This installment—despite the venom—is dedicated to the memory of Jeff, who kept me in comics for over a decade and gave me a job when no one else would. He rivaled me in opinions, but was far more polite. He will be missed.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong and Nicolas Cage, with Clark Duke, Evan Peters and Lyndsy Fonseca.
One day comic book geek Dave Lizewski gets an idea. How come no one in the real world ever tried to be a real-life superhero? If you think about it, Batman was just a normal guy with a lot of tech. Anyone could be Batman. But what about your average Joe who had no bankroll and was simply inspired by a sense of justice and impatience for what legit law enforcers do? That and just wanting to make a difference; to do the right thing. Or maybe just want to crack a bunch of assh*les into submission for being bully assh*les. At any rate, Dave wonders. So then he gets a costume, an alias and a shadow MySpace account.
The Rant (Oh, yeah. Yes, indeed)…
Be warned. Beyond here there be dragons.
Wait. We’re gonna talk about movies, right?
Shut up. Sit down. Eat your gruel and pray I don’t release the rape-monkeys while you slumber. Now, hard to port. And steady on.
Truth be told, and this may come as a surprise, I’m not an easy person to get along with. My sunny disposition has proven to be rather off-putting with the general public. I’ve always adopted a rather shambolic attitude regarding social mores. Not antisocial, per se, just confused. I’m sure a great deal of y’all feels that way sometimes, too. Me? That’s pretty much SOP for me. No malice present, mind you, but I’m often quite confused as how to play well with others. Big shocker there. Suppose I’m better off left to my own devices. You should see my music collection.
Simply put: leave me be. Not “Go Away!” or “F*ck off!” Though admittedly I feel that way often, but I’m usually more polite than that. To paraphrase Garbo: let me enjoy my aloneness. With all this Wi-Fi, smartphone, Xbox, Kindle, World Wide Web doggerel—where I couldn’t be alone if I tried, even without a link, and there’s always sat tech lurking above—privacy has become more precious than currency. Don’t believe me? Two questions then: 1) How much to you pay for your mobile service?
Sh*t. That much? Ever hear of TracFone?
2) When was the last time you struck up idle chit-chat on a public mass-transit service to while away the time instead of nose deep in your iPhone, scouring Twitter feeds?
Can’t, can you? Well neither can I. Me? I usually try to pleasure myself on the E, but there apparently are laws in effect about that. Here? In America? Well, at least I still have my iPhone…until we go into a tunnel. Then, since the lights are off…Hello, teacup poodle.
WHAT! WHAT? Oh c’mon. We’ve all been there. Right? Anyway…
To put it quaintly—and as if to forgive my bile—I’m your typical Gen X survivor (you’re welcome for the Internet, by the way). We were the test group for online video games, rudimentary smartphones, iBooks and midwife for not only the 21st Century but also reintroducing the term “friend” a verb. Our gen perfected cynicism, misunderstood irony, and always had the last word on everything, especially when it wasn’t permitted. We’re also the final generation to give two sh*ts what our parents accomplished for American culture. In the final analysis, Boomers got everything handed to them on a silver platter, resulting in Fox News, willful ignorance of the AIDS crisis, using racism as good business ensuring that both Alex Jones and Lady GaGa alike have an enduring entertainment career and environmental degradation. I’m a dad now. Explaining conservation of resources to an 8-year old is tough when all her peers’ mommies drive Sherman tanks to school, replete with enough ribbon decals to cure the worlds’ physical maladies via psychic conflagration. “Why is your car so small, Dad?” “So you can drive your own small car in a decade. One that hopefully runs on dreams, starlight and whatever makes Rockefeller’s progeny bleed from the eyes and sh*t solar power. How was school?”
Such a worldview invited, then polluted the pop culture landscape for about a quarter century. That was that until the Millenials became the desired demographic. Then their zeitgeist swept our once landmark, hardnosed worldview to the next ironical graphic tee at Hot Topic. Or derelict at your local Salvo’s.
Not that I’m bitter.
I’m not, really. It’s just the natural, social progression of American society as we know it. The passing of the torch. It’s how it all works. What’s curious about it this time is that Gen X seems more actively reluctant to carry on said torch than the Boomers were post-WW2. After all, the Boomers were handed that silver tray, one that always seemed a tad too empty, despite the fact the tray was f*cking silver. That flame burned us to the core, which resulted in a lot of deviant pop culture touchstones of our own gratefully in turn pissing off our parents as they had infuriated theirs. The wheel goes ‘round and ‘round.
