Monday, April 19, 2010

Juvenile Delinquency

Every time I read something by comic book writer Mark Millar, I get the vague feeling that he's kind of a douchebag. I got this while reading The Authority. I got this while reading Ultimate X-Men. I got this reading a scattering of Civil War. I haven't read Kick-Ass, but I got that feeling again from watching Matthew Vaughn's 2010 movie version. It's a troubling film. It's an amoral film. It's a film that is undeniably fun to watch.

Now, I realize that I'm not this film's target demographic. This film wasn't made for middle-aged women. It was made for adolescent and just post-adolescent boys, and that's part of what troubles me about it. I'm not particularly troubled by the beating Frank D'Amico, Mark Strong's villain, delivers to Hit-Girl near the end of the film, as some critics are. I'm more troubled by the sexualization of Hit-Girl in the sequence immediately prior to that action mayhem. The movie puts eleven year old Chloe Moretz into a sexy schoolgirl outfit as a means of getting into D'Amico's headquarters. And just prior to that, we get some of the secondary high school boys lusting after her after seeing her capacity for violence. Seriously, this is just sick. We also get the dubious pleasure of watching that same eleven year old character watch her father burned to death. This is all part and parcel of Millar's playbook. He likes outrageous ideas like this for their shock value, and don't give me any bullshit about it being satire. It's an extension of trends in comics since Frank Miller uncorked the grim and gritty superhero archetype in the early 80s and protests of "realism" are going to fall on deaf ears when it comes to a movie in which our teen-age hero ends up donning a rocket pack and wasting a raft of bad guys with mini-guns mounted on his back. At its most basic, this is a more explicit, more virulent version of the superhero wish-fulfillment power fantasy, one that feeds both fanboy sensibilities of "cool" and their sense of entitlement to groove on even the most reprehensible imagery so long as it feeds that sense of "cool."

But does this matter?

"There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all."--Oscar Wilde

In the interests of full disclosure, some of my favorite movies include the likes of Dirty Harry and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Dirty Harry is an even more troubling power fantasy than Kick-Ass could ever dream of being, and TCM's only reasonable justification for existing is the very force of its film making. So I need to own up to the fact that while I was watching Kick-Ass, I was grooving on how it was made. It's an accomplished movie that knows how to provide the kinetic thrills that are the stock in trade of action movies. It gets the adrenalin flowing. Not only that, but it's almost classically austere in the way it films action. It's not a run and gun movie. You see the geography of the scene. You see every loving bullet impact. You see bodies in motion, sometimes in slow motion that renders the action balletic in the manner of John Woo's best films. Since this is becoming a lost art, it's exhilarating to watch it executed well. Further, the various characters in Kick-Ass are performed with aplomb: Both Aaron Johnson and Chloe Moretz are destined for stardom (Moretz in particular is one of those preternaturally gifted child actors a la Jodie Foster or Dakota Fanning). It's reassuring to see what a fine actor Nicolas Cage can be when he's put in the right situation. Hell, hearing Cage affect a combination of William Shatner and Adam West as the voice of Big Daddy is kind of a hoot.

In any event, while I watched it, I was immersed in the world it was presenting and that's the aim of movies like this, after all. Shall I take the film to task for accomplishing exactly what it sets out to do?

If I apply Oscar Wilde's dictum, this is very well made, not badly made at all, and that's pretty much all she wrote. Right?


As a side note, here's a further opinion on Mark Millar. Thought I'd share.

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