Friday, April 29, 2011

Film Friday: Kick Ass (2010)

Kick Ass is a comic book movie about a teenage superhero wannabe (Kick Ass). Through a series of misunderstandings, he makes himself a target of a drug kingpin, who is being hunted by a foul-mouthed eleven year old girl (Hit Girl) and her father (Big Daddy). The critics called this film “ultra-violent,” “an explosion in a bad taste factory,” “quasi-porn. . . except there’s absolutely no ‘quasi’ about it,” and Roger Ebert called the film “morally reprehensible.” But they’re wrong. What’s more, I enjoyed it. Surprised?

** spoiler alert **

1. The Criticisms Are Disingenuous

The critics level two general complaints, though both complaints are unfairly made. The first complaint is about the level of violence. To hear the critics tell it, this is one of the most violent films ever made. Yet, that's false. People do die, but not more than average for an action film. And more importantly, they don’t die graphically. In this film, people tend to die from single bullets or knife wounds and they drop to the ground. Their bodies don’t explode, their limbs aren’t ripped off, and no one gets hacked to pieces or decapitated. At no point does the director try to exploit gruesome deaths. Thus, while the film has a typically-high body count, it never feels particularly violent.

So why the complaints of ultra-violence? Knee-jerk liberalism. Let’s let Roger Ebert explain it: “when kids in the age range of this movie’s home video audience are shooting one another every day in America, that kind of stops being funny.” Wahhh. Grow up Roger. First, it’s a myth that “kids are shooting each other in the streets.” Secondly, this is fantasy. No eleven year old is running around fighting gangsters with knives, and no one uses a bazooka to kill anyone. To equate this with reality is truly stupid. Moreover, if truth be told, it’s not even the violence that upsets the critics, it’s the “failure” of the film to attack America for its violent ways. Indeed, many of the critics fault the film for failing to make a “social commentary” about America (which presumably would have made the violence cool again in their eyes). That’s what’s driving the violence complaints: pure politics.

The second complaint is that Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) is sexualized -- the word “porno” gets tossed around a lot. Now, I personally have mentioned this problem before with comic books: comic books have become highly sexualized and perverted. Comic book heroines run around in ultra-tight leather catsuits, bondage gear and hooker heels, with their super-enhanced breasts pouring out of their plunging tops. This is hardly an outfit conducive to crime fighting, but it sure excites the nerds’ domination fantasies. And that's the problem. I’m sure these critics ran to the theater with all kinds of dirty thoughts about what they would see, especially when they heard that the heroine was an eleven year old girl who uses both the f-word and the c-word. But the film didn’t match their expectations because the film sexualizes nothing. Hit Girl runs around in a lumpy costume that covers her entire body like a potato sack. She never tries to seduce anyone. No one tries to seduce her and there is no sexual relationship between her and anyone else. Indeed, the only sexual moment in the whole film is between Kick Ass (Aaron Johnson) and a girl who thinks he’s gay, and that was pretty funny. The only way to see this as a porno, would be to come to the film looking to see it that way, because nothing in the film suggests it. Hence, the critics’ outrage is nothing more than a hypocritical outburst aimed at projecting their own shame onto the film. . . “she made me want her officer.”

2. What Made This An Entertaining Film

Putting the critics aside, the question remains: is this a good movie? It’s not a great film, but it’s enjoyable. Why? For one thing, it’s fun. The characters are cleverly written as lovable losers. The story is fast paced and doesn’t beat you over the head with a message. And while the film isn’t as funny as it could have been, it still repeatedly pays off with great little moments. For example, as these are not “real” superheroes, their survival instincts kick in at the funniest moments when they suddenly realize “hey, I could get hurt.” And you get unexpected moments like when Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) jumps off a dumpster and says “ouch, my knees!”, which give the whole film a lighthearted and playful undertone, despite the surface seriousness with which the film is presented.

Secondly, despite having a very predictable plot with key plot-points that you know must be coming, what happens in between these plot points is surprisingly unpredictable. Indeed, individual scenes diverge quickly from what you expect, and that makes the film fresh and unpredictable. The film also avoids all of the clich├ęs one would normally expect, which is refreshing.