(“Um, is this moron going to talk about a movie soon or what? I mean, my iPhone is at 21%, and there are, like, a jillion cute cats on YouTube to scan.”)
Shut up. Pull up your pants. Those ain’t cats you be watching on your Galaxy’s feed, despite what mental_floss told you. But never fear, I like boobies too. You’re secret’s safe until my wife gets home (she doesn’t read this blog anyway, so tee-hee! Now about those “cats”)…
I’m awake! Damned Lego Jurassic World!
Ahem (*adjusts toupee*)…
The pop culture cachet Gen X consisted of bragging about how The Others were there to wake up to Hendrix at Woodstock. How The Graduate spoke—however incorrectly—to them. When weed was free, the Pill was at its apex and both the war in Vietnam and King’s marches sowed the seeds of white, liberal, bleeding heart guilt.
The legacy resulted in QVC, miles of cable TV broadcasting AU’s of sh*t deep (“The Real Housewives of Augusta, Maine!” How chowda really feels…er…tastes!) and letting AIDS become pandemic, but we cured boners. Oh, that and Kevin Costner’s career. And the Boomers’ never apologized for any of it. They were too busy setting up teleplays for thirtysomething, and if that last reference is lost on you, good. Trust me. I mean it).
*calming down, deep breaths, ease down, Ripley*
So where is all this vitriol coming from, and what does it have to do with another comic book adaptation to movie? In two words: cynicism and capitalism. But not mine and not really the bottom dollar. More like heartbreak on both levels, and how becoming disillusioned can happen so very fast.
No surprise here at RIORI that I’ve tackled and inordinate amount of movies based on comic books. Now I’m not sure that all the comic movies that have gone under the lens here are based on the surfeit of comic movies since 2000, or the fact that with this glut, a lot of them tend to suck based on hurried production, lousy scripts, or actors and directors unsure how to handle the source material. Not sure on any of these fronts.
The pertinent movies I’ve scanned here kinda fell 50/50 along the rent it/relent it scale. Then again, I’m just one guy, and an amateur to boot, so my opinions tend to be raw, angry, a bit uniformed, sometimes half-baked and generally abrasive like a Soft Scrub colonic. I make no apologies, and yet still here you are again.
I think why so many comic movies visited here is due to the overabundance. It’s akin to the TV-to-movie adaptations of the 90s I spoke of in the Green Hornet installment. Too many, too much. Hollywood’s been dipping into an endless well of pre-storyboarded scripts from the houses of Marvel, DC and sometimes the second tier publishers a bit of more than could ever be chewed by a plesiosaur with bulimia. This saturation of the market is nothing new. Beyond the “beat it into the ground” mentality of capitalism, there comes this sort of panic when driving, leaping on and eventually falling off some pop cultural bandwagon. The bigwigs in Hollywood know on some level that this comic movie cash cow will dry up someday, and now are urgently milking it for all its worth as we speak. A tipping point will be reached, the bubble will burst, audience’s tastes will change (most likely due to boredom created by overexposure and increasingly lame scripts), but never fear: Hollywood already has the Next Big Thing already ready already. Right now it’s just a matter of finding new and creative ways to empty our wallets. That’s how it’s always been anyway.
That being said, here we reach the inevitable.
Although I’ve never been a fan of the trickery advertising and marketing use to sell us sh*t we don’t need and manipulate our perceptions of reality—c’mon, do all those ladies on the beach really enjoy Coors Light that much?—I do understand how it works. Mostly. The general gist I get from the execution of commercials and the like is to inform, entertain, entice and hit you over the head many, many, many times to hypnotize you and get you hooked on whatever product and blah blah blah. Ads are designed to keep the cash flowing. Duh. I may not like marketing, but I’m not so far up my ass to deny that it works.
