Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Problems and Redeeming Qualities of Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass opened in March this year and did, as I find, admirably at the box office. Sure, it only earned maybe a tenth of what Spider-Man made back in the day and many people did say that it bombed. However, if you compare it to slightly similar comic book movies you can see it did similarly as both Hellboy movies and Sin City. It earned a looot more than The Spirit as well. If you take into account that Kick-Ass has been rated R, while Hellboy is rated a PG-13 you also have to admit that it did reasonably well.

I didn't check Kick-Ass out right away. One of the early trailers (the one with Hitgirl in the schoolgirl uniform) annoyed me because I thought it was a movie about a little girl in a schoolgirl outfit killing people and lots of creepy people would drool over that. I made it a point to avoid this movie because of my first impression there, thus I didn't see it in the cinema. However, I did watch the movie eventually and I was completely blown away. Sure, you can say that this was due to my very very low expectations for this movie but I thought it was really entertaining, fresh and had the occasional legit surprise thrown in there.

Not being thrilled for the movie in the first place I hadn't followed reactions to the movie online at all and it was not until after the movie was released that I realised there was actually a lot of criticism for the movie. Most often that criticism went hand in hand with criticism of the comic book, which I have never read and never intend to, as it doesn't sound like something you really have to read. The three biggest problems of Kick-Ass seem to be sexism, homophobia and racism (are you surprised I am not mentioning violence and profanity? Pleeeaase. Such things aren't inherently evil, UNLIKE sexism, homophobia and racism).

I'm not sure what it is like in the comic book but in the movie several black people are being portrayed as bad guys, who get slaughtered by Hit-Girl. They're drug dealers, gangsters, hanging out in a run-down neighbourhood, playing violent videogames and enjoying the company of a hooker. Yes, I can see that this is a stupid and stereotyped portrayal of black people and I am critical of it. But there are also other examples to be found in the movie, which maybe can balance this out just a little bit. On the one hand, the main bad guys are Frank D'Amico and his lackeys. The black guys in that drug den were just "small fishes", not nearly as crazy and evil as the big baddie Frank D'Amico. Now of course you can say that this is also racist because some people do argue that Italians (and the actor who plays D'Amico as well has his character are of Italian decent) are non-white as well. If we are getting down to it, the whole idea of a white race is rather complicated. Are French people white? British people? Germans? Irish people? I read that at some point Irish people were not considered white. So to go right down to it, it is a rather complicated issue. Generally I think that Italian people are considered white though. On the other hand, pretty much the only character who is absolutely sane, rational and has a good heart is a black cop named Marcus. He was the one who raised Mindy after Damon had to go to jail and he continues to try to look after her, even when she is now in Damon's care. When he finds out, that Damon has manipulated her into being a little killing machine for his own plan to get his revenge on D'Amico, he confronts Damon and tells him that Mindy deserves to have a childhood. However, he doesn't tell on Damon, he doesn't betray his partner. In the end Marcus is the one who is once again made into Mindy's guardian and with him she is able to have a more carefree and normal life. Even though Marcus doesn't do a whole lot, no cool action tricks or anything, he is an important and good person in the movie. You shouldn't disregard that.

There are several points in this movie that you could describe as sexist. I am not sure I can find a sort of "answer" to all of them but I will try. One of the things is that in the end Hit-Girl goes back to having a "normal" life, even though as you might say, she was a whole lot more kickass than Kick-Ass himself. I feel like Hit-Girl was the strongest force in that movie and it's sort of ironic that she manages that while being an elven year old girl. In the end, her going back to every day life was described in the comic book with the words "as a girl should" or something to that extent, which is kinda lame. She was a whole lot better than Kick-Ass himself at what she was doing. But I think in the end of the movie you can see that she didn't go back to being a stereotypical little innocent girl character, as she does beat the crap out of the kids who tried to get her lunch money. Another point that you could describe as sexist is that she was only made into this killing machine by her father and didn't do it of her own free will, as Kick-Ass decided to become a superhero. I think that's a really valid point, however, you could also say that, as she is just eleven years old, a boy of her age could just as well be described as being pushed into this and not doing this of his own free will. The movie focuses much more on the father/daughter relationship between Hit-Girl and Big Daddy, than to be aware of what it is implying gender-wise. And I must say, that I find the portrayal of a strong father/daughter relationship really sweet. Yeah, on the one hand it's really twisted, Damon being on a scary revenge trip and using his own daughter for that purpose but on the other hand you can tell that he loves her and does take care of her. You don't often see strong father/daughter relationships in movies and, as ambivalent as this one might be in some regards, I really liked it.

