Saturday, April 24, 2010

Kick-Ass: Anticipation and Reaction

I’m going to watch Kick-Ass tonight, a very exciting prospect given how while this movie seems to go over on people. Of course, a movie like Kick-Ass seems like it will be impossible to dislike, since it voluntarily dons a mantle of aggressively juvenile irony that preemptively rephrases any possible flaw as a completely and totally intentional joke. Anyway, I don’t want to wait to see Kick-Ass and talk about it later, since I doubt I’ll have anything unique to say about the movie, but it does get my thinking about a point I do want to make: I am sick of Superhero parodies.
No, that isn’t a judgment on Kick-Ass, more of a judgment on the Comic-Hero culture that spawned it. Ever since Alan Moore wrote Watchmen, the entire genre has been cannibalizing itself in a storm of self-parodies like Kick-Ass and semi-ironic hyper-seriousness in the tradition of Frank Miller’s vastly overrated The Dark Knight Returns.
In a way it’s hard to blame superhero fans for seeking out these parodies, since mainstream superhero stories are so heavily shackled into stiffly canonized stereotypes that they’re unbearably boring to all but the most dedicated fans who are just so happy to see Wolverine and the Green Lantern in the same comic wow what a superstar team-up! If I have to see Marvel’s characters go through the motions of gathering all the heroes together so that Iron Man and Spider-Man can bicker about leadership for the umpteen-billionth time they can at least shake things up by making all the characters suddenly be zombies.
Besides, it’s a humbling kind of fun to see things we love taken down a notch, and costumed heroes are a group ripe for parody. Besides, when the “darker and edgier” trends that became popular in the 80’s and 90’s and people started playing characters like Batman as angsty and serious they pretty much demanded that someone take the piss out of them…besides, Watchmen was great and its only natural people would take inspiration from it.
So I’ve gone into all the reasons why parodies are great, but these same reasons are what eventually sinks them: They’re too obvious! Did you notice that it’s ridiculous that a man would dress in tights and fight crime? Well congratulations, because so did everyone else, and they also beat you to writing a mediocre web-comic with bad comic timing about it. Making fun of the goofy contrivances of super-heroes is about as low as fruit can hang, and it is also missing the point. Of course costumed heroes are an unrealistic and ridiculous concept, nobody ever thought they weren’t. Making fun of them is sort of like going to a magic show and pointing out that there’s no way he really sawed a woman in half…you’re right, but we all knew that, we were trying to enjoy the craft of the experience, the skill that he could pull the illusion off well.
All this genre savvy is really starting to get boring. Nowadays you’re practically guaranteed that if a hero gets suspended over a lava pit it will be so he can quip about the gratuitous inefficiency of the trap. I think we’re far enough out of the dark and gritty age that its time for us to put away that idiotic “Evil Overlord List” meme that’s been squatting on the internet like a pretentious plague and for superhero stories to start playing it straight.


Okay, so I saw Kick-Ass, and I actually do want to talk about it. This includes spoilers, but not big spoilers.
I was wrong earlier, not about being sick of superhero parodies, no, I was wrong about Kick-Ass, it isn’t a parody of superhero movies, it is an outright rejection of superhero parodies and a glorious return to form.
Mark Millar’s original comic was a gritty and cynically realistic take on costumed heroes in which a teen nerd buys a suit and tries to be a comic hero, getting his ass kicked in predictable ways before eventually entangling himself in the over-his-head mob vendetta of the actual competent father-daughter team of Big Daddy and Hit Girl.
The film departs from the comic on two really key points. First, while in the comic Big Daddy folds under torture and admits that his vendetta back-story was a lie and that he was really a boring nerd who was abusively brainwashing his poor daughter as part of a selfish escapist fantasy, in the film Big Daddy’s back-story is entirely real, and he is unbending even unto his last moment of fiery torture, coming across in his final words as a loving-if-unconventional father who took extreme measures so that his daughter could be strong and avenge her mother even if he failed.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, while in the comic Kick-Ass confesses his love to his dream girl and gets rejected and gets his ass-kicked by her boyfriend, in the movie he wins her over and has wild sex behind a comic shop.
My impression, even without having read the comic book (I looked up the plot synopsis on wikipedia to see how the stories compared) was a movie that started out seeming to cynically mock the unrealistic cliché of a superhero story only for it to stand up, bloody and beaten, and scream “NO! SUPERHERO STORIES ARE NOT STUPID, THEY ARE AWESOME! I DON’T CARE IF IT’S UNREALISTIC, THIS IS THE STORY I WANT TO SEE!” The fact that it was almost a complete reversal of Millar’s mean-spirited jab at comic fans makes it feel all the more like a triumph.
Rereading my anticipatory comments, I feel like this movie somehow tapped into my psyche and gave me exactly what I wanted to see: a superhero movie that wasn’t ashamed to be what it was, and didn’t try to hide behind a paper-thin veil of cynical pretentiousness.
I don’t really think that I can put on a costume and take on muggers, and Kick-Ass hasn’t changed that, but, like Spiderman before it, it makes me believe that with confidence and tenacity even a geek can get the girl.
Oh, and as a side note, this film gleefully gives poignant new meaning to “Chekov’s gun”.


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At April 27, 2010 at 12:36 PM , Blogger Matt Kamm said...

I recall the point in Kick-Ass where I was worried that it was just going to be depression and cynicism all the way down, and then Hit-Girl showed up and killed like a dozen guys horribly. That was the point where I went "Hooray! It's going to be a superhero movie after all!"


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