The UnPopular Opinion: Kick-Ass
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
There are plenty of violent and/or ultraviolent and/or over-the-top action movies that I enjoy the shite out of. ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO. SHOOT 'EM UP. CRANK. SUKIYAKI WESTERN: DJANGO. And then there's KICK-ASS, a movie I so want to love but don't. Far from it, in fact. I was hit by the hype train pretty hard, and after an initial viewing which left me confused and bewildered I became convinced that the disconnect I felt was merely due to said hype train. But a second viewing has made me realize that I was not, in fact, merely overhyped, and I do, in fact, really really not like this movie.
One thing I'll say right off is that KICK-ASS is very well made. I happily admit that. The camera work is damn smooth, the colors pop, and the soundtrack kind of, well, kicks ass. I won't deny that co-writer/director Matthew Vaughn succeeded in crafting what is an altogether slick piece of filmmaking. But that's also about all it is. KICK-ASS is a case of complete style over substance that has about as much resonance as a pebble dropped into a puddle of paint.
Let's start with the violence and work backwards, because it's easily the point of the most contention surrounding KICK-ASS. Look, I don’t mind violence, or even over the top violence – but vicious violence without place, relevance, or necessity? That I do mind. By the time we reach the end of the orgy of glorified violence that is the movie's last act, whatever point the movie may/could have had has been ravaged beyond repair. Or not even whatever point the movie could have had (as not every action movie needs a "message" or "point") - whatever humanity and catharsis the movie could have had has been so mangled as to be unrecognizable. But here's where KICK-ASS also achieves something interesting: by the end of the movie I’m too worn out from watching to care about anything, be it about the characters, the action, the relevance of a particular event/moment, or my personal opinions about the movie. KICK-ASS is such an assault on the senses that I really am actually physically drained from just watching the damn thing.
While on the subject of violence, let's talk about Hit Girl. Because she is a very violent chick indeed. See, my question about the entire character of Hit Girl comes down to this: I missed the part where Big Daddy's decision to train his daughter to be a killing machine without morals was shown to be anything more than the violently-damaging act of a grieving crazy person. We know he's obsessive because of the way he has pursued D'Amico all these years, and we're given a fair amount of reason why a capable and rationale man would be driven to seek justice for the wrongs done upon him. But he trains his daughter to be what is basically a psychopathic killer... why?
And yes, it does matter why if the director wants me to give a shit about what happens to either of them. Otherwise Hit Girl is a robot and Big Daddy is an insane person who knowingly destroyed any chance for his daughter to ever be a functional human being. Hit Girl can, amongst other things, crush a guy in a car compactor and then call him a douche. No moral hang up in the least. It doesn't matter how bad of a guy he was - Hit Girl never once has a qualm about her actions. Big Daddy doesn't care either. So how am I supposed to care about them when the movie tries to make me? All the two of them are is a pair of killers stuffed with an artificial motivation to justify their senseless slaughter of the bad guys.
Speaking of caring about the characters in this movie, let's move on to the one I care about least. That person is, of course, the main character of Dave Lizewski.
1) Dave is honestly a complete dumbass to try and be a full fledged superhero right off the bat. He is in no way physically equipped to do the job he is trying to do. All of the suffering he undergoes throughout the whole movie is due to his general dumbassery, and the fact that he is utterly incapable of anything beyond flailing wildly and taking a couple more punches than the next guy. By the time it comes to assault D’Amico’s place, we only care about Dave because he’s in over his head, which is also completely do to his own stupidity to begin with. Why would I care about what happens to a dumbass?
2) To be honest, I don't even know why I should care at all about Dave. "He's a completely normal guy!" So what?! That's exactly why I don't care about him. At one point Dave says “The comic books had it wrong. It didn’t take a trauma, or cosmic rays, or a power ring to make a superhero. Just the perfect combination of optimism and naivety.” He's right in that you don't need those things to be a hero or not. But he's wrong in the sense that those are what make me give a f*ck about superheroes. Bruce Wayne's loss of his parents and subsequent obsession, Peter Parker having to grow up and deal with Uncle Ben's death as well as his newfound powers, Matt Murdock continuously pursuing the ideal of justice despite the fact that he's blind - these are all extenuating circumstances that inspire me to invest my attention and concern in the life of a character. Normal is fine, but it also is not nearly enough. Any good story, and by proxy any good character, has something more that is inescapably engaging.
3) Dave also says: “Suddenly, I understood why superheroes only existed in comic books. I got why people didn’t risk their lives for strangers. Because for the first time in my life, I had something worth living for, something to lose.” This demonstrates he has no idea what being a hero is about, i.e. something more. Something beyond yourself, an uncompromisable principle that drives what you do. What about police, or soldiers, or firefighters? Do they not have something to lose too? And yet they brave the danger for the sake of that something more. Dave has knowledge of what he can do to change things, and that knowledge is power. But he lacks any sense of responsibility, and so gives me yet another reason to not care about him.
I've been going on so much about whether I care about these characters or not because the movie seems to try so hard to make me care. I can tell it wants me to give a shit - but then its actions speak much louder than its words, and I don't. Which leads into my final point:
See, to my mind, ultimately every frustration that I have with KICK-ASS boils down to a single question. It is a question that I have never seen answered, and so a dual-identity is created over the course of the movie that in turn makes for a very confusing viewing experience.
Is KICK-ASS shooting to be wish fulfillment or realism? Is it the ultimate in mindless fun and raucous escapism, or is it an exploration of what happens when a real person tries to become a superhero? To me the movie oscillates between these two options, and so my attention and energy is split and I don't know if my frustrations are well founded or not. The extremely energized violence and thinner-even-than-paper characters could have a place in an over-the-top action extravaganza, but when the movie tries to address the realistic concerns of the characters and the real world consequences of the choices they make? The violence that once made sense all of a sudden feels extraordinarily out of place. Lacking an identity, KICK-ASS a movie that ends up being a vicious puff of meaningless air that could have been so much more, and instead settles for being ever so much less.
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