Wednesday, April 21, 2010

KICK-ASS review

BRIAN: Here’s the concept of the movie: a kid with no superpowers decides to become a superhero.  Just ‘cause it’s cool and no one in real life has ever done it before.  So it’s a mix of THE DARK KNIGHT and WATCHMEN elements in acknowledging that comics – and the characters that inhabit them – don’t exist in a vacuum (note that I’m pulling from comics that have been made into movies, not the comics themselves, so I could be accused of not knowing what I'm talking about.).  Here’s a fanboy who doesn’t just read comics, but aspires to act them out in the real world, promising real world consequences.

Problem is: this dude’s boring.  I thought it was the acting at first.  They were clearly trying to cast someone like Chuck, who could be believably geeky one moment, but charming and good-looking when the scene called for it.  Instead, they cast some kid who failed at both, and therefore made every scene a wash.  But it’s not just the acting – I feel the character was really underwritten.  I know the whole hook is to have a character with no superpowers, but they gave us a character with no identity.  I mean, right?  What were they going for?  You’re a nerd.  Tell me.

GOLAN: First of all, the revelation that I’m a nerd comes as a great shock.

As for me, I liked the concept of someone in a world grounded in reality saying, “Hey, I read comics and I can afford a skin tight suit and mask… why don’t I just go out and fight crime?” then realizing that stab wounds hurt worse than they do in comics, crime isn’t as easy to find as it is in comics (hence the cat search) and death isn’t as cute and fun as it is in comics.

But yeah, this guy was boring.  I didn’t know much about this Aaron Johnson guy before this flick came onto my radar.  I am aware he’s British and did a few TV shows back home – that’s about it.  I’d like to say that’s the issue, as sometimes when British actors do American accents (especially regional dialects like Brooklyn), they either come off as super awesome (like Hugh Laurie as Dr. House on “House, MD” - yes, the show actually has an "MD" in the title) or super boring (like Ioan Gruffudd as Mr. Fantastic (irony much?) in FANTASTIC FOUR.  I guess Aaron is one of the super boring ones.

I do disagree with you, though, that they gave him no identity.  I mean, didn’t you see all the clichés they put in place to ensure that we as an audience know who he is?  He can’t talk to girls, he hangs out with geeks, he’s horny, he’s into superheroes, he likes boobs… why, he’s me!  He’s all of us!  He’s everyman!

Oh wait… you were right.  He has no identity.  Throwing a bunch of old chestnuts together does not a fresh summer salad make.  Wow, that metaphor was horrible.  But you know what I mean, right?

BRIAN: You want me to make you a salad?  And you don’t like chestnuts.  We’re saying the same thing. 

And I’m fine with making Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass a pastiche of every geeky characteristic in the book.  In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of that with the superhero identity.  Since Dave is an avid comic book reader, it may have been fun to see Kick-Ass as a sloppy mash-up of all his favorite superheroes, e.g. he has the gadgets of Batman, the flight of Superman, the ability to climb walls, etc., and then find an identity all his own as those superpowers don’t pan out since they’re not organic to who he is in real life.  And that’s the key.  Superpowers are always an extension of who the non-superhero is.  And since Dave is such a boring character, I don’t see what that superpower could really be. 

As with any superhero, the question is why.  What drives the character?  What compels Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker to put on a silly outfit and risk their life fighting crime?  In the case of Kick-Ass, it’s the fantasy element.  That’s a cool concept because I’m sure many in the audience identify with that.  But they don’t do enough with that.  Dave Lizewski should be a mix of the fat Star Wars lightsaber video kid, the Columbine killers, and a hardcore Batman worshipper.  We don’t get the humor of the Star Wars kid (well, I guess they tried…we see Dave practicing his moves in front of a mirror, but the joke falls flat).  We don’t get the dark detachment/escape from reality that the Columbine killers had – again, there are hints of that, but nothing too removed from what most kids fantasize about.  I mean, if Dave is the first to put on a costume and actually try to be a superhero, he needs to be far more weird and crazy than just your average teenager.  And we don’t even get that he consumes comic books the way some do – he should know every fact and tidbit and obscure trivia informing who he is, but they barely even talk about comic books in the movie. 

GOLAN: You’re dead right.  The problem is that the clichés they did go with were not the ones that truly defined him as a fanboy with a rich fantasy life – simply as a geeky teenager.  For example, the Atomic Comics hangout seemed like a place where everyone went, not just comic book geekazoids.  Even his love interest admits that she doesn’t read comics, doesn’t like superheroes, but still goes there for their tasty beverages.

Honestly, I would have liked to have seen Dave really enjoying himself at the beginning of the Kick-Ass process, before he realizes that consequences are real.  And I mean enjoying himself.  As in, smiling crazy, hardly able to contain his sheer fanboy giggling in between blows as he swings his batons around wildly with utter abandon and zero training.

If this character is meant to be a kid who worships superheroes to the point where he feels like he has to become one himself, then you are right… Kick-Ass (the character) should have been a cobbled together pastiche of all the best (or coolest) elements from existing comic book characters that eventually boils down to the heart of who Dave really is.  I mean, at least have him doing a ridiculous Christian Bale/Batman growly voice when he’s in costume as an homage to how audiences see their superheroes.  Because Dave is, at his core, meant to be one of those audience members, absorbing not the world of crime-fighting, but the world of make-believe.

