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Kick-Ass: The Golden State Review

Greetings from Sunny Los Angeles!

I’ve been far too busy committing deadly sins to write anything these last few weeks. But I got another e-mail from Tiger Beatdown, and I’m like THESE GUYS AGAIN and apparently we do this thing year round now. Who knew?

So I took time off from my vacation and jetted on down to a tiny theater on Vermont Avenue to see something I could write about. The name of the movie I saw is Kick-Ass. It is about real people determined to become superheroes. The main character, Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass, is a scrawny loser who converts a wet suit into an ersatz superhero costume. Kick-Ass is played by Aaron Johnson, who is cute as a button. He comes off as genuinely friendly and sweet and someone you’d like to go halfsies with on a novelty oversized banana split – the kind where if you finish it by yourself, you get a t-shirt. You feel like he’d let you have a cherry or two instead of eating them all as fast as he could THIS IS NOT A GAME GIVE ME A GODDAMN CHERRY.

So there’s that. Kick-Ass is on a quest – he wants to be a crimefighter. Through his bungling, he attracts the attention and aid of Big Daddy – an ex-cop with a grudge – and Hit Girl – an 11-year-old who curses and savagely murders people. Instead of this being a nauseating cautionary tale about the effect that fetishizing violence has on the human soul (like Man Bites Dog or Funny Games) it is a comedy about how funny it is to watch a little girl stab people. Everyone loves Hit Girl! Even the villain! He says he wishes he had a son like her! (Not a daughter – that’s gross – but a son!) You see, women? All you need to do to earn begrudging respect from men is mow down a line of henchmen like Sarah Palin moving though a list of endangered animals she’d like to turn into jerky – and even then they’ll wish you were a dude. Fun!

Not to mention that in other parts of the world, children ARE used as soldiers – made to commit atrocities, kept drugged and armed and on edge at all times. But HAHAHA this is our American version, where you can train a little girl to impale drug dealers and she never needs therapy. The most disturbing part of the buzz surrounding this film was how few people objected to this. Is this who we want to be? As a people? We think a little girl with a gun is a sign the empire will stand forever?

In addition to bringing up that creepy “killer children” thing people have been beating to death since The Ring, Hit Girl is the latest in a long line of “Women (who are not supposed to kick ass) kicking ass.” Such women are not just stand-ins for the viewer’s own sense of everyday helplessness (like Jet Li or Jean-Claude Van Damme), but are also total babes. Men watch male superheros to escape from a reality in which justice is often murky and unsatisfying – to live for a few minutes in a world where the ratio of evil deeds to roundhouse kicks to the face is one to one. But female superheros are a novelty – like watching a dog walk around in high heels – and any praise a man gives them must come with the caveat that most women are generally lame and soft and boring to listen to (ALL THEY EVER TALK ABOUT IS CLOTHES AND US WEEKLY)  and should not be misconstrued as praise for her athleticism, her years of training, or her willingness to put herself in danger for the helpless.

The villain of the film is a mafioso who sells drugs, which you never see; all you ever see him doing is ordering people put to death in gruesome ways. And while all of this is happening Kick-Ass is living the life of a normal teenage boy. He hangs out with his friends. He masturbates. He has a crush on his teacher. And a hot girl his own age.

Things happen! Montages! Flashbacks! Tongue-in-cheek comical interludes! Fighting! Somewhere in there one of Dave’s friends mentions there is a rumor going around school that Dave is a “lame duck.” I was confused – as far as I knew, he didn’t hold any elected office. Then I realized his friend meant people thought Dave was gay! Haha! Lame duck! Like how we’re all such credenza dusting pansies! Such wit!

His long time crush invites him for out for coffee and he accepts. He lets her believe he is gay, and they do fun things like topless self-tanning and sleepovers. But finally, after a lot of good natured ribbing from his friends, he decides the lies need to stop, and breaks into her house to confess his love for her. She, to her credit, KICKS THE SHIT out of him (this is, incidentally, how all of my Twilight fanfic ends). But she can’t stay mad at him forever and soon it is sleepover time. Sexy sleepover time.

So, to recap, his “gay period” goes like this:

  1. He comes out to supportive friend.
  2. Sexy massages and lots of watching Sex and the City.
  3. Stalking/A little light B&E.
  4. Pussy!

