Why That Kick-Ass Movie Is So Terrible and I Hate It So Much
Matthew Vaughn’s Kick Ass was a movie that fanboy culture held up (and in many cases still holds up) on some sort of pedestal. Fanboys here being the vocal types of adolescents who aren’t really aware of social graces and wear sweatpants to the movies– of which I specifically remember there being two such types at the screening I attended back in 2010. They can be a powerful force. They can be an absolutely obnoxious force when something doesn’t fit their often narrow sensibilies of how a piece of art should be presented. Sometimes they go completely batshit and upon seeing Kick-Ass again (and now a few times to really home in on my issues), I was reminded of this. I get the hype here. I bought into the early teaser stuff, such as the viral Youtube clip of the diner scene. I thought maybe we’re getting great deconstruction of comic book movies I had hoped Snyders’ The Watchmen would be (and we admittedly got with James Gunn’s disturbingly committed Super). But the finished product was an insult to intelligence and is not worthy of the vicious protectiveness that resulted in a war of words between fanboys and Roger Ebert when he gave the film his dreaded one star. The defenses of the film boiled down to basically that Ebert was just wrong, or he was too old and grumpy to get it. But 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. It upends our expectations by playing out with blunt logic and it was quite funny. Like any great opening scene, it sets the stage. This one sets us up for a comic book satire that takes everything we’ve seen before and shows the reality.
And the movie keeps it up long enough to be really upsetting when it hits the wall. We’re introduced to Dave Lizewski. He’s Peter Parker if he was a real person. There’s nothing remotely exceptional about him. No super powers, no excelling in science. He just likes comics and masterbation. He’s a teenager and he’s young and stupid. When he gets himself a wetsuit, a couple of nightsticks and the name Kick-Ass, it played logically. He trains a little and it looks appropriately ridiculous. He tries the old “jumping across rooftops” trope but chickens out at the last second. When he decides to step up and confront the local hoods who regularly jump him and his friends, true to form, the scene is comical in its bluntness. 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. Then he stumbles into the street and is hit by a car.
Eventually he gets out of the hospital and the aforementioned diner scene happens. Three guys are stomping the shit out 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 out of exasperation and the approaching sirens. It’s all staged with a wonderful, desperate, chaotic energy and looks kind of how you would expect this to look if you stumbled upon it on. And there would definitely be a kid videotaping it on his phone, and that clip would definitely be a huge hit on Youtube. But the best thing about this scene is how his actions, as well as his speech about how he’d rather die than be one of the bystanders watching while doing nothing, goes a long way towards painting him as heroic rather than disturbed and endears us to this reckless goofball. Good satire has to engage you somehow. I was now on board for this movie. And then, seemingly, a bunch of 14 year old boys got ahold of the script and threw out theme, plot, character development, tone, good sense, etc. in favor of things that are merely there to be “cool”.
Fanboys loved and still love Hit Girl and Big Daddy, but 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. The filmmakers certainly didn’t have any idea what to do with them. It’s almost as if they figured the characters are popular, so they’d better force them in the movie or fans will be pissed. Or maybe they figured, with enough creatively staged ultraviolence to distract you, you’ll say you’ve seen something edgy and you won’t think about it. In fact, defenders of the film would often say, “you’re thinking too much, don’t take it so seriously, it’s supposed to be fun” or worse, “it’s satire”. But that’s what satire does. It presents a story or theme through a somewhat mocking or comic prism so that you THINK differently about it. What does a foul mouthed, sociopathic, homicidal ten year old girl satirize in this case? And I’m not even saying that it can’t be satirical– but what is satirical about it here? What if, let’s say, the characters of Big Daddy and Hit Girl were a satire of Batman and Robin? This would work. After all, in the real world, Bruce Wayne would likely be the disturbed sociopath 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 bat tried to raise a child. In this case, Hit-Girl HAS to be a child you loose the impact of the satire. Not everyone would like the joke, but at least there’s an artistic reason. And no, that’s not what Vaughn did. He would have to acknowledge that a child like Hit-Girl– how she’s raised, how she behaves, is wrong on every level. This film treats everything she and Big Daddy do as badass and awesome; worthy of our admiration, even. A lot of studio heads who passed on this script because the murderous child angle made them uncomfortable and many suggested making her an older teenager but Vaughn and co. stuck to their guns. Those studio heads were right to pass. As far as the specific conception and design of this film they did nothing with the concept. There is NO reason for this character to be a child other than to be risky and controversial. It’s provoking a reaction for no reason.