What really chafes me about advertising, marketing and the unavoidable selling of a given product isn’t the actual use of subterfuge to make money. It’s the scheming itself I hate. Very talented and intelligent people concocting very creative ways to get unwitting audiences to buy sh*t, effectively spitting on their (increasingly waning) intelligence. And it’s all a terrific waste of said talent and intelligence. F*ck, we could’ve gotten to Mars by now if the maintenance of this whole energy drink craze didn’t take precedence. Sure, folks in marketing may explain all the science and sociology into selling a Big Mac is fascinating, complex and echoing decades of psychological research in action. But it’s still just a Big Mac. Looks like the lunatics have taken over the asylum in this sense; the sellers are selling themselves on the idea that selling is vital to humanity. It’s delusional. It’s willfully ignorant. It’s a waste.
This scheming behind pushing comic movies reached a head for me several years ago. It probably reached a head with a lot of comic fans with different occasions over the past decade, not to mention anyone entrenched in a niche market that all too quickly went mainstream and got watered down for it (e.g.: body modification, “alt”-rock, Anthony Bourdain’s travelogues, cupcakes, etc). It was a moment, a revelation about how deeply the Hollywood machine operated regarding its comic movie goldmine, and about how incredibly cynical marketing people could execute their…well, their schemes. I’m not being paranoid; I just call it like I see it.
Yet another time at my comic shop, Jeff and I were chewing the fat about the then recent mini-series Kick-Ass. Not surprisingly, we found it quite enjoyable (unlike its follow-up series, which came across as both derivative and overly violent for violence’s sake, but that’s another thing entirely). We were respectful fans of the writer, Scottish scribe Mark Millar, and the artist, Marvel legacy John Romita, Jr. Millar’s claim to fame was penning Marvel’s epic Civil War mini-series, and Romita followed in his dad’s footsteps illustrating The Amazing Spider-Man. Needless to say, both guys are very talented, and natural fan favorites.
So Kick-Ass wrapped up its six-ish run, and we were weighing its merits and drawbacks. The book’s print run started in February 2008 and concluded exactly two years later in February 2010. Apparently Millar and Romita were in no hurry to rush their project, which mind you was only six issues long. After waxing philosophical about this trifle, Jeff dropped some science on me. It turned out that Kick-Ass was to be adapted into a movie. Big shocker, that. It was going to hit theaters in May, right when the summer blockbuster season got going.
Wait a minute.
Kick-Ass took its grand old time dripping onto the shelves over the course of two years. That’s including inking, editing, distribution, coffee breaks, etc. It was going to be committed to cinema in three months after its conclusion? You know the average schedule for filming a movie? About three to five months, not including post-production. So either the film version of Kick-Ass was already in the works before the book was officially completed, or a movie was being made in conjunction with the book all along. Or can we say “rush job?” Like on with mainlined crystal meth paired with a butt-chugged Red Bull chaser rush job? There are always budgetary matters to consider, after all. And don’t ask me how meth could be mainlined. Some things are best left to Walter White’s grandkids.
Well, it turned out that the second part was the case. The Millar/Romita book was created independently of the movie script, which in turn was written by director Vaughn and Jane Goldman. Simultaneously, by the way. The film version of Kick-Ass went into production in 2008, the debut year of the comic. Recalling what I said earlier about marketing schemes, and this might be a myopic view—and mine mostly are—but doesn’t it seem a tad suspect to make a comic movie and its printed counterpart across a two year run at the same time? Was Hollywood hedging its bets, capitalizing the comic movie phenom with this plan? In sum, were they planning this all along, a set up to make uber-bucks by following a successful mini by an award-winning team only to stoke the fires for fast business at the multiplex three months after the series concluded? Was Hollywood just striking while the iron was hot?
If that was the case, then where was the f*cking iron?
How terribly cynical is that? And trust me, I know cynicism. Hollywood being so assured to rake in comic movie bucks optioned off the film rights to a book that wasn’t even finished. This is either an exercise in gall, greed, both or awaiting the day to day f*ck you to the audience and extrude their collective wallets via their collective rectums.
Well, to be fair, there was a precedent set back in the day, so it’s not a recent ploy to excite an audience. On the other hand, for the following example, “excite” might be the wrong word. Let’s try “coax.”
