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Why I Hate the Movie Kick-Ass

Fanboys can be a powerful force. Just ask the makers of Iron Man. Matthew Vaughn’s Kick Ass is a movie that fanboy culture has put on a pedestal, thus proving that sometimes fanboys can go a little batshit. Upon seeing Kick-Ass again, I was reminded of this. I get the initial hype, I guess. The early teasey stuff looked promising. When I saw the viral Youtube clip of the diner scene, I thought we might be getting the deconstruction of comic book movies I had hoped The Watchmen would be. But come on, Fanboys! The finished product insulted your intelligence and is not worthy of the vicious protectiveness. And it got catty. For those who don't know, a war of words broke out between fanboys and Roger Ebert when he gave the film a one star review. Kick-Ass defenders were adament his opinion was just wrong, or he was too old and grumpy to get it. But I think he DID get it. He realized there was nothing to get because this movie doesn’t know what the hell it’s saying.

Let’s look at the good first, because this movie begins with promise. Kick-Ass starts off with a scene we’ve seen countless times in every Batman, Spider-Man and everything in between. A man stands a top a skyscraper in a crazy outfit. He spreads his arms, high tech wings fan out and he jumps off, soaring towards the city and an adoring, fascinated crowd below. But then he simply pancakes a parked cab. And it’s funny. It upsets our expectations by playing out with blunt logic. It's great satire. Here's everything you've seen before and here's what would really happen.

Then we’re introduced to Dave Lizewski. He’s Peter Parker if he were a real person. There’s nothing remotely exceptional about him, no super powers, no excelling in science. He just likes comics and masterbation like any healthy teenager. When he gets himself a wetsuit, a couple of nightsticks and adopts the name Kick-Ass, it felt believable and struck the right level of humor. He trains a little and it looks appropriately ridiculous. There's even the ubiquitous "jumping across rooftops" sequence but again, it plays out how it logically should and he just chickens out at the last minute because no one in their right mind jumps across rooftops. When he decides to step up and confront the local hoods who regularly jump him and his friends, I was wincing because if this movie was going to stick to it’s guns, this was going to be ugly. The scene plays out with the same comical bluntness as the opening scene. The fight is over before it begins as he’s immediately stabbed in the gut and the thugs leave him bleeding and dazed on the pavement. He then stumbles into the street and is hit by a car just to add more injury to injury.

Eventually he gets out of the hospital and the aforementioned diner scene happens. This is the point where the movie settles into something that could really go somewhere. Three guys are stomping one guy in front of a diner full of people. Kick-Ass decides it’s his purpose to intervene. This is the real world and Kick-Ass hasn’t suddenly learned Kung-Fu so he mostly gets stomped along with the victim. He seldom, if ever, gets the better of any of them. He keeps going on sheer determination to protect the man getting stomped. The thugs eventually give up only out of exasperation and approaching sirens. It's all staged with a desperate, chaotic energy and looks pretty much how you would expect something like this to look if you stumbled upon it in your own life. There would definitely be a kid videotaping it on his phone, and that clip would definitely be a huge hit on Youtube (and, while you don't actually see it, someone would definitely thumb it down because someone always does). This scene crystalizes everything that we've been leading up to. If a real kid decided to be a superhero, this is a pretty close rendition of that reality. When he makes his speech to the bystanders in the diner about how he’d rather die than be one of them watching while doing nothing, I admit, it got me. It does a good job painting him as heroic rather than disturbed. We get in his corner. This is turning into some good, engaging satire of a tired genre. And then the filmmakers decided that success is overrated.

The breakout, fan favorite characters from this mess are Hit Girl and Big Daddy. And this is ironic because they represent everything that makes it a mess. They are among the most confused characterizations I’ve ever seen. I’m not really familiar with the graphic novel source material so I don’t know what purpose these characters served there. I just know the filmmakers appeared to have no idea what to do with them. It’s as if they figured that since these characters are so popular with the comic's fanbase, they'd better find a way to force them into the movie or risk pissing people off. Maybe they even figured, with enough creatively staged ultraviolence to distract you, you’ll say you’ve seen something edgy and you won’t think about how they just don't work. And that's exactly what I've heard a lot of the film's defenders say in the beginning, "you’re thinking too much, don't take it so seriously, it's supposed to be fun", "it’s satire". Okay, but that’s what satire does! It presents a story or theme through a somewhat mocking prism so that you THINK differently about it.

What does a foul mouthed, sociopathic, homicidal ten year old girl and her psychologically abusive father satirize here? I’m not even saying that that can’t be satirical. What if, let’s say, the characters of Big Daddy and Hit Girl were a satire of Batman and Robin? After all, in our world, Bruce Wayne would likely be the disturbed psychopath that Nic Cage plays here. Hit Girl could be a darkly comic result of what would really happen if a disturbed vigilante who dresses like a bat tried to raise a child. In this case, if Hit-Girl WASN’T a child you loose the impact of the satire. Not everyone would like the joke, but at least there is a joke and an artistic reason for doing it.