It’s the introduction of these two characters into the main plot that completely undoes the film. From that point on, we ditch the whole idea of a comic book movie playing out with real consequences. Instead, now the filmmakers seem to think realism equals making everything over the top ultraviolent but the cartoonishness of said violence removes any real world impact. There’s no physical or emotional consequence when you’ve decided to focus on “creative kills” and worse, it all becomes derivative of any standard old, action movie. The whole thing becomes hopelessly confused about what it’s message is. When Hit Girl runs a spear through Rasul’s unarmed new girlfriend (yes, broken bottle vs. double bladed spear = unarmed)– as said girlfriend is running away and screaming in terror, was anyone else thinking that this is not only the very type of criminal behavior that Kick-Ass should find repugnant, but this woman very well could have been Kick-Ass’ beloved Katie just a few months prior?
Was anyone else insulted that the movie acknowledges that the film introduces the concept that Big Daddy is commiting child abuse on Hit Girl only to just brush it aside as if merely acknowledging it once is enough? In the scene in question, Big Daddy’s ex-partner on the police force confronts him about this. They argue, and the ex-partner storms off in a huff. And this is complete, lazy bullshit. Wouldn’t it have been more conceptually challenging, realistic, and more dramatically interesting if this officer of the law, upon finding Big Daddy’s lair and armed with knowledge that child abuse is being committed, attempted to arrest Big Daddy and take Hit Girl into protective custody?
But even though the filmmakers include this scene, they seem to be under the impression that Big Daddy is not in the wrong. There’s almost a respect and admiration for how this character is presented. Let’s be clear, this is a character who brainwashes his little girl into being an emotionless killer. At one point he slaps a bullet proof vest on her and shoots her in the fucking chest. And just to be clear, it’s not the depiction of such a thing that I object to. I enjoy a dark comedy as much as anyone. But if a character who would do such a thing is not the butt of the joke or somehow made to answer for that, you’re watching a severely confused film.
Did anyone else get the willies watching the main bad guy, a grown man, savagely beating Hit Girl, a ten year old child? Do you think the filmmakers ever thought about the power these kinds of images carry before they used them? Images like that cause strong reactions whether you like it or not and you have to deal with them in a responsible or at least intelligent way if you’re going to put them in your movie.
Did anyone else find the repercussions of that ending to be quite twisted? After all is said and done, 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 murdered a bunch of people with his jetpack mounted, miniguns (remember that whole real world comic…never mind). Worse yet, Big Daddy’s old partner has adopted Hit Girl and sees no issue with unleashing what should by all rights considering what she’s been through, a severely disturbed child (who has killed more people than most combat veterans) on a public school. In this day and age, with school shootings commonplace. The first thing she does is rip the throats out of those two kids who try to take her lunch money. The camera pans away but that’s the only logical outcome.
The film is rated R but it is clearly made for teenage boys. It introduces dark themes such as child abuse and treats them with all the maturity and understanding of a fart joke. Roger Ebert always tried to figure out what a movie is trying to do and then judge it on those merits. This was someone attempting to make a satire about how truly messed up our favorite comic book characters really are and ended up glorifying them for all the wrong reasons and needlessly bringing in story points they lacked the sophistication to honor intelligently. It was made for teenage boys but also feels like it was made BY teenage boys. That’s not a good thing.