Bottom of the Barrel: Kick-Ass (2010)

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Since its release, Kick-Ass has been branded as a ‘taboo-breaking’ comedy, and many of its fans have congratulated it for going where other movies have dared not gone. I know I am in a minority when I say that Kick-Ass is one of the worst movies of its genre, but I found it a truly repulsive experience – an extended advert for vicious violence, illegal weaponry and child abuse.

Firstly, it’s incredibly boring. Clocking in at 1 hour 57 minutes, Kick-Ass doesn’t attempt to murder its audience in the same lengthy way Avatar did, but it has a jolly good try. With about five different endings stitched together, it doesn’t know what it wants its final message to be. And there are a lot of messages in this movie – most of them cynical and abhorrent.

With its advertising clearly focused on a teenage audience, this pernicious beast of a film plays with the premise ‘what if ordinary people tried to be superheroes’. Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is an ordinary teenage boy. Ordinary in the sense that he doesn’t have superpowers. At school he is invisible to girls, and at home he reads comic books and masturbates frequently. For some reason the film seems quite interested in Dave’s masturbatory habits, as if the time we see him jerking off will somehow fill the empty hole where most other writers give their characters depth and background. The only background we get on Dave is that his mum died suddenly at the kitchen table. The image of a mother dying in front of her son is presented as a funny moment at the start of the movie. It isn’t funny, but gives us a glimpse of what misjudged humour there is to follow.

Dave decides to become the world’s first ‘real’ superhero – a real person, fighting real crime with no special powers whatsoever. Oh, and he calls himself Kick-Ass. So, of course, he gets beaten up by the first villains he encounters. These are two low-life muggers who kick and punch him while laughing at his awful green suit. This comically violent scene suddenly veers off in far more serious direction when they produce a knife and attack him with it, stabbing him in the stomach. This turns the scene into a very uneasy mixture of comedy and shocking violence – slapstick meets knife crime in a few ill-judged minutes. When he is mended by a team of doctors, who build metal plates into his broken bones, his pain threshold becomes very strong due to messed-up nerve endings. Embarrassed by his green suit, Dave convinces the paramedics to say he was found naked and hides his outfit from his father and friends. For some unexplained reason, the fact he was allegedly found naked is enough for his school mates to decide he is gay. This allows Dave to make friends with the girl he loves, who up to this point has never registered his existence. She wants a gay-best-friend, so Dave isn’t too quick to dispel the rumours about his sexuality. In fact, he takes the chance and runs with it, becoming infinitely more popular than before with the opposite sex. Although an unlikely film to discourage homophobia in schools, one of the only virtues Kick-Ass has is that it presents homosexuality within a school positively rather than negatively. Aside from this well-handled subplot, the rest of the film attempts to appeal to the very worst type of people – those who find knives cool, using them even cooler and are amused by an 11-year old saying the C word.

Kick-Ass delights in making the most shocking things fun, sexually provocative and very accessible. With a 15 certificate, younger viewers will be able to enjoy the ghastly violence and sickening glorification of weapons (including some lethal gadgets that many will never have heard of but will undoubtedly be Googling when they get home). There is a scene at the end of the film where the aforementioned little girl gets her head repeatedly kicked and punched by the movie’s big villain (played with gusto by Mark Strong). This was the moment I realised the movie was a truly disgusting piece of work, and the more I thought about writer Jane Goldman and writer/director Matthew Vaughn discussing how many times they can get away with the 11-year old getting ferociously punched, the more my hate for it increased.

On the basis of this review, I’m sure someone will once again liken my moral compass to the Daily Mail, a paper I strongly detest. In the words of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, I believe the Mail is a “sexist, racist, bigoted, comic cartoon strip”. But this newspaper happens to employ one of the country’s best writers on cinema, Christopher Tookey, who also hated this film. But he is not alone. Matthew Bond of the Mail on Sunday gave it a one-star verdict, and Pulitzer Prize winning American critic Roger Ebert also found it ‘morally reprehensible’. For some reason, the critics from the liberal-Left (the area of politics I usually occupy) heaped praise on the film when it was released. Goodness knows why, but I think it may have something to do with a ‘being cool, down-with-the-kidz’ complex they have going on.