And no, that’s not what Vaughn did. He would have to acknowledge that a father/daughter relationship like the one depicted is ALL KINDS OF WRONG. This film treats everything Hit-Girl and Big Daddy do as badass and awesome; worthy of our admiration, even. Let's look at what we're being asked to admire. We have a man consumed by revenge, obsessed with killing criminals. He desires no other purpose. He's completely denied his little girl of a normal childhood. She's too young to think for herself and trusting her father to steer her on the right path. Instead, he's completely indoctrinated her into his obsessive revenge ideology, brainwashing her into becoming his accomplice. He's turned her into an unthinking killing machine who's arguably more cold-blooded then he is. This is child abuse. It's also the kind of thing terrorists do in third world countries. And I wouldn't have even minded if they decided to explore that angle but that would require balls that this movie lacks.

If you say that I'm reading way too much into a silly comic book movie, I would say firstly, it wasn't a silly comic book movie up until this point. It was actually a smart satire. Secondly, if we insist it's a silly comic book movie, the characters of Big Daddy and Hit Girl introduce concepts and themes that have no place even being near this thing. They're being used to provoke a reaction for the sake of provoking a reaction.

Once these two are crowbarred into the precedings it breaks the film and there's no attempt to repair the damage. Because the filmmakers have no intention of exploring any of the dark themes that come with depicting a homicidal father/child team, the characters have to be treated as pure fantasy. And so we ditch the whole idea of a comic book movie playing out with real consequences, the very thing that set this film apart in the opening act. Instead the filmmakers seem to think that by making everything ultraviolent, that will be all the realism you need because the world is a violent place, dammit! But that's not realism because violence comes with physical and emotional consequences. The satirical possiblilties in depicting those consequences in the context of a comic book action movie are endless-- something that the first half of Kick-Ass seemed to understand. But we stay clear of that. The whole thing becomes hopelessly confused about what it's message is and scenes start flying in the face of logic.

For example, when Hit Girl runs a spear through Rasul’s terrified and unarmed new girlfriend (yes, broken bottle vs. double bladed spear = unarmed) as said girlfriend is running away and screaming, was anyone else thinking that this is the very type of criminal behavior that Kick-Ass should find repugnant? Not only that, but this woman very well could have been Kick-Ass’ beloved Katie had Hit Girl decided to show up just a few months prior.

Then there's a moment when the first half of Kick-Ass is seemingly trying to surface in the second half. The scene has Big Daddy's old partner finding his lair. He basically confronts Big Daddy about Hit Girl's treatment and they get in a little shouting match about it. Why is this scene included? It seems designed to acknowledge that there are in fact darker themes at play in the Big Daddy/Hit Girl relationship. But it's lazy, half-assed and complete bullshit. Let's break down what two men are having a little shouting match over. Big Daddy's old partner is still a cop. He's aware that there are bloodbaths being left all over the city and that the perpetrator of those bloodbaths is a ten year old girl that he knows and cares about. And he goes to have a calm, reasoned discussion with that girl's father and it gets a little heated...Are you fucking kidding me? In what reality is this a possibility? How this would really go down, and how the first half of Kick-Ass might handle it, is thusly: Ex-partner shows up with the cavalry and pistol-whips Big Daddy until he's dead. Then he takes Hit Girl into protective custody where she undergoes ridiculous amounts of therapy in a psychiatric ward for the next decade or so. It's what ANY POLICE OFFICER, ex-partner or not would do. Hell, it's what any responsible adult would do. It's certainly more interesting story wise and it also has the potential to be extremely funny because it upsets your expectations.

But the filmmakers seem to have too much respect and admiration for the character of Big Daddy to make him the butt of a joke. That's too much respect and admiration for a character who's guilty of extreme psychological child abuse. Oh, and physical child when he shoots Hit-Girl in the fucking chest! Yeah, she had a bullet proof vest on. If that makes it alright in your book, get yourself locked up in a psyche ward and make sure they keep you there because you're not right. And just to be clear, I enjoy a dark comedy as much as anyone. Even THAT scene, the bullet-proof vest scene, could be funny in the right movie. But you have to acknowledge that doing that sort of thing is fucked up and the character doing such a thing has to be the butt of the joke. Otherwise, what exactly is the punchline?

By the time all is said and done and we've seen such things as a grown man beating the living shit out of a child without any sort of awareness that images like that have a power that this film is not equipped to deal with, things have flown so far off the rails that the rails seem to have never existed. How about the twisted repercussions of that ending? Dave goes back to school as a newly confident and better person; not as a teenage boy who was beaten within an inch of his life while a man was burned alive right next to him and not as someone who violently massacred a bunch of people with his jetpack mounted, miniguns (we're obviously not making any attempt at realism anymore). Worse yet, Big Daddy’s ex-partner has adopted Hit Girl and sees no issue with unleashing a child who has killed more people than most combat veterans on a public school. Based on everything we've learned about her character the only outcome of that scene where the two kids try to take her lunch money is her ripping their throats out and leaving them bleeding out on the pavement.

I’m thinking too much about this? I didn't make Vaughn and Co. introduce themes into a film that they were unprepared to explore. And I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt that they were at least aware of the presence of such themes, being professional filmmakers. After studios left and right passed on the project due to their insistence that Hit Girl had to be a child, they'd have to be really thick not to be aware. But the studios were right. If the movie Vaughn and Co. were pitching was the movie they made, they had no compelling reason for Hit Girl to be a child. They did absolutely nothing with that idea to warrant risking the controversy. And that's the saddest part. Someone could have made a really brilliant satire here by shining a light on how truly messed up our favorite comic book characters really are. You could even do this while making an exciting action film. But in the end Vaughn steered a smart, witty and original film into a completely formulaic, comic book fantasy-- except with lots of violence, swearing.

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