In 1968, director Stanley Kubrick and sci-fi scribe Arthur C Clarke teamed up to direct and write 2001: A Space Odyssey, respectively. The book and the film were released to public at the same time. Although the film/book project took the same time to produce as Kick-Ass (about two years, from 1965 to ’67, with necessary editing for its ’68 springtime release date), it wasn’t done out of a dire need to rake in cash. Back then, a movie made a jillion bucks because it was a good movie. 2001 was a great movie, despite its production nightmares, and was visionary, intriguing, weird, satirical and the first sci-fi movie to be both practical in handling possible future tech and the human condition within, as well as respecting the science part of science fiction.
But it wasn’t made to make money first and art second in any overt fashion. And actually, 2001 was no blockbuster. It only got its steam up a year later in 1969 with a lot of thanks to hippies toking up in the theatre. Hey, whatever works. Now where’s my Nutella? And that flexible poodle?
Sorry. Back to being crass and hard. Just please, lay off the jellyfish. And your stomped f*cking beer cans. This time I mean it.
I’ll get to my point. There’s really nothing wrong with Hollywood multi-multi-tasking. Books into movies as par for the course business—comic or otherwise—has been a Hollywood staple since at least Burnett and Alison’s big screen adaptation of their play Everybody Comes To Rick’s (you probably know it better as Casablanca. You don’t? Now you are first in line for castration via broken Snapple bottle. You’ll thank me later). Need I remind you: the movie biz is all about biz, making a buck. Said bucks result in more movies, hopefully good ones. What’s wrong is applying the 21st Century version of 1970s remote environmental bracelets that give emotional feedback from test audiences who’re selected to hear the latest Alice Cooper single first, therefore dictating cleaner production for a cleaner, better selling album. Or just whether to keep beating the fad cash cow into hamburger dollars.
BTW: The whole bracelet thing? True. In the 70s. What, you thought that pedometer in your Apple Watch didn’t have a beta test? Or in that case, a f*cking gamma test?
Christ, I’m tired. This InfoWars fusillade has left me drained. Probably you too. We better curl up with this week’s movie. After all my frightening gloom and doom, here’s hoping this time out—regardless of my whining for the past eleven years—this adaptation thumbed its nose against the almighty cash moo and delivered a consistent, fun story. And since it’s a comic movie, let’s steer clear of the often usual clumsy execution too many of these films get smeared.
It’s actually surprising that Kick-Ass as a movie was ever made, regardless of the production time/dollars spent/dollars recouped/scheming…
Geeky fanboyism can go too far.
High schooler Dave Lizewski (Taylor-Johnson) is your painfully average teenaged guy. He trudges through his classes with all the enthusiasm of a slug. His goofball buddies Marty (Duke), Todd (Peters) and him futz around on social media and hang out after school at the local comic/coffee shop, sipping lattes and wondering who’d win in a fight, Superman or Thor. He’s got a crush on a typically unattainable girl. He’s got an unfeasible comic book collection. And he pounds his penis into pudding to Internet porn like it’s a crime nightly. Completely average sh*t. Y’know. You get it.
Maybe it was too many lattes, but more likely was where those drinks were quaffed. Dave asks his cronies one day, “How come no one’s ever tried being a superhero?” To wit, his worthy constituents rebut: they’d their asses kicked or killed, let alone have to deal with the real law enforcement showing up and dragging their sorry butt to jail. Or worse.
A valid argument. But Dave still asks himself, “What if?” The idea of fighting crime by wit and by grit with a kick-ass costume—
That’s it! Batman was a regular guy, with just a cool outfit and cool weapons to make his mark on Gotham. If only on lark—but probably more so to combat the crushing average-ness of his teenaged so-called life—Dave dons a cool costume and a pair of makeshift truncheons and goes on nightly patrols. You know, searching for lost pets, picking up others’ litter and intervening in gang fights. Which is how Kick-Ass was born. Well, that and Dave’s escapades get caught on people’s smartphones, get uploaded to YouTube, go viral and so on and so forth.
However, not everyone is impressed my Kick-Ass’ vigilantism. Underworld boss Frank D’Amico (Strong) has had his cocaine trafficking interrupted indirectly by Dave. That gangland crap? Looks like Kick-Ass smacked the wrong guys with his clubs that time. Frank’s miffed by this, so to exact some off-the-books justice himself, he sends out his thugs in search of Kick-Ass to put a stop to his putting a stop to things. Send a message; the guy’s been f*cking with the wrong assh*le.
