Superhero movie, yes. Superhero satire, no. ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Superhero movie, yes. Superhero satire, no.

My rating:

Finally we're getting some proper comicbook superhero movies again. For whatever reason, there was only one last year, and a pretty disappointing one at that. (Surrogates and Whiteout barely count - I only just remembered to put the "Comicbook adaptation" label on those posts.) But Kick-Ass marks the first real comicbook movie in a year that'll also bring us Iron Man 2, Jonah Hex, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and The Green Hornet. Speaking as a comicbook fan - this, to me, is all good.

And here's a movie that comicbook fans oughta... like.

Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is an average high-school teenager - who one day decides to become a superhero. With his homemade costume and weapons and adopting the moniker Kick-Ass, his first act of superheroism ends in an extended stay in the hospital - but his second attempt makes him a nationwide craze. It isn't long, however, before he meets others in the superhero game - a father-and-11-year-old-daughter team who call themselves Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz). Their mission is to destroy drug boss Frank D'Amico's (Mark Strong) operation, and they're very good at it; enough to convince D'Amico that he needs to take down these "superheroes" once and for all. And his secret weapon is another superhero called Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who happens to be his own son.

Every positive review of this movie is gonna have a headline along the lines of "Yes, It Really Does!" or "Exactly What Its Title Says!" Which of course means that my headline has to be more original - but then again, Kick-Ass really does kick ass. Its action scenes are exhilaratingly over-the-top, its characters - Big Daddy and Hit-Girl in particular - are appealing, its irreverence and audacity is hilarious, and it ends on a satisfyingly triumphant note for the protagonist. It's a lot of gleefully, unapologetically violent, un-politically correct fun.

The thing is, a fun comicbook action movie is all it is; as a satire or parody of the genre, it doesn't quite cut it. It's not smart enough or audacious enough. It starts out well, up to the point of Dave's first foray as Kick-Ass - which gets him knifed in the gut and run over by a car - but from then on, it turns into your basic teenage geek wish-fulfillment fantasy. He even gets the girl - his high-school crush named Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca) - and his only obstacle is the sitcom-level gag of her mistaking him for being gay. We've seen this before in the Spider-Man films - comicbook movies that didn't pretend to satirise or parody superheroes. You only need to read the original comic by Mark Millar to see how much darker it could've been, and how much the film tones it down.

Which isn't a bad thing, in and of itself. I haven't read the comic, but that Wikipedia summary alone makes it sound pretty damn cynical and nihilistic. I ain't down with nihilism. I like my heroes, super or otherwise, heroic, thanks. I liked that the end of the movie justifies Dave's decision to become Kick-Ass, and I also liked that the ending abandoned any pretense of being "realistic" and embraced its roots as a comicbook movie, in the most fantastical sense of the word. But it didn't have to be a brutal deconstruction of superheroes a la Watchmen; it seemed like it was aiming for the simultaneous-parody-and-homage tone that movies like Galaxy Quest, Hot Fuzz and Zombieland pulled off so well. This one doesn't.

What motivates these people to dress up in goofy costumes and fight crime? Big Daddy and Hit-Girl have your standard comicbook backstories of being wronged by the villain and wanting revenge. Red Mist does it to prove himself to his father. Dave does it out of no real reason - and even if the film admits that upfront, that's lousy characterization. Why does he do it again, after his first outing almost gets him killed? What does he really get out of it, considering his superheroic alter ego remains anonymous and his real-life self gets none of the fame and adoration that he presumably craves? (Again, Spider-Man explored this territory already, completely unironically.) Here's where some real depth could've made this one of the best superhero movies, instead of merely one of the better ones; here's where it could've really kicked ass.

At least it kicks ass on the surface, which is enough to make it enjoyable. The one cool new idea that it offers is, of course, Hit-Girl - brutal, foul-mouthed, supremely badass, and all of 11 years old. It is barrels of fun watching her pwn noobs, and Chloe Grace Moretz handles both the viciousness and the preteen sweetness of the character beautifully. Nicolas Cage, a lifelong comics fan, finally gets a comicbook character role worthy of his talents (no, Ghost Rider wasn't it); I am unfamiliar with the Adam West Batman, but his impersonation of him as Big Daddy was plenty funny to me. And Aaron Johnson, despite the fact that his character is underdeveloped, manages to make Dave a likable and relatable guy, a guy every current and former teenage geek can see himself in.

So it's not a great movie then, but at least it's a pretty good one. And I find all the moral panic about it kinda amusing. Oh you silly Westerners and your sanctimonious reverence of the innocence of children, I totally called you out before. But I certainly won't go to any great lengths to defend it. If my review seems unduly harsh, that's because the hype surrounding it has been enormous, so much so that even a three-and-a-half-star movie is a disappointment. I'm a comicbook fan, and I was totally prepared to love this movie. I ended up merely liking it.

NEXT REVIEW: Semerah Cinta Stiletto
Expectations: so which Ahmad Idham is it gonna be - this one or this one?


Ken Wooi said...

i will watch it soon =D

sgold73 said...

I agree about the Nicholas Cage comment, this role fit him prefectly!

popcorn machines

Pet Shop Boys said...

very good eh? ok me gonna watch it today...

TMBF said...

Sigh... I said good, not very good.

profwacko said...

Love this movie. I like it more than Surrogates.
Its funny, brutal, gore, and i enjoy it. Mayb the brutality have been tone down a bit compared to its comic. Furthermore, they were scenes where we were the eyes of HIT GIRL. More like FPS game. I kinda like this version more compared to DOOM and TheGAmer..

chicnchomel said...

i am soooooo behind in movies...thank god for UNIFI...

Anonymous said...

Boring movie. not even close to Dark Knight..

it was like watching malay movie (the bad one)..

i give it 2/5