Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kick-Ass

So I saw Kick-Ass, because I can identify with a geeky high school kid who wants to be cool, as, I am sure, many people can. Also, you have to respect a filmmaker and studio who name their movie "Kick-Ass." That takes a certain amount of chutzpah.

The buzz on this movie has been very good. I am pleased to report that the buzz is deserved. This movie does, in fact, kick ass. There are good movies. There are great movies. Then there are movies which change film. This movie will change film. It will be one of those movies which become part of the cultural consciousness.

There are many movies based on comic books, as this one is (the movie and comic book were developed in tandem). Most of them feature a male superhero. Occasionally there is a female superhero. Never before has there been a superhero who is an 11-year old girl. Kick-Ass is the name of the main character, a superhero created by a teenage boy out of nothing but his own hopes and dreams. And a cheesy wetsuit. Hit Girl is the name of the aforementioned 11-year old girl. Hit Girl is a much better superhero than Kick-Ass. Hit Girl can pretty much wipe the floor with Kick-Ass. Hit Girl, actually, can pretty much wipe the floor with just about anybody.

This is female empowerment unlike anything we've ever seen. She's the purple-haired daughter of Wonder Woman and Morpheus. Thelma and Louise, meet Wolverine. Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, call your agents - Men In Black just dropped a notch on the cool list. One thing that gives her an edge in the competition to be an unforgettable figure in the cinematic history of heroes with guns is that she is totally adorable. Sorry, Mr. Eastwood and Mr. Wayne, this is Gloria Steinem's revenge. And Princess Leia's.

But she's an adorable sociopath. She doesn't just take out the bad guys - she takes out a lot of bad guys. Questions have been raised, and will continue to be raised (and are being answered), about whether or not it is appropriate to have someone so young playing a role so violent. She also uses language the actress herself (Chloe Grace Moretz, an instant superstar) can't use in real life (she has said that if she did, she would be "grounded for life"). She isn't just violent and foulmouthed - she's also ruthless and coldblooded. But even when she is reloading her Glocks in midair - damn is that a cool shot - she's still somehow cute. The purple wig is a big help.

She's cute partially because she is just absurdly self-confident. We're talking James Bond-self-confident. Sean Connery James Bond-self-confident. You have a feeling that, if she met Darth Vader in a dark alley, she would take out her own light saber and do the Jedi a big favor.

Iggy Pop probably wasn't this tough at 11. And he's sure as hell never been this focused.

She's this way because she was trained to be a lethal assassin by her father, Big Daddy. Whoever thot up "Take Your Daughter To Work" never expected this. Nicholas Cage, who took his own name from a comic book (his real last name is Coppola; he is the nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, and changed his name to avoid any appearance of nepotism) plays Big Daddy. I am not a big Nicholas Cage fan, paticularly of late. But he's perfect here. Big Daddy has his own costume, strongly reminiscient of Batman, and that deep thirst for revenge so necessary for a great vigilante.

A great vigilante, of course, is nothing without a great villain, and Mark Strong is wonderful as the local godfather. He has a son with a Michael Corleone complex, interested in taking over the family business, despite being still in high school. Also present in this character are shades of James Franco in Spiderman.

But back to the title character. Kick-Ass, aka Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson, a Brit with a perfect American accent), does not have Hit Girl's collection of weapons or her years of martial arts training. He isn't even particularly strong. All he has for weapons are a taser and a couple of big sticks. What he does have - besides the obvious delusions of grandeur - is determination. And a high threshold for pain. Another thing he doesn't have - and which every superhero needs - is a girlfriend. This brings up an interesting issue with Hit Girl. She's cute, adorable, and funny - but she's 11. She's not beautiful or gorgeous, because those are adjectives that tend to be attached to females in our society who are at least past puberty. Lyndsy Fonesca, who was also John Cusack's girlfriend in Hot Tub Time Machine, supplies the sex appeal as Dave's friend Katie. Not girlfriend - she thinks he's gay. Tony Stark does not have that problem.

All of this would be meaningless, of course, if it were not a well-directed movie. It's not a well-directed movie. It is an extraordinarily well-directed movie. Just about everything, from the costumes to the cinematography, is stylized just enough to be interesting, but not so much as to be distracting. One reason Hit Girl's violent tendencies are so disturbing is that she goes way over the top, but the rest of the movie feels fairly grounded. It's a very realistic comic book movie. Even the 2 or 3 goombas who are fortunate enough to have some speaking lines before they get whacked don't feel like cliches.

On IMDb, this has a rating of 8.5 out of 10, which puts it at #166 out of the top 250. That would be the top 250 movies of all time. I completely agree with that. It may move up. 165 is Dog Day Afternoon. 167 is Gandhi.

I have my own answer to whether or not it's appropriate for an 11-year old girl to be responsible for a couple of dozen deaths. My answer, unequivocally, is yes. Because if that 11-year old girl can't take on a role involving lots of bullets and blood, then she won't have the opportunity to become an iconic badass on the scale of Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction (John Travolta was the epitome of cool in Pulp Fiction, but Jackson was the badass). And why shouldn't an 11-year old girl have an opportunity to become an iconic badass? There's a question that's never been asked before in the history of pop culture. Buffy was at least in high school, and it took her several seasons to reach icon status. Hit Girl makes Joan of Arc look like a slacker. That comparison hasn't been made too many times before.

What about preserving the innocence of children? Ah, it's a little too late for that. Harry Potter was 11 the first time he took on Voldemort. Wasting a room full of bad guys may send the wrong message to impressionable young minds about the efficacy of violence as a means of conflict resolution. Might be a little too late for that one, too. Problem-solving, let's remember, does wonders for self-esteem. Hit Girl - and Kick-Ass - solve a lot of very big problems.

Most superheroes have a sidekick. Trinity, let's be honest, is Neo's sidekick. Hit Girl is not Kick-Ass's sidekick. If anything, it's the other way around. She's not even Big Daddy's sidekick. Hit Girl ain't nobody's sidekick.

One of Yoda's great lines is "There is no try. There is do, or do not." Kick-Ass learns that lesson. Hit Girl was born knowing it.

6 comments:

Christina said...

Looks great, John! I definitely want to go see it!

Anonymous said...

Kick-Ass is awesome. I saw it twice over the weekend and I want to see it again!

Good column and breakdown of the movie.

Shanel said...

I just saw it a week ago... loved it:)

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