Maybe I should put on tights and fight crime.  I think that idea is gold.  I’d be almost as adorable as Hit Girl, who I genuinely liked, especially in the doses we got her.  Thoughts?

BRIAN: Hit Girl was awesome.  If the movie was about how comics interact with real life and don’t exist in a vacuum, I like the idea of a character who essentially grew up in a comic book vacuum, completely sheltered from real people and real situations.  When she goes to school for the first time at the end of the movie, her response to the school bullies was perfect.  I want a movie all about her now!  Instead of a high school kid adjusting to new found superpowers, we get a superhero having to adjust to high school.  Awesome.  Someone write that shit!

It kind of creeps me out though that the actress is #1 on the IMDb STARmeter.  Let’s hope the villain in the next movie is a pedophile so we can see Hit Girl castrate him to the tune of “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” or some other yelly girl song.

GOLAN: To clarify – and I think we’re on the same page here – you want a movie about Hit Girl now, right?  Now that she’s done crime fighting and is trying to be a regular kid?  Not before – like an origin story, or a movie version of that comic book that her dad drew?  Because I agree – I’d rather see a movie about a superhero trying to be normal than a movie about a normal kid trying to be a superhero.

Years ago, I was trying to set up this project based on a manga series (and later an animated series) titled FULL METAL PANIC!, which was about this teenaged anti-terrorist special forces soldier superspy that is assigned to protect a high school girl by posing as a student himself.  The interesting thing to me about the main character was that the kid had been raised 100% in a military environment.  From the time he was crawling, he was being trained how to be a killing machine – how to sense and stop threats, how to control a dangerous situation, etc.  You would think, since he was able to master those difficult tasks, going undercover as a high schooler would be easy… but since he doesn’t know how to act his age, nor deal with other normal teenagers, nor handle peacefully the bullshit politics of high school, he ends up screwing things up left and right.  He constantly looks like a nutjob or a social reject as he solves his everyday teen problems with violence or general over-reactions.  When someone launches a spitball at him, he counters by essentially putting the kid into the hospital.  When he misses his stop on the schoolbus, he kicks out a window and leaps from the moving vehicle.  Things like that.  Yeah, I’d watch that.  I think Mandalay just optioned the property so maybe we’ll get to see this one someday.

What the hell was I talking about again?

Oh yeah, KICK-ASS.

Hit Girl was fun.  Really glad she wasn’t in more of the movie, though – too much is as bad as too little.  Too little sugar means you’re missing out – too much will rot your teeth.

I’m re-reading our review here and it makes it seem like we hated this movie.  I don’t think either of us flat-out hated it.  I rather liked certain elements (especially the Hit Girl stuff), and even found myself gasping with sheer exhilaration at times.  That being said, there were a lot of things I didn’t love.

As a huge Matthew Vaughn fan who was excited when he was the director that was supposed to bring THOR to the screen, I was disappointed in the poor direction of Kick-Ass’ fight scenes, which played like outtakes from BATMAN BEGINS or QUANTUM OF SOLACE.  His first full fight in the parking lot had so many cuts in close-up that, instead of displaying Kick-Ass’ ineptitude as a fighter, the scene made it look like he was more than holding his own, and even dominating sometimes.  I would have rather seen these fight sequences in a wide shot to really illustrate just how blundering and ham-fisted Dave really is.  Having had some fight training, I can say with some authority that people are taught how to anticipate punches and kicks by watching body language, but when someone has no clue how to fight and simply flails about willy-nilly while holding something as lethal as billy clubs, even a trained fighter might think twice because there’s no rhyme or reason to it.  That’s the Kick-Ass we should have seen – just happy to be there and full of random idiotic energy.  That’s how someone that has no training and no skill and no coordination wins a fight.  And since they stressed time and again throughout the flick how this was the real world and not a comic book world, I would have appreciated a fight sequence shot and cut in a way that made it realistic in that regard.

Last thing I’ll say, and then I’ll pass the baton back to you to wrap it up: I liked Nicholas Cage in this movie.  I thought he was just the right touch of crazy, just the right touch of Adam West and just the right touch of badass.  This is significant because I hate Nicholas Cage.  I think he and Joel Schumacher and Akiva Goldsman should form a production company called Crappy Films and make movies that inexplicably open at number one until the apocalypse brings sweet death to us all.  And I liked him!

So there you go.  Run with that ball through the end zone.

BRIAN: FULL METAL PANIC! sounds awesome.  But maybe because I’m picturing Justin Bieber in the lead role.  Um…touchdown? 

But no, I liked the movie when the main character wasn’t being too annoying.  And overall, the movie was well-directed.  Some of the fight scenes, like the one you mentioned, needed better staging, but the Hit Girl sequences were fucking awesome.  I like that this was a big-budget, mainstream passion project though.  You generally only see ungreenlightable, self-financed fare coming from the art house.  While I wouldn’t go so far as to call Vaughn an auteur just yet, there is plenty of personal stamp on the movie and it certainly didn’t feel like a hack sellout job.  It’s nice to see something made in the independent mode that has completely mainstream aspirations.  Actually, I’m rooting for the movie to do well if only to make fools out of the dumb, chicken-shit studio execs who balked at the swear words.  So keep independent cinema alive, support your local arthouse movie theater, and go see KICK-ASS!  It has a lot of swearing in it!  And it’s actually showing at the multi-plex if you didn’t realize I was joking! 


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