The day the majority regard this as a guiltless pleasure will be a very sad day for cinema, but good for the bank balances of Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn and producer Brad Pitt. A line attributed to philosopher Edmund Burke (although it is debatable whether or not he actually said it, or in what form) is, I think, the most appropriate way to sum up my reason for hating Kick-Ass with such furious intensity:  “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.

Kick-Ass, directed by Matthew Vaughn, is available on Blu-ray disc and DVD from Universal Pictures UK, Certificate 15. 

 

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Second year BA Film & English Student. Watches too many films and enjoys good novels.

8 Comments

  1. avatar

    I think you’ve approached this film in the wrong way, and I believe your comparison of it to Avatar is an example of this. It’s a lot of fun, and isn’t exactly supposed to be taken seriously. Kick-Ass is a brilliant film and does exactly what it wants to with great effect. Cheer up.

  2. avatar

    The fact you try to pre-emptively dismiss claims of sounding like a Daily Mail reader is reall undermined by the fact that two out of three sources you cite are from the paper and it’s sister publication. In fact I’m finding it hard to believe this whole article wasn’t written by my grandparents.

  3. avatar
    Dhanesh Patel on

    To be fair if you didn’t watch every film with a checklist of “values” ready to tick off (homophobic, racist, sexist, ageist, fatist, curly hair-ist etc etc) you might enjoy things a bit more.

  4. avatar

    I will start by addressing the issues raised by Andre Pusey, who fears I approached the film in the wrong way. I assure you, when I watched this film, I tried to view it as an edgy, colourful, modern action film/comic-book adap with a humorous/satirical edge. I did not sit down to watch it in the same way I would Avatar. I merely used that film as an example of a picture with a seriously long running time. I apologise if I did not make this sufficiently clear, and thank-you for flagging it up.

    Now to other matters. The comment about me ‘pre-emptively dismissing claims of sounding like a Daily Mail reader’ does not take into account what I actually said. I made it clear that, although I do not like that paper or usually agree with it, on this occasion I do. As I said, I am usually of the ‘liberal-left’ side of politics and journalism, but I would be foolish not to recognise the similarities between the Mail’s view on this film and my own. I wasn’t dismissing this similarity, merely drawing attention to it myself before it was used as a criticism of my morals or values.

    On the subject of the comment left by Dhanesh Patel (who once again succeeds in convincing me he has not fully read the article which he is criticising), I can solve his concerns very simply with a few facts and figures. I have written 36 pieces for The Edge since the Autumn of 2010. Within these 36 articles, if I can remember rightly, I have criticised just two films (The Hangover: Part II and Due Date) for being homophobic. I have criticised just one film (Hangover 2) for being racist. I have never, to my knowledge, condemned a film of being ageist. So this comment strikes me as very odd for three reasons. Firstly, accusing two films in 36 articles of being either racist and/or homophobic is hardly very notable. Secondly, it seems strange Dhanesh feels such issues are relevant in terms of Kick-Ass. I do not accuse the film of racism, as it is not racist. I do not accuse the film of homophobia, since it is not homophobic. In fact, I do the complete opposite, and praise the film for discouraging homophobia in schools (further proof that Dhanesh is yet to properly read the work he is slating). Thirdly, I find it curious why someone would object to the flagging up of racism and homophobia, although I think this says volumes about such an objector. But since such issues are irrelevant to this film, I’ll leave the discussion of ulterior motives for a later debate that will no doubt occur when I refuse to let discrimination pass unchecked. And to think, that would mean 3 films out of perhaps 37 articles. Or maybe even 4 out of 50. Goodness me.
    Once again, I thank everyone for their comments. As I have said before, debate is what makes watching films so rewarding.