Further, this film does something unheard of in comic book movies: it presents a realistic and believable world. Now, I don’t mean it’s believable that an eleven year old girl could kill 5-6 grown men with little difficulty. But the fighting is done with realistic physics, i.e. there are no wirefights, and the heroes get beat up when they take on too many bad guys. There are no moments where a bazillion bullets fly past the heroes without hitting them, unless the heroes have ducked for cover. And there’s nothing inexplicable. That gives the film a genuineness that makes the film feel real despite the fantastic plot.

Finally, the film has a genuine heart. The actors are earnest about their roles, i.e. they aren’t jaded. The characters they play are motivated to help those they love or the world at large, i.e. they aren’t cynical. And it’s the kind of film where you know from the beginning that good will triumph no matter how idiotic the good guys get.

Is this a great film? No. But it's a fun ride that's worth taking.

23 comments:

Ed said...

Great review! I almost knew there had to be a political reason behind the criticism. When I saw it, I kept thinking, what's the big deal? There's no sex. The violence is tame by comparison to most films. Even her swearing is fairly rare.

I also thought the relationship between Hit Girl and her father was touching. When he shot her, I laughed so hard.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I think it was political. The undercurrent I get from all the reviews is that the film "failed" to make an anti-American social statement. And with other superheroes like Superman renouncing his American citizenship and Captain America giving up on America, I think it's become unacceptable to these people that Kick Ass didn't turn into some running commentary on the horrors of gun ownership in America.

It really was just a comic book film in that regard, and thus I think they were offended by the very things they would normally enjoy when they thought it was being used to promote liberal smugness.

(The conservative critics I've read are a different beast of course, and they are basically upset this wasn't Leave It To Beaver... as usual.)

I liked their relationship as well. It had a strange Wallace and Grommit quality to it. Of course, "child advocates" call that child abuse because he's "forced" her to become a killer. But that's totally reading into the film. It's just a film. She loves her dad. He always gave her a choice. And they are both comic book characters, you won't find nuanced moral debates in their natures. Not to mention, the film acknowledges repeatedly that she shouldn't be doing this. So I take that criticism as the typical whining, self-serving interest group crap too.

DUQ said...

Oops, sorry. Please delete that.

I'm sick of critics who can't separate their politics from films. I haven't seen this, but this is so common with guys like Ebert that they can't look beyond their own politics. It's ridiculous. Is his job to review movies or to preach his sickening leftist beliefs?

The Superman thing pisses me off to.

AndrewPrice said...

Deleted.

I agree DUQ. I think it's "reviewer malpractice" to offer a fake criticism of a film when your real objection is something you aren't disclosing or you are disclaiming. But leftists have never been too honest about their true beliefs.

Yeah, the Superman thing is infuriating. So much for truth, justice and the American way. Despicable. Of course, I take this as a poor reflection upon Obama. LOL!

rlaWTX said...

I wanted to see this BECAUSE of the criticism, but never made it to the movie...

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, Criticism often has that effect on people! :-)

I found the movie to be surprisingly entertaining and nothing like I expected from the criticisms. I've since gone back and looked at Big Hollywood and was surprised to find that most of their reviews really liked it as well. Some didn't, but most really liked it. I'm in between, I enjoyed it, but I wouldn't call it great -- still, it's very worth seeing.

It's on DVD now and should be television soon, so you might want to watch for it!

rlaWTX said...

sent an email but this might be quicker... the Commentarama link on this page doesn't go back to your site...

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks! I'll fix that in a second. I'm still fixing all the links and things.

rlaWTX said...

I'm not good at watching movies by myself. generally. I'm a BAD channel-hopper... but I'll look it up.

except for my present Jason Statham fixation...


Different subject - is netflix worth it?

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX,

On Netflix, good question. In general, Netflix is a really good deal. But it depends on how you watch television/films.

For example, I don't mind waiting a day or two for new discs to show up. But if you're an impulse shopper and you want to see something now or never, then it's not a great system because discs will arrive a day or two later that you may no longer want to see.

That said, they also offer a lot of films online by streaming video. I really like that and use it all the time. But they are also offering exactly the kinds of things I want to see. So for me, it's great. I also know family members who really love that feature.

But I also know people who prefer the Blockbuster system of being able to browse the aisles and take home and see exactly what they want at that moment.

So my answer is, "yes, but it depends."

(P.S. I'm a huge channel hopper too -- can't stand commercials or movies that turn predictable.)

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. I love Jason Statham!

Tennessee Jed said...

I actually own this one and it was a gas. Language is laugh out loud funny. While it is predictable, I think there are always a few different ways the plot can go, and they (up to a point) keep you guessing.

