead.)
I guess the comic book this is based on is by the same guy that wrote the one WANTED was based on. Makes sense. Both are hollow and derivative and seem overly convinced of their own genius. Both have weiners for main characters, but the one in KICK-ASS gets the edge for being less douchey. On the other hand WANTED has the funnier action scenes. KICK-ASS has Nic Cage, but you gotta admit Angelina Jolie was really cool in WANTED, so the supporting grown up category is a wash. Both have an ending that sets up a lame unwanted sequel, but KICK-ASS’s is worse since it doesn’t seem to realize that ending the exact same way as SPIDERMAN doesn’t count as “commenting on” SPIDERMAN. What is this, one of those EPIC MOVIE type deals? A reference is just a reference. If you want it to be a joke or make a point you gotta add substance.
I guess ultimately WANTED kind of rubbed me the wrong way more than KICK-ASS, but kept my interest more. I’m leaning toward WANTED being better, but I’ll be generous and call it a tie.
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I’m not sure about writing this next part, because I don’t want to insult anybody or piss on anybody’s parade. There’s just no sense in parades getting pee on them. So I mean it only as constructive criticism, but I kind of feel like I gotta call bullshit on the amount of hype my internetical colleagues have been giving this thing.
Ordinarily I would just shrug off a movie like this and forget about it, but some of the people I read have been raving about it since it played Harry’s Butt-numb-a-thon months ago. Maybe it’s just over my head or something, maybe I just don’t get it, and it only comes across as seeming obvious and empty-headed. But it seems to me like some of these guys have been so invested in the movie since before it was made that they’re projecting things onto it. They’ve covered it from cradle to grave, they’ve done set visits, they’ve interviewed the director, writers and stars, they’ve run exclusive photos and posters and clips and trailers, they all saw it late at night with a crazed Butt-numb-a-thon crowd, and if they could vote for it for president or wear it as an outer skin they would do it.
Harry, in his defense of the movie from Roger Ebert (which seemed more outraged by Ebert’s response than Ebert seemed about the movie), indirectly compared it to TAXI DRIVER. Drew called the action “just jaw-dropping,” and talked about some EQUILIBRIUM-style strobelight as “a gorgeous nod to the power of the comic page… electrifying, emotional cinema.” Devin Feraci from Chud, stepping outside of his usual Mr. Grumpypants persona to write two separate rave reviews, called it “the single best Western action film I’ve seen in maybe a decade” and Hit Girl “one of the most bad-ass characters to ever hit films. Hit Girl is going to be a fucking phenomenon…”
I’m not doubting their sincerity in loving the movie. And they’re the winners here. I wish I could love it too. I should be happy for them. But it reminds me of why I try to avoid reviewing movies after some minimal contact with the director (like the quote I got from Guillermo Del Toro, or the introduction from David Gordon Green). It seems to me that with their premature canonization of this director (based mostly on two comic book movies he didn’t end up finishing), the personal relationships they have with the filmatists and the in-depth coverage they’ve done of what the movie is supposed to be they maybe built up a movie in their minds that’s not available on screens for the outside world to enjoy. So in the land of internet hyperbole a perfectly fine child performance becomes a breathtaking, star-making moment in cinematic history, McLovin’ putting on a MYSTERY MEN costume for a laugh becomes Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s complete re-invention of his onscreen persona, and a meaningless rehash of comic book cliches becomes a startlingly original statement on the I’m not sure what of comic book something or other.
The positive reviews talk vaguely about how it comments on comic books or super heroes or whatever. But what is the comment? What does it have to say? What does it mean? Did it really point out some thing about a guy in a mask that you never heard a hundred times before? I mean other than the fake mustache, because I agree, that was a good one.
I’m not filing an ethics complaint or nothin. Film criticism isn’t objective. But the way these websights work I think lends itself to clouding up the ol’ critical judgment a little. So as fellow excellence-strivers I’d ask the boys to just meditate on that a little bit when reviewing movies of people they hang out with at the Comics Con or who they like to send tweeterings to. That’s all.
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I might have to come back here and admit I’m wrong in a couple years, but my guess is this will be the WEDDING CRASHERS of nerd movies. RIght now people might talk about it as the greatest thing they ever saw. And get mad at me for saying this. In three years though according to my theory they won’t talk about it all. They’ll have some comic book equivalent of THE HANGOVER to keep them occupied.
Of course, there’s a strong argument against me here, and that’s that the Cinerama crowd I saw it with hooted and hollered for it. They loved that shit. Afterwards I heard one guy explain to his friend. “That was the whole reason I wanted to see it. A 13 year old girl killing people!”
And maybe that’s really what it comes down to, not the Entertainment Media Industrial Complex – people just think it’s hilarious that a little girl kills people.
I don’t get it, man. I don’t think it’s offensive at all, I just don’t think it’s very funny. It’s just such an obvious fake-shocker, like drawing Disney characters fucking each other. I don’t think it bothered Ebert because it was violent, I think it bothered him because it was violent but also dumb. I bet if it had something to say he’d feel differently. Anyway I agree, he shouldn’t be outraged, because there’s nothing outrageous about it. It bothers some of these guys that Ebert is offended by it, but the whole joke is predicated on it supposedly being shocking. Which one is it?
So maybe I really just don’t get the joke. There’s alot I don’t get about this movie. For example I don’t get the music choices at all. Why the BANANA SPLITS theme while Big Daddy teaches his daughter how to take a bullet? Why FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE during a scene that was more like THE MATRIX than a spaghetti western? Why is it funny that they sing along with Gnarls Barkley? And I guess Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” was supposed to give some kind of spunky girl power to Hit Girl, but I don’t get why it just starts jarringly in the middle of a loud action scene already in progress. I guess I don’t speak this movie’s dialect. But it seems to me like every aspect of the movie is only thought through about half way and then just thrown on screen.
I’ll be interested to hear what you guys think.
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT ISSUE
(get it, that last line is a commentary on the comic books)
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.