Monday, April 26, 2010

I will not make a pun about whether or not this movie "kicks ass"

The past ten-or-so years could very well be described as the decade of the superhero movie. The big summer tentpoles of the Aughts were very heavy on comic books as source material, for better or worse.

Some very smart and famous philosopher, I think it was Plotinus, once said that if you release enough movies that follow the same formula or share enough in common, eventually someone is going to try and make a movie that serves as a counterpoint, a "deconstruction" if you will, to those aforementioned movies. Oddly enough, the "let's take a realistic look at superheroes" movie is an adaptation of a comic book, and one by a fairly prolific and well-regarded creative team at that.

For those of you with decent jobs and realistic, healthy relationships with the opposite sex, Kick-Ass author Mark Millar is one of the more, for lack of a better word, "controversial" comic book writers working today. He's had his share of well-regarded successes this past decade (The Authority, Superman: Red Son) as well as the sort of dreck that makes a ton of money and represents almost everything going wrong with comics today (Wanted, Civil War). Kick-Ass is one of his more recent works, coming out in 2008, and has now been adapted for the big screen, essentially functioning as the second superhero deconstruction film in two years (Remember Watchmen? Of course you do!).

Kick-Ass tells the story of New York City teenager Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a shy, nerdy, Peter Parker type who one day, for no reason at all decides that it might be a good idea to follow in the footsteps of his beloved comic book superheroes and don a costume and fight crime. His first endeavors to battle the forces of evil are met with little success as he finds himself beaten up by petty thieves and street gangs. However, his persistence pays off and before you know it, he's become a Youtube and MySpace(?) sensation and finds himself teaming up with fellow costumed vigilantes Hit-Girl (Chloƫ Moretz, the world-weary kid sister who nearly ruined 500 Days of Summer), Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage, give this man a comeback!), and Red Mist (Christopher "McLovin" Mintz-Plasse) to take down mob boss Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong).
Kick-Ass has two hooks: the somewhat novel concept of a realistic take on superheroes, and to quote the first issue of the comic's cover, "sickening violence". On the first count, I have a few issues. On the second, things are basically copacetic.

On the notion of "real-life" superheroes, obviously this has been done before and that didn't turn out very well. I suppose the intellectual backing behind this endeavor was that Watchmen took itself a bit too seriously (I mean, it had a big, blue, glowing dick in half the movie and they never once made a joke about it!) and could really have used a shot of adolescent cursing, sex, and ultraviolence. That's all well and good I suppose, those are three things that are pretty hard to argue with. But I think that the world created by Kick-Ass is pretty inconsistent. On the one hand you have the titular hero basically failing in his superheroics and that in itself is pretty entertaining. The idea of a superhero as a guy who puts on a dorky looking costume and gets beat up by street thugs in the name of justice is a good idea for a film, I'd definitely watch that.

But by the time Kick-Ass meets Hit-Girl and Big Daddy, all this goes out the window. While mild-mannered teenager Dave Lizewski certainly has trouble fighting crime, the father/daughter superhero duo acts like they're actually the stuff that comics are made of. They rack up gigantic Chow Yun-Fat body counts all the while being a middle-aged man and an 11-year-old girl. Meanwhile, Dave is still getting his ass kicked. If the movie, and I suppose Millar's original story, had just stuck with the "it's really hard to be a superhero" angle, I think we'd have a pretty big success on our hands. On the flip side, the "superheroes are emotionally damaged psychopaths who endanger their families by going on shooting sprees against the Mafia" movie would be a good one too, but putting them in the same movie undercuts both sides.

And in terms of violence, yeah it's fine but I remember being more shocked and amused by 2005's Sin City. On that subject, Mark Millar is in grave danger of becoming a latter day version of his sound-alike predecessor Frank Miller: all style (see: "sex and violence") and little-to-no substance.

The direction by Matthew Vaughn (who made the awesome Layer Cake and Stardust) and the cast's performances are all fine, in fact taken for itself the movie is a good evening's entertainment. Seeing an 11-year-old girl say the c-word and brutally murder swathes of henchmen is worth the price of admission alone. Just treat the movie as it should be treated, it's the cinematic equivalent of Mountain Dew: covered in high fructose corn syrup and made to sate your inner adolescent.

Final verdict: 48 Congos