No hate crimes, no taunting from high school bullies, and no negative consequences whatsoever. He isn’t even forced to come out to his Father. I mean COME ON, even being gay is easier for heterosexuals? Dave seems like a nice guy and not at all homophobic. But it is still a dick move to appropriate the trust that comes from a relationship that should be devoid of sexual tension. I will say this to you once, guys and them I’m crackin’ skulls: stop pretending to be gay. Not just to get next to a girl you like, but also to make your friends laugh. You make me cringe, not just because it is offensive to me, but you SUCK SO PERFECTLY AT IT I could only have assumed you two were going steady. You have no understanding of the reasons behind the swish, so you always end up doing shoddy caricature.

Other than those GIANT GLARING FLAWS, I enjoyed the movie. There were a lot of little nods to the nerds – in one scene a marquee advertises ”The Spirit 3″ a dig at Frank Miller’s 2008 box office flop. The fight scenes are all artfully ripped off from better movies, so if you get bored you can think about how much you liked those movies when you first saw them. It is not the worst way to spend an afternoon, but I’d suggest you wait for the DVD release. Better to be offended at home.

12 Comments

  1. Gnatalby wrote:

    No hate crimes, no taunting from high school bullies, and no negative consequences whatsoever. He isn’t even forced to come out to his Father. I mean COME ON, even being gay is easier for heterosexuals?

    This reminds me of that weird tampon ad about a high school boy who wakes up one day with a vagina and how he deals with it. Basically he’s not at all upset although he does get a little emotional when it’s time for his period.

    There’s this bizarre implication that like the only thing standing between you and privilege is assuming the attitude of privilege as if, in reality, that doesn’t just make people want to put you in your place.

    Friday, May 21, 2010 at 5:19 am | Permalink
  2. Samantha b. wrote:

    I am something of a clothes person, though I don’t talk about them much unless prompted because better to be seen than heard, no? Quite often who is prompting? Straight men, straight men who I think are a little/lot bored with Straight Men Talk.

    So I wonder to what extent this in of itself is a fantasy for straight men, the ability to toss off the constraints of heterosexual gender norms for a bit without the burdensome details of, you know, actually being gay?

    Friday, May 21, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Permalink
  3. GarlandGrey wrote:

    @gnatalby It is amazing to talk to self-deputized gender/sex/race police and hear them assert that since personality is a social construct, we’re just shooting ourselves in the foot for not being masculine/
    feminine/straight/white enough – and then have them deny that this applies to them in any way.

    Friday, May 21, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  4. Scott wrote:

    Holy cow the movie is different from the comic.

    In the comic Big Daddy is lying about Hit Girl’s backstory. He’s really an accountant who kidnaps his daughter and feeds her the story about the mob being responsible for her mother’s death to keep her from going back to her mom.

    I guess Nicholas Cage wouldn’t play a character who was that evil?

    Friday, May 21, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink
  5. alanna wrote:

    WAIT A MINUTE “lame duck” is supposed to be a synonym for “gay” now? I guess I missed a memo?

    Friday, May 21, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Permalink
  6. SeanH wrote:

    You left out how the reason kids at school think Dave is gay is that, after he got beat up, he hid his superhero costume so the ambulance team found him naked and everyone at school (and his dad) assumes he got raped! HA HA RAPE.

    Sunday, May 23, 2010 at 6:43 am | Permalink
  7. Brad V wrote:

    Late to the party, but I was really, really bothered by this movie. Like seriously. I walked out halfway through because I was furious. I was expecting to feel uncomfortable, but the movie made me angry instead.

    Let me begin with saying that I completely disagree with your assessment of the main character. He wasn’t cute to me in any way, shape, or form. This is probably because he was The Nice Guy(TM) with Morals That Need to Be Enforced. As you can see, I’m not big on vigilantes anymore. But really what truly annoyed me about his character is that it was so clear that he was a stand-in character for the default (read: white, hetereosexual, cisgender, TAB) geeks that I couldn’t even begin to have sympathy for him. He was the lovable loser because that’s what the target audience sees themselves as.

    Then, yeah, the whole OMG DID THEY RAPE YOU? subplot killed me dead. Especially because, like Seanh, the kids assumed that he was gay because he might have been raped. As we all know, straight men would never be raped by other men. They would never let it happen in the first place! There was so much subtle rape culture in that little subplot that it made me sick.

    Then there’s the “Oh, I’m totally gay! Watch me act femme to prove it! And ooooh. I get to touch you naked because you’re so comfortable around me because you think I get no sexual satisfaction out of this!” As a gay man with many lