Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kick Ass

Saw "Kick Ass" on Friday night. I haven't been this disappointed by a movie I expected to be good since "Jurassic Park." The film is getting 75% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, which actually matches, roughly, how much of the movie I liked. But I think the 25% I disliked just did this movie in for me.

I'm going to put the blame for this disappointment squarely on my shoulders as I made the mistake of reading the source material a few weeks prior to the film's opening weekend. The source material, the first 8 issues of a comic series written by the current hotshit comic-book writer Mark Millar and penciled by John Romita Jr., is fantastic. It amped up my expectations for the film pretty high because it was already a pretty great screenplay and expertly "shot". The comic is exactly what the film's marketers said the movie would be: violent as hell, laugh out-loud hilarious and original. Well, as it turns out, the film's marketers were overstating their case a bit. "Kick Ass", directed by Matthew Vaughn and co-written by the comic's originator, Millar, is violent and there are some funny moments, but in the end this movie doesn't have the courage of its convictions.

"Kick Ass" follows teenager Dave Lizewski, a normal dorky kid who, like a lot of folks, defines himself by which movies, TV shows and comics he likes. And he, like his other dorky friends, is enduring the savage Darwinian landscape that is his high-crime outer-borough New York high-school. After the last in a series of routine muggings, Lizewski decides to answer the question he puts to his friends one day at their local hang-out -- "Why hasn't anyone tried to be a superhero?" -- by becoming one himself. His first run-in with criminals ends disastrously, but gives him powers of a sort -- the inability to feel pain, a skull outfitted with metal plates, and bones reinforced with steel rods. When a beating he gives a group of thugs (only slightly less vicious than the one he takes) is captured on a cell phone video and posted to YouTube, he becomes an overnight sensation -- kind of a hybrid of Tay Zonday and Capt. Sully: Kick-Ass is both absurd and heroic. But Kick-Ass's exploits also capture the attention of some seriously bad guys, who find ways to make his life hell, and trust me, it gets hellish.

"Kick Ass," the way Mark Millar orginally conceived the idea in the comic, is all about the idea of matching up the fantasy of superheroing against the reality of modern life. To do this, he mashes-up the Spider-Man and Batman mythologies and creates Kick-Ass. Kick-Ass is like Spider-Man because Lizewski is a teenage dork like Peter Parker, and Kick-Ass is like Batman because Lizewski is fighting crime armed with nothing more than his fists and non-lethal gadgetry.

In the comic, Millar has Lizewski beaten to a pulp and nearly killed in his very first crime-fighting attempt. The only way Lizewski has success in his later crime-stopping forays (and it is minimal) is because of the medical Weapon-X-ization he undergoes. In the end, Lizewski finds out that once the surface glamor of celebrity wears off, crime-fighting is a grisly, soul-killing, nightmarish enterprise, and not at all what the comics suggest it is. The comics are what they've always been: fantasy. Lizewski doesn't even get the girl (is, in fact, publicly humiliated by his version of MJ). Crime-fighting, in a word, sucks.

The makers of the film, however, only half-bought into the premise. The celebrity of being a superhero must be cool, but the reality of being a super-hero is ... also really cool? To me, that's a different story than the one that got me enthused, and not a very interesting one.

I won't exhaustively list the ways the comic improves on the movie (I'm already being annoyingly geeky as it is), but I think, overall, the things Vaughn and the writers excised from the comic all had the effect of cutting the heart out of what made the comic so refreshing. From the way they altered the relationship between Lizewski and his dream girl Katie, to the way they changed Big Daddy's back story (played by Nicholas Cage, making some interesting choices, as usual), the decisions seem to have been made with a mind to make "Kick Ass" a more standard superhero movie, to its detriment.

But then again, I'm not sure I can really fault the filmmakers for this impulse. "Watchmen," the last superhero-deconstructionist film released, was made with an overarching reverence for the source comic (with one glaring squidly exception), and its failure made all future comic-book adaptations vulnerable to being second-guessed by thoughtless studio execs for perpetuity. As soon as the 2nd weekend grosses for "Watchmen" came in, the fate of movies like "Kick Ass" was sealed. The almost-was-ness of "Kick Ass" was that earlier failure's first casualty.

A few other notes.

Aaron Johnson, who played Kick-Ass/ Dave Lizewski, was perfectly cast in this and does a great job. Conversely, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, (better known as McLovin') seemed miscast, and was never really believable as the son of a mafia don. His reading of the last line of the film was actually cringe-worthy.

The CG was, at times, very bad. One character who was set on fire looked as if he'd actually just conjured a ghost-fire in a seance. The moment this movie lost me completely can be described in one word, a piece of equipment I won't write here as it's a spoiler. But you'll know what I mean when you see it. And besides what the appearance of that bit of equipment told me about where the movie had decided to go thematically, it was also just badly done from an FX standpoint.

Given everything I've blabbed about above, the idea that I liked 75% of this movie doesn't seem to ring true, but I really was into this movie for a good while. Honest. I'm not even against alterations from quality source material for the good of a film, but when the scene between Kick-Ass and Katie Deauxma in her bedroom did a 180 from the comic and became, in essence, a dream sequence (I really thought the next cut would be to Dave in his own room, waking from a dream), the movie lost me and we never got together again. There was no reason to make that change other than fiscal reasons, and those rarely inform good creative decisions. (And given the sub-20 million box office in its opening weekend, maybe the studio guys should have let Vaughn and Millar hew closer to the original story which was, as I said before, camera ready from the get-go.)

Also: Why no "tunk" joke?! That would have frickin' killed!

Anyway, wish it had been a better film. Maybe I'm being too hard on it - it did a lot of stuff right. Maybe I just need to lay off the source material for film adaptations until after I see a movie. Or maybe I need to see fewer movies with a sister who says things in the middle of a movie like "It kinda got boring, didn't it?". I don't know.

(Just kiddin' S, you're great.)


Heaf said...

Watchmen was a failure? I didn't know. That's a shame, because I thought it was probably the best movie of that year.

And, I cannot say I disliked Kick-Ass. I, in fact, liked it a lot. I'm surprised you disliked so much of it, Nega-Crane. I didn't know what to expect, because I never read the comics. I guess if I was a fanboy and it was a huge departure from the source material, I would probably take issue, as well.

But being that I didn't know anything about the comics, I had a great time watching it on the big screen. I had a blast, and it's certainly one of my favorite movies I've seen recently.

Anonymous said...


JudgeHolden said...

"Watchmen" is a great movie, I'm saying the WB execs viewed it as a failure. Just look at the obscurity Zach Snyder's fallen into; poor guy took it on the chin for that one. I think they took "Watchmen"'s low box office returns as evidence that the "excesses" of comics have to be reined in when adapted for the movies. So, with that in mind, LionsGate made sure Kick-Ass had the comic's violence toned down and the dumb-fun levels turned way up. But I'm glad you liked it. I'm sure I'd have liked it better if that damn comic hadn't raised my expectations so high.

Heaf said...

Now I want to read that comic. :)

nathan said...

I agree with Heath that Watchman wasn't a failure. It was a bit long and kinda boring, but it was true as hell to the book.

I liked kick ass alot, but I was on my 8th anniversary date, had some drinks in me and hadn't yet read the graphic novel. It was candy but good candy. The fact that they had an 11 year old kicking the shit out of a room full of guys and it was totally believably done, won me over