Another really problematic aspect is the relationship of Katie and Dave, which starts out on the assumption that Dave is gay. Katie asks him to be her friend because she always wanted to have a friend like him... but that's not homophobic right? I really hope nobody took that line seriously, when Dave looks up to his friends and they advise him to go on and he says: Nah, that's not homophobic at all. I don't think the movie tried to insinuate that it was anything other than ridiculous that Katie suddenly wanted to be friends with Dave because she thought he was gay. Like a special Pokémon that she could collect or something. The advice by his friends also makes it obvious, because they are complete dicks. This is also nicely portrayed in one of the scenes where Kick-Ass gets beaten live on the internet and, horrified, Katie's friend embraces the fat guy and he motions to his friend to look "omg I got a girl to hug me" and they give each other thumbs-ups. What dicks. When my father saw that scene he laughed out loud and said: "That is SO tasteless". I don't think you are supposed to have another reaction to these jerks and their concept of geting a girl. Indeed, Dave getting the girl in the end is kind of childish and he did lie to her about his sexual preference for a long time. Part of this however, is also his friends' (dicks) fault because they advised him to keep up that appeareance, while he was doubtful about it. I don't think the movie is trying to tell you it is "not homophobic" to try to be friends with a guy BECAUSE he is gay. I also don't think the movie is trying to portray the behaviour of Dave and his friends towards girls as acceptable. Yes, in the end at least two of them do get the girl. In the comic book Dave at least doesn't, or so I have heard. I can see that it's problematic, that even though we as viewers understand that their behaviour is bad they still get "rewarded" for acting that way. But in a way, being able to tell that they are dicks should be enough for starters.

So Kick-Ass does have a bunch of problems that you should be aware of when watching the movie. However, what I found it also had were some really redeeming qualities. You maybe don't catch up on those at the first watch but there were some things that I just really liked. For example, the use of youtube and other social media. Finally a movie does portray the force of the internet in a way that is sort-of believable at least. There's also the character of Frank D'Amico's son, who I found to be pretty interesting. On the one hand, he does want to be like his father, that criminal mastermind. He wants to learn that "job", so he can take over for him some day. But then there are times when he thinks differently. He befriends Kick-Ass just a little bit and starts to care about him. He never had any friends after all. In the beginning he sits down at his father's desk and roleplays an evil mafia boss, while later he plays a super hero, side-kick to Kick-Ass. When Kick-Ass gets caught, even though Red Mist had asked for him to be spared, he is really disappointed in his father. However, he does sit down next to him when the violent demasking of Kick-Ass is about to begin on the internet. While Frank D'Amico laughs at the violence, his son looks at him in horror. This is probably one of the most significant moments for that father/son relationship. In that moment Chris does seem to emancipate himself from his father. However, in the end, when Kick-Ass finally kills his father we can see that he is determined to take revenge again. I was sort of surprised and a bit disappointed at that. He did seem like he could have understood that his father was a violent maniac, but in the end he didn't emancipate himself from his father after all. This is illustrated by him, instead of wearing a red colour, now having taken over orange, the colour of his father. I wonder what his role will be in a sequel.

What I also liked was the portrayal of the desensitisising of the general population in regards of violence. Not all characters shown in the movie exhibit that but it gets sort of obvious in the demasking scene of Kick-Ass. When the News stop showing the scenes due to too much violence, people scramble for the PCs, to keep watching what goes on on the internet. I thought that was a very realistic portrayal as well, since compared to the old media one of the absolute advantages of the internet is that there is no censorship going on, or at least not as much as there would be on conservative media such as TV. A very small but very sad scene indeed is when Kick-Ass and Big Daddy keep getting beaten up and the reaction of people behind the screens watching is shown. Dave's father doesn't even react to it much. He even puts a potato chip in his mouth while watching his own son being beaten (presumably) to deah. He doesn't recognise his son's voice and the realness of the violence doesn't seem to register with him. Maybe he is under the impression that this broadcast isn't real or that even if it was real it didn't really matter since the person suffering on screen doesn't have much to do with him. If you look at that tiny scene in detail, it is rather heartbreaking. Dave's friends also fall into that category. Giving each other a thumbs-up when Katie's friend, unable to watch what is going on, clings to one of them. They don't have much concern for the people suffering on screen either but are more in it out of sensationalism.

In the end, if you really look for them, you can find a bunch of good things about Kick-Ass. I also just think it's a really well-made movie, pacing- and storytellingwise. It's a damn fun movie to watch and does offer some deeper insights if you think about it for a while. Of course you should be conscious of its problems and think about those, too. I wasn't trying to "explain them away" in this post. I do see the problems but I just wanted to shine a tiny light on the redeeming qualities of this movie as well. Considering that I have heard the comic book doesn't really offer strong writing or anything, I think Vaughn did pretty good with that movie and I am definitely going to see its sequel.

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