Thursday, April 15, 2010

Kick Ass: Names Taken

I can’t really write up Kick Ass as a movie.

Not because of embargoes or because the movies not worth writing up, its just that my thoughts on it can be summed up relatively simply. Matthew Vaughn has created a groovy little ultra violent piece of pop art that is no doubt the freakiest, funniest, and pound for pound best action movie since Kill Bill Vol. 1. To say Vaughn has a keen eye for action would be an understatement. There’s stuff here that would make John Woo’s balls drop again. He has a skill for editing and staging that is damn near preternatural. Remember I was at the Austin premiere, where the entire audience spontaneously began TO CLAP ALONG WITH THE TEMP SCORE, in an expression of pure movie going joy that has to be one of my favorite moments of film going ever.

In it he employs a performance by Chloe Moretz that’s as iconic as it is problematic (we’ll get to that later), one by Mark Strong that shows why he’s the go to guy for villainy in Hollywood, one by Christopher Mintz Platz which at once invokes Mc Lovin and suggests he’s capable of much more and one by Aaron Johnson that suggests all the depth and feeling of a block of wood.

It also, should be noted, that it contains a Nic Cage performance that made me realize just how much I miss great Nic Cage performances. His Big Daddy, is as mad a performance as any in the "Church Of Latter Day Nicholas Crazy". But its mad in the way that his performance in Raising Arizona, Wild At Heart, and Moonstruck were mad, with your jaw dropped because you had no idea what was about to come next (Of course he talks like Adam West) not because you’re dreading it. His Big Daddy is a grieving monster. And damned if the way he says “Child” didn’t make me laugh Every. Damn. Time.

And trust me, I sympathize with the Roger Ebert’s of the world, when it comes to the qualms over the character of Hit Girl. I’m a pretty blasé person, but I have to admit that when I turned the page of Millar’s comic and saw the reveal of her character for the first time...

I literally couldn't believe what I was seeing. And while part of me feels as though anyone who is worrying over the implications of onscreen violence in a movie that climaxes with the hero strapping on a JET PACK is over thinking things. Another part of me can’t help but uneasily think that twenty years ago a killer little girl who didn’t even end up killing resulted in nearly half the film being cut out for its American Release. And ten years ago, the sight of a teenage Japanese girls killing their classmates was enough to turn a film into a something that approached an Urban Legend in the pre bit torrents era. Now we can watch a little girl eviscerate dozens of people in the comfort of the multiplex.

My point is, that Hit Girl is nothing less then a great Pop Art Icon of Shock Cinema; she belongs next to Divine, The Mother Creature In Dead Alive, Ninja Scroll, El Topo, and the chainsaw in Cesar Hernendaz’s head. This isn’t a problem in and of itself. After all as the record shows, I love shock cinema. The problem is, this isn’t shock cinema. This is mainstream. You don’t have to go to Chinatown to find it like you did with Battle Royale. You don’t have to momentarily wonder if your friends are fucking with you, like you did the first time you heard about Lone Wolf And Cub or The Killer. You don’t have to muscle your way past the pimps to get to forty second street. Or drive down Deliverance Alley to go see this in some God forsaken Drive In.. Hell you don't even need to go down to the local comic book store, itself a journey well outside the mainstream these days. Nope. This is playing at your friendly neighborhood multiplex. Right next to How To Train Your Dragon.

And that’s what gives me pause. Not that Hit Girl is. But that she is going down without so much of a burp of indegestion. There’s a part of me that despite the awesome self financed, fuck the studio way this film got made, hopes that it flops. And flops hard. Because where does shock cinema go when it no longer shocks? The question leaves me uneasy.

So, now that I've destroyed the claim in the first sentence with eight hundred additional words. From what I intended to be a two hundred word intro, lets get down to what I think is really interesting about Kick Ass, and which in all the brew haha I’ve hardly heard mentioned at all.

(Huge Ass Spoilers Follow)

I’m sure you’ve heard by now how faithful Kick Ass is, to the comic. And how it was developed at the same time, and how it would make the meticulous OCD panel recreations of Watchmen look about as faithful as The Bat Credit Card multiplied by The Emo Spidey Dance?

Well here’s the thing. Kick Ass isn’t faithful. Like at all.

Oh it follows the broad beats. But It changes its story in fundamental ways at nearly every single turn.

Now here’s the devil of it. Every change save one (which by far has the least baring on the actual story) is a change to a more conventional mode of storytelling. And every single one of these changes makes the story more satisfying. Vaughn painstakingly changes Millars zags to zigs in a way that is nearly pathological. He embraces cliché as heartily as Millar subverts it.

And you know what? It works better.

For anyone who is interested, I suggest getting your hands on some copies of Kick Ass. Not so you can bitch and moan about what got changed, but because I honestly believe that you can use these two pieces of material as a litmus test for what you really want out of storytelling.

To use the most obvious example (And seriously leave now) is with Big Daddy and Hit Girl. A late period twist in the comic reveals that Big Daddy is completely fucking insane. Even insaner then you’d expect a man who dresses up in a costume and trains his daughter to kill would be. The entire back story he concocts about being a cop, and being set up by drug lords is a lie. He just kidnapped his daughter and turned her into a killing machine because he got bored.

Kind of spoils the fun. Don’t it?

Vaughn’s film bothers with no such grey area. Red Mist is no longer a spoiled sociopath who masturbates while the hero is tortured. He’s a friendly misunderstood nerd who’s somewhat tragic. The heroes’ object of lust is not disgusted by his deception, nor does she send him a picture of herself performing oral sex on his rival. No, she falls straight into his arms. Etcetera, Etcetera Etcetera.

Because say what you will about Mark Millar, but he’s not a coward. When he says he’s going to fuck with the conventions of the superhero orgin story, he means it. Matthew Vaughn not so much. That’s not to say that Vaughn isn’t a skilled filmmaker. Indeed, I’ve enjoyed, even admired to one degree or another, all of his films. Its just when you take thirty million dollars of friend’s money, subverting the narrative past the breaking point, is not first on your to do list. And like I said, I might think was Millar wrote is more interesting, but I’m damn sure what Vaughn made was more enjoyable.

But at the end of the day that choice is up to you. Do you want something that really pushes the envelope? Or safely approximates it? I don’t think there’s an inherent amount of shame in either choice. I just acknowledge that a question is posed.


Franco Macabro said...

Now Im ultra pumped to see this one tonite! I think I wont find a more complete review than this one, tnanks!

The Dirty Mac said...

Two homos making a mess...

the jaded viewer said...

Ebert doesn't get it. Your dead on. Hit Girl will be a pop icon of girls kicking ass...sorta like Buffy but for tweens.

I loved the movie when I saw it at the NYC premiere.

In this day and age were worried about tweeny girls comic book violencing bad guys and spewing profanity?

It's a fun movie and should be taken as such.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ FC Thanks alot. I'll be eager to hear what you think.

@ Mac: Well said.

@ The Jaded Viewer: Yeah, I do believe Ebert is taking the violence too seriously. But I can't say he doesn't have a point. I think when you have a child do something on film, you take a responsibility that you don't if its a teenager or an adult.

You expect things to at least have some kind of weight. Kick Ass doesn't even pay lip service to that expectation.

Unknown said...

Hey, I thought your comment (on avclub) as excerpted from this essay was well-written & thought out more impressively than most reviews. So, I followed your link, and I just want to say, thanks. So, Thanks!
You did a good job.
I want to see the movie, and read the rest of your piece.

Bryce Wilson said...

Thanks Permazorch. Hope you stick around.