Kick-ass and Kick-ass 2

Kick-ass

I’m not going to summarize the plots of the two films here, and assume that the reader has seen them.

I’m ambivalent about oppressively dark and cynical comic book worlds because for me a superhero film is a place of escapism. The real world is a disturbing enough place, and people are dysfunctional in all manner of ways in reality. I don’t need to have my face rubbed in that. The superhero film genre balances this with protagonists that despite having extraordinary powers are shown through their tests to be fallible and complex, and yet often they somehow manage to rise above all that and achieve the best that is within us morally.

Kick-ass is very much about this. But one gets the feeling that despite the noble, brave, and sincere efforts of Dave/Kick-ass to help his fellow human being he is a voice in the wilderness.

It is true that he inspires others and starts a movement of sorts. But the story seems to suggest that each individual that is bold enough to take up the superhero calling has their own extremely idiosyncratic motivations. Big Daddy seeks revenge, pure and simple. Hit Girl was basically raised by Big Daddy to assist him (although she does seem to relish being a prodigy). Red Mist is merely feigning to be a superhero in order to try to win his father’s approval, and as a ruse (although he really wants to be one). Only Kick-ass seems to be on a quest to model moral virtue.

It certainly works as a story that Dave is apparently the exception to the rule for humanity. But I guess I find it a little sad to be reminded of that. At the end of the day, it’s not so bad that I am, I guess.

As I mentioned, when a fictional world is unrelentingly dark in its vision, I’m not crazy about it. Kick-ass is not quite oppressive in its cynicism… but it skirts it. Nevertheless, I have to say that while the film is very jaundiced in tone, it definitely won me over on the basis of its quirky and totally irreverent sense of humor. This is a funny film!

For example, Kick-ass featured one of the funniest lines I can recall in such a film, even if inappropriately delivered by an 11 or 12 year old girl. The exchange between Mindy aka Hit Girl and her father when they’re having ice cream was also pretty damn funny. But it isn’t just Mindy. The film is chockfull of irreverent humor (and lack of sensitivity) about violence, death, human cruelty, self-centeredness, etc.

This is as good a time as any to note that Hit Girl is… well, uncanny. The author of the comic book and the film’s writers was obviously pushing the envelope in a number of ways with the Hit Girl character concept, including at least in the film her use of profanity. But her cursing is relatively rare (it isn’t like she constantly swears like a sailor). And the character does succeed rather brilliantly. I don’t recall ever seeing a young girl appear before in a live action film with this sort of fighting ability. It was actually a bit surreal to watch her decimate her opponents. But in the world of the film I completely bought it. Anyway, Hit Girl rates very high on the originality scale. Chloë Grace Moretz gives a totally winning performance as this juggernaut mighty-mouse character.

Nicolas Cage as Big Daddy seems to be channeling a more restrained variation of the “You Don’t Say?” meme that he spawned: a man driven mad by his having been framed for a crime, incarcerated, and his wife committing suicide. Damon Macready/Big Daddy is a tightly wrapped character, with very constricted affect, who survives psychologically by compulsively planning, organizing, and compartmentalizing. He is a hair’s breadth from full-blown insanity but for the fact that his motivation is not the least bit bizarre (kill the powerful crime lord who is indeed responsible for destroying his life) and he is deadly effective at what he does, and has the training and skills to pull it off. To use his child by training her to become a killing machine would of course be reprehensible in real life. But that belongs to this film’s irreverent, dark, and cynical vision. It’s the sort of thing the film shrugs at.

The film’s teenagers are all nicely realized. Dave, his nerdy friends, his girlfriend, and Chris/Red Mist are all funny, endearing, and relatable–yet all the while with just the right touch of cynicism. (Well Chris is at least until his defining moment.)

Well, anyway I like this picture very much. Hit Girl makes it onto my short list of favorite superheroes.