    • avatar
      Dhanesh Patel on

      “Aside from this well-handled subplot, the rest of the film attempts to appeal to the very worst type of people – those who find knives cool, using them even cooler and are amused by an 11-year old saying the C word.”

      So most guys (who tend to enjoy violent video games/films/music) are the “worst type of people”? Using your own opinion on a film to insult its audience is what gives your writing a Daily Mail vibe. No one thinks Kick Ass is an unimpeachable example of brilliant cinema but you can express your distaste for something without trying to make a wider social judgement (because films aren’t really that important).

    • avatar

      To be honest, it just seems to me like you try to go against the grain when reviewing films, just for the sake of doing so. Kick-Ass is one of those films I choose to watch when I’m sitting doing nothing and want to watch something silly, with no strings attached. Saying that this film appeals to people who find using knives cool is just ridiculous; it’s a weapon used in the film, so what?! That would render almost all films with an element of action “bad”: all superhero films, all incredible action films, all films with guns etc. And picking up on the kid saying “cunt” is also pitiful. It’s just no-thrills humour, it’s just funny. You’re picking faults that just aren’t there.

  5. avatar

    I don’t wish to turn this into a slanging match, so will try to make this my final response to the comments posted here.

    In terms of Dhanesh’s dismissive claim that ‘films aren’t really that important’, I strongly disagree. To underestimate the power of art and culture, and the influence they can wield, is to tragically misunderstand some of the very basic, but integral, staples of modern society. And, if you ask me, any product (whether it be artistic, materialistic, edible, mineral, medicinal – whatever) that generates billions (which cinema does) for a country’s economy is incredibly important. If we ignore such potent aspects of our existence, we blind ourselves to what makes life fun, dangerous, exciting and interesting. In my view, art is always important.

    In terms of Mr Pusey’s claim that I ‘go against the grain’ for the ‘sake of doing so’, I can only give him my word that I never deliberately decide to dislike a film because it is popular. Once again, I’d ask you to take a look at the back catalogue of my articles and reviews for The Edge (or there are around 400 at your disposal on my blog http://www.waltermedia.co.uk – although please be aware the site is currently going through construction). You will find that it is rare I go noticeably ‘against the grain’, as you put it. I suppose examples of my doing this on The Edge come down to Due Date, The Hangover: Part II and Kick-Ass (although in terms of critical opinion, most major publications agreed with me on the first two of those three films). That’s just three films. There may be others, but I find the further counting of them rather pointless, since all I do is write what I thought of the film. I have never done anything else, and don’t take pleasure in going against the tide. I do it because I see it as the preferable option to simply lying just to go along with the flow. If I pruned, snipped and plucked my views into shape so they resembled the opinion of the ‘the general mass’ (a body of people that is so hard to pin down when it comes to something as subjective of cinema) I would not be able to call myself a critic, simply a parrot of current public opinion.
    Finding the use of knives cool is worrying, but this does not apply to all action films, and I never suggest it does. I talk of the ‘sickening glorification of weapons’ in the film. This is because unusual emphasis is placed on the use of weapons, the damage they can inflict and their allegedly desirable aspects. They are portrayed positively and glamorously. This is very different to most of the weapon-violence in other action films, where it is unusual to see aberrant tools fawned over in such a way.

    On the subject of a child saying ‘c*nts’ (before she deals out vicious violence to a childish soundtrack), I think this just comes down to standards and ideas of taste. I promise you I am not trying to sound superior or snobbish (although fully appreciate one could read it as such, unfortunately), I am just trying to explain why I may have a problem with such a scene and others may not. I do not have problems with the word outright – it can be extraordinarily effective and produce a great effect when used correctly – but I found the way it was used in the film rather horrid. I do not find the idea of children using very strong, coarse or sexualised language amusing.

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