Marvel Movie Madness! Part 25: Kick-Ass

Kicking off Marvel imprint week.

by | July 1, 2011 | Comments

Enter Marvel Movie Madness, wherein Rotten Tomatoes watches all of the significant Marvel movies ever made. Full Marvel Movie Madness list here. Tune in! We give you our thoughts, and you give us yours.

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Part 25: Kick-Ass (2010, 76% @ 235 reviews)

Directed by Matthew Vaughn, starring Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Chloe Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

Alex: The question: Could America handle an ultra violent movie that glorified, and even slightly sexualized the actions of a 12-year-old femme fatale? Probably, but Matthew Vaughn never even gives us the chance. An R-rated comic book movie needs to hit and it needs to hit hard. Vaughn instead tries to soften the blow every chance he gets, overstylizing and resorting to tricks like plopping obvious pop songs over action scenes. Here’s a Joan Jett song just in case you wanted to be sick of it again! The movie can be appealingly bratty but that’s hardly a counter to Kick-Ass‘ lack of discipline: too many characters, too many meandering subplots, too many too-clever ideas it struggles to be in your face about.

Luke: Oh man, if I have to hear “Bad Reputation” lazily applied to another “girl kicking ass scene” I’m going to burn my vinyl. That song belongs to Freaks and Geeks — not Shrek, not this; period. That said, I actually found a lot to like about Kick-Ass — at least for the first half or so, when it was playing like a superhero Superbad. The idea that a horny, undersexed teenager decides to become a low-rent comic book avenger to raise his social status was kinda amusing, and I liked the banter between Aaron Johnson, Clark Duke and co. Also, Nicholas Cage channeling Adam West’s Batman and his offbeat, borderline creepy mentor relationship with Chloe Moretz’s Hit Girl was great, for a while anyway — and I love any movie that encourages a 12-year-old girl to drop c-bombs to the horror of queasy moral guardians. I think the problem I had with the movie is that it lost its way toward the end, falling back on pretty generic shoot-’em-up sequences and an uninteresting villain (at least until Red Mist comes into his own in the sequel, if there ever is one). Mathew Vaughn didn’t manage to juggle the tones of satire and action here; I think he’s better suited to straight violence, because his grasp of humor often deserts him (ahem, Stardust.) The actors — Cage, Johnson; especially Moretz, who’s killer — gave this the boost for me.

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Tim: Luke, feel free to call me one of those queasy moral guardians if you must, but my objection to Hit Girl is less rooted in prudishness than in my feeling that there’s really no character there — she’s a conceit, an idea, and a dicey one at that. Her dialogue sounds so written that it’s impossible to believe she’s a real person, even within the quasi-reality the movie portrays. I get that it’s “transgressive” and “shocking” to see a little girl swearing and killing people, but that doesn’t make it funny, and it sure doesn’t make it exciting. When she’s slaughtering a roomful of people while a punk version of The Banana Splits theme plays on the soundtrack, we know she’s not in any danger, which robs the scene of tension; worse, I think we’re supposed to be amused by the incongruity between the sunny tunes and the bloodshed we’re witnessing, but that’s been done before, and better — remember “Jesse’s Girl” in the drug-deal-gone-bad scene in Boogie Nights? Or take Kung Fu Hustle for example — that film has triple the body count as Kick Ass, but it also has real tension and big laughs, and there’s never a sense that it’s winking at the audience. It also goes all the way and establishes that it exists in a hyper-real, cartoony universe, while we’re never quite sure how seriously we’re supposed to be taking the world of Kick Ass.

I guess what I’m saying is that the film assumes a level of emotional detachment and cynical humor that it doesn’t even begin to earn. I wasn’t so much offended by the content of this film as I was by its attitude; it’s really sour. Take the scene in which Kick-Ass and Big Daddy are about to be executed on live TV: one of the teenage girls watching it looks away and presses herself against one of Kick-Ass’s friends’ shoulders, and he turns and gives the guy next to him a thumbs up — he’s about to score! It’s a cheap, lame gag, but one that explains a lot about this movie.

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Luke: Not at all, Tim. In fact, I tend to agree. Personally I didn’t think Hit-Girl was at all as transgressive as Vaughn and his writers thought she was — I just enjoyed the fact that some people got upset at a little girl swearing. Even in 2010. In fact, if you wanna look at a better version of this — one with a foul mouth and a trigger-finger but character in spades — you only have to revisit Natalie Portman’s unforgettable Mathilda in The Professional (Hit-Girl/Big Daddy’s relationship might just be a jokier copy of that.) I agree that Vaughn is mostly very wink-wink in his jokes — sorry to invoke it again, but yeah, Stardust is the nadir of that kind of moviemaking — but for me, it’s the performances here that afford this one some saving grace. It doesn’t pat itself on the back that much.

Ryan: I’m a little surprised that I’m in the minority here, but I had a great time watching this movie. I don’t think it’s a monumental achievement in comic book-based cinema, and I’m aware of its flaws, but I found it largely entertaining, possibly because I didn’t really take issue with any of the problems the rest of you found in the film. Was it overstylized? I think so, yes, but I was already expecting that. Too many characters and subplots? There were a lot of them, but I wasn’t left disappointed by their level of involvement in the story like I was with, for example, Spider-Man 3. Too clever? Whatever Vaughn’s true aim was here, I didn’t find the movie especially clever, but I also didn’t feel as though it was particularly pleased by its own perceived cleverness. Too exploitative (re: Hit-Girl)? I understand the nature of this criticism, but I disagree with it and thought, if anything, the violence was potentially more objectionable.

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Pop songs or not, I enjoyed most of the action sequences, right up until Kick-Ass showed up with that machine gun/jet pack strapped to his back. As far as Hit-Girl is concerned, I found all of her action scenes to be the most exciting, not due to any fetishistic tendencies, but because she looked great performing those moves; I don’t know how much of it was the work of stunt people, but the fight choreography was outstanding, and that was good enough for me. Tim’s right in that there wasn’t much tension there, but is there ever, really, in an over-the-top action film like this? I do agree that she was more a conceit than a real character, but I thought she was ultimately given enough of a backstory to justify her presence. Also, to reiterate what I said about Ghost Rider: Nicolas Cage’s peculiar mannerisms are becoming increasingly entertaining.

At the end of the day, I enjoyed Kick-Ass in much the same way I would enjoy, say, an episode of Jackass: a bit of cringing, some laughs, and several outbursts of “Oh, no they didn’t!” It wasn’t as funny or subversive, I think, as some have claimed and others have criticized it for pretending to be, but that didn’t detract from its entertainment value for me. It’s unabashedly cartoonish in so many ways, and that’s all I really wanted from it.


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