Kick-ass 2

Haha! I wrote the above review this morning and I watched Kick-ass 2 this evening. So it was neat to see some of the themes I identified for the first film get addressed in the sequel.

So, yeah. Kick-ass does indeed spawn a movement of well-intentioned, good hearted souls trying to make a positive impact on their society. However, ironically (in view of the sentiments I expressed above), I think the ambiguity of the first film worked a bit better, though! This film feels likes it struggling to justify the foundations of the story, whereas the original just went with the flow in a more daring “damn the torpedoes” sort of way.

I guess the sequel felt it had to try to answer or address some of the questions and issues that the original raised. The child welfare issues related to Mindy, for example. With a story like this one, when you get the real world intruding too much into the fictional space it starts to cramp its style. In real life there would have been dire legal consequences (Mindy killed scores of people), and child protective services and a therapist would have been involved. Given that it is escapist entertainment they left that alone; but they substituted all that with her guardian attempting to reign Mindy in and make her fit in as a normal person.

Still, for the development of the character I suppose it was something that had to be asked: How could someone like Mindy try to live a normal life after the way she was raised and the experiences she had been through? It was entertaining to see Mindy find the “evils” of the high school social world actually more formidable than simply killing criminals (which comes more easily to her). And it was gratifying to see her find herself as we all had faith she would.

Dave’s evolution as a character is pretty satisfying as well. He grows up, but keeps his youthful ideals. I’m sure no one would be surprised to see him return to his Kick-ass alter-ego one day.

This movie is significantly more sensitive to loss of life and what it means to people. It’s hard to complain about it making making such a statement. But again, there was a kind of reckless abandon and spontaneity to the first film’s nonchalance about it that made that film fascinating to watch. This film seems to be struggling with the development of a conscience about the issues raised in the original story.

The supporting characters are once again all really good. The assortment of superheroes (and supervillains) is pretty darn amusing. Kudos to whichever writer thought of the couple using the superhero opportunity to advertise about their missing son, that was inspired.

The final battle scene couldn’t really match Hit Girl’s amazing routs in the first film, and although it started a bit weakly it did gather steam and ended satisfyingly enough.

So anyway in conclusion, I liked this film too. Not as much as the first one. But I absolutely cared a great deal about the Dave and Mindy, and enjoyed seeing how they grew. So on that basis it absolutely succeeded for me. Here is where these two films fall on my favorites list:

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  3. The Avengers
  4. Captain America: The First Avenger
  5. Iron Man
  6. X-Men: First Class
  7. Hellboy
  8. The Wolverine
  9. Thor
  10. X2: X-Men United
  11. Sin City
  12. Daredevil
  13. Spider-Man
  14. Iron Man 2
  15. Thor: The Dark World
  16. Man of Steel
  17. X-Men
  18. Kick-ass
  19. Superman (1978)
  20. The Dark Knight Rises (Yes, ranked here, above The Dark Knight and Batman Begins)
  21. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
  22. Batman Begins
  23. The Dark Knight
  24. Superman Returns
  25. The Amazing Spider-Man
  26. Batman (1989)
  27. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
  28. X-Men: Days of Future Past
  29. X-Men: The Last Stand
  30. Iron Man 3
  31. The Fantastic Four (2005)
  32. Spider-Man 2
  33. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
  34. Spider-Man 3
  35. Kick-ass 2
  36. Green Lantern
  37. The Incredible Hulk
  38. Constantine
  39. The Phantom
  40. The Crow
  41. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  42. Mystery Men
  43. The Punisher
  44. Hulk
  45. Judge Dredd
  46. Elektra
  47. Batman Forever
  48. Batman and Robin
  49. Batman Returns
  50. Superman II
  51. Superman III
  52. Catwoman
  53. Blade
  54. Hancock
  55. Unbreakable
  56. Darkman
  57. The Shadow
  58. Superman and the Mole Men
  59. Batman (1966)
  60. Howard the Duck
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Kick-ass and Kick-ass 2

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