What Frank doesn’t know that another would-be costumed hero—make that two—are secretly gunning for him for much bigger crimes than paltry drug trafficking. Inspired in part by Kick-Ass’ adventures, disgraced cop Damon Macready (Cage) and his daughter-cum-sidekick Mindy (Moretz) don costumes and secret identities of their own to take out D’Amico, by any means possible and screw the law. Beware the might of Big Daddy and Hit Girl!
Little doubt all four of these personalities will clash on the streets sometime and it’s anyone’s guess who’s going to triumph and who’s going to get their ass—
Well, you know…
I gotta tell you after watching Kick-Ass I can say this without pause: this was the funniest comic movie I ever saw. Funnier that the original book.
I know. You probably wouldn’t expect a movie/comic titled Kick-Ass to be a laugh riot (okay, maybe a little), but that’s what it was. Now Millar and Romita’s book had its chuckles, but something about having those panels made flesh—and occasionally padded, I’ll admit it—and dialogue spoken aloud (also with some enhancements) made the whole tangled mess hilarious. There’s something about pairing witty/cheesy dialogue with gutbucket violence that makes me laugh. And you’d be a hypocrite and liar to deny this yourself.
Most comic movies toe the line between following the original script and the cinematic adaptation approaching a modicum of sincerity. This movie came across as sincere without being neither pandering nor unfaithful with concessions to sweetening the plot. To be fair there are a few too many Hollywood touches (recall what I said about scheming?). There’s quite a bit of extraneous dialogue used to verbally express what could’ve done simply with action, like the audience needs to be spoon fed (that little speech Kick-Ass gives after the first gang fight? I don’t recall it that way from the book, but I guess I’m splitting hairs). But I guess that’s a minor carp in the end-run. There’s nothing really wrong with using systematic corniness to enhance a comedy, which beneath the superheroic/violent action surface, Kick-Ass is at heart.
And goofiness abounds amidst all the busted bones, spit teeth and microwave hijinks. For instance, Nic Cage’s post-Oscar downward spiral into a mire of schlock finally comes to good use here. His stuttered, clipped speech might be considered an homage to Adam West (vis-à-vis Big Daddy’s costume). Talk about systematic corn (and speaking of costumes, you gotta admit it, Kick-Ass’ duds are ridiculous). Moretz’ kewpie doll demeanor would normally be grating as an eternally, one-note little girl assassin. Then again that whole assassin thing does help make the medicine go down easier, and she gets some killer (ha!) one-liners. I couldn’t help but giggle for the duration of the movie with clowns like these in action.
For all the pounding and bloody noses, Kick-Ass can credit it a lot of its action and pacing to technical flourishes that don’t come with a shattered clavicle. Some of the more compelling things in the film are subtle. They’re kinda like a variation on a Hitchcock-esque “icebox moment.”
(Oh sh*t. Here comes the cinema geek trivia. It’ll only sting for a moment. Now shut up and put down that damned iPhone already.)
Alfred Hitchcock was notorious in sticking throwaway scenes in his movies more or less as a joke for himself. Something off in the film stuck in an audience’s mind—almost subliminally—well after the movie was over and they were back home. It was only until after the person was home and metaphorically reaching into the fridge for a snack—the proverbial icebox—when they went, “Wait, what?” I had a similar experience after seeing The Blair Witch Project; the final scene when Mike was standing in the corner (no, that’s not a spoiler. You have to see the movie to get it. Just drink your beer) was my icebox moment.
That being said, Kick-Ass employs a few pseudo-icebox tricks for its duration. For all the sloppy, frenetic action, most of the acting is keenly conveyed via facial expressions. It’s kinda curious in a so-called action movie that most of the action scenes are stock while the characters’ mugs do most of the twisting and turning. Taylor-Johnson, Moretz, Strong (who’s a lot of fun to hate, BTW; that plastic jaw) and Cage’s there-and-gone mugging tell worlds beyond the story proper, as if to passively remind you you’re supposed to be on the joke. Any movie with such tasteful violence and colorful language hopes you catch up.
Another icebox trick, sort of: the framing of the scenes. They’re laid out like comic book panels, all square and mostly center-forward, with the characters faces and bodies directly front and center. Yeah, yeah; sure, sure. One could argue this thing’s done in almost all movies (and you’d be right), but most other films could employ asides and overheards. Kick-Ass doesn’t. Go on, watch it again. The action’s always overtly front and center. Hell, by contrast John McClane snuck around corners.