In some ways, the film reminds me of Team America World Police. Politically incorrect, irreverent, just a hair sophmoric. In other words, a mildly guilty pleasure. And any film that Ebert hates can't be all bad

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I actually thought it was very unpredictable. Sure, you know that certain big things would happen like Red Mist's betrayal and the eventual fight at the end, but almost every scene had some real surprises.

And I too laughed out loud at a lot of moments in the film. I thought Bid Daddy re-routing the Facebook page was hilarious and so was when he shot his daughter. And I LOVE the secret weapon at the end (which I won't mention here).

In terms of the language, I think the first scene was a little jarring to hear her use those words, but after that it either dropped off significantly or I just stopped noticing and it didn't bother me at all throughout the rest of the film.

And all in all, I really liked the characters. They were one of the better set of "teen angst" type characters I've seen in a long time -- with all the stupidity of teens and their silliest plans. And I thought the relationship between Hit Girl and her father was touching. And I even liked Red Mist, despite being a bad guy.

I think this was closer to what comic book movies are supposed to be than most of what gets released these days as comic book movies.

It's too bad that guys like Ebert let their politics blind them so much that they not only unfairly blast conservatives films, but that they even blast entirely neutral films for failing to be liberal enough.

Ed said...

Andrew, The child abuse idea is so stupid it's almost insulting. I'm sick of hearing that kind of crap from liberals.

I remember a couple of the BH people saying they thought this was a "conservative film." Would you go that far?

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I wouldn't go that far. I think the film is politically neutral with no real desire to support either side. I think many of the values it gives are conservatives value, but they are buried in enough stuff that liberals like too. All in all, it makes for a movie that gives you no sense of it's real political leanings -- which is how most movies should be.

Would you call it a conservative film?

rlaWTX said...

thanks for the netflix info... I always prefer to browsing from my house to going to a store! and snice right now my movies are chosen from Amazon, a little wait won't hurt...

and apparently I need to add this movie...

y'all have a great weekend!

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, You're welcome. :-)

Have a nice weekend!

Ed said...

No, I wouldn't say that. It feels apolitical. I guess I've just reached the point that any film that isn't openly liberals feels conservatives. I did see though that Lee Boden at BH thought this was the ultimate "libertarian film."

ScottDS said...

Re: BH, Nolte, Koslowski, and Leigh Scott (I believe that's his name) all raved about it, and yeah, Leigh referred to it as a "Libertarian masterpiece" or words to that effect. One commenter asked about the film's violence and profanity and Nolte said they really didn't cover that sort of thing (unless it suits their purposes). This commenter replied with something like, "Then you've lost."

Whatever. I loved it!

My friend recommended this film to me and he was hesitant about it, too. It's hard to explain but ever since being disappointed by Sin City and it's relentlessly bleak atmosphere, I've been leery of films like this. Needless to say, my friend was surpised by my reaction.

Plus when I heard Nic Cage was channeling Adam West, I knew I had to check it out. And unlike Sin City and it's ilk, this movie is fun!

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I saw that -- it's Leigh Scott, who is one of my favorite writers over there.

I hear that a lot that a film that isn't liberal feels like it must be conservative. I don't buy that, but I can see where it comes from. Call it "Abused Viewer Syndrome"!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, It is Leigh Scott.

I think one of the problems is that many people mistake "religious" with "conservative." They often overlap, but the two are not the same thing. Conservatism is a set of principles about how you structure the relationship between government and people. Religion is about the relationship between man and God and man and himself. But too many people like to lump all the things they like or believe together and assume it's all the same unified theory.

Nic Cage is awesome in this. I love the monotone way in which he delivers shocking lines, like the way he traced Kick Ass or why he shoots Hit Girl.... "gee honey, did that hurt." LOL!

I liked Sin City, but man is it bleak. My concern with this one wasn't so much the possible bleakness, but that they would go the other route and this would essentially be kiddie porn. Most comic book movies today are so overly sexualized that I figured they would go as far as they thought they could to turn Hit Girl into Hooker Girl. But they didn't, which was a really pleasant surprise.

Then I found the movie to be unpredictable, with likeable characters and some truly hilarious moments. . . and so I really like it.

tryanmax said...

That was a very enjoyable review. It took me right back to the movie in my mind and caused me to laugh out loud at the keyboard. Thanks.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks tryanmax! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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