For all of Kick-Ass’ ass-kicking, there are a few weak moments, which indeed f*ck with my pacing muse. The second act is kinda slow, as if director Vaughn and Co. felt it necessary to slow the barrage down and let the audience breathe. I dig that Shakespearean tactic, but it plays too long. I mean, do we really need Dave’s monologue to explain everything that’s running through his ass-kicking mind? We should be already well acquainted with his motives. C’mon. Show, don’t tell.
I already delineated in the High Fidelity installment that the director must be careful to apply their own spin on the source material (book, play, comic, etc) without spinning too far off course and alienate a good chunk of the audience already familiar with the original material. When the third act hit, it really began to deviate from the book. This made me cranky. Without even knowing the comic, one can feel the switch in tension; the deviation. It almost proved my whole aforementioned scheming ploy. If it wasn’t for the overall smart, crisp editing of the thing, I might’ve threw my arms up in revolt, if only to honor my comic geek credentials. Almost.
However, Kick-Ass overall appeased my inner (not to mention outer) comic book geek. Call me biased, but this film properly sandwiched scenes from the book against Vaughn’s concepts. It was almost seamless for both the comic book fan and quite seamless for mainstream audiences. Simply put, Kick-Ass was satisfying. It wasn’t arresting, profound or possessing any redeemably qualities. But that was the point. It was about spectacle. Clever spectacle, mind you. Kick-Ass both appeases and insults the comic audience. Is it all one big joke? I’d like to think so. Now ride with it.
If you saw the header for this week’s installment, you understand my go-to guy for comics passed away suddenly. It seemed oddly fitting—not to mention coincidental—that I took apart a comic movie based on a mini-series we had quite a good time dissecting, seeing how long it took for the print run to finish. I really don’t have any emotional attachment to Jeff paired with this movie—I received the bad news the day after I viewed it—so my judgment of Kick-Ass wasn’t really all that skewed.
However actually seeing it and tearing it to shreds, I can say that as far as comic movies go, yeah, Kick-Ass was pretty good. I don’t think Jeff ever got around to seeing it, which is unfortunate. Not that he missed a stellar movie, but with my hopes that if he did he might remember the debates we got into about the fool thing.
I’d like to hope for that.
Jeffery D Rabkin (1957-2015). He kicked ass.
Rent it or relent it? Rent it. I’d call Kick-Ass a solid “Saturday afternoon movie.” Tired of Internet porn and keying cars? Put your lazy Saturday afternoon to good use and plunk this in the player. Or stream it. Or whatever. Christ all these tech shifts can drive a man to throw beer cans at strangers.
Haven’t you gotten tired of that yet? Damn.
- MySpace? Yep, definitely 2008.
- “…And a pack of Twizzlers.”
- Moretz gots sum knife skillz. That ain’t no CGI.
- “That is one gay looking taser.” Is there any other kind?
- After Catherine Zeta-Jones in High Fidelity, Fonseca lays the best f-bomb ever. She also shouts “f*ck” real well, too.
- “What a doosh.” Always funnier with a kid.
- Most blue language I’ve ever heard in a f*ckin’ comic movie.
- “F*ck you, Mr. Bitey!”
- And to think a year later we’d have Strong as an honorable member of the Green Lantern Corps. Wait a minute…
- “Kinda feeling the cape.”
- More comic movies need hand bra scenes.
- “A bazooka…Okay?” Strong seemed to get the best lines, as all villains often do.
- Um, did anyone else catch the thing where an 11-year old drove a custom Mustang? I’ll wager you paid attention to her flipping a billasong, right? Yep, me too.
- “I think I’m in love with her, dude.”
- When did Moretz first get pretty? Hick. When did she first get awesome? Here. Weigh those claims, but she still won’t respond to your voicemail.
- “It sucks that you’re gay.” Aaaand smirk.
- Gnarls Barkeley? Yep, definitely 2009.
- “Show’s over, motherf*ckers.”
Somewhere between Michael Douglas’ elephantine, infeasible novel and Tobey Maguire’s deft storytelling the truth lies for these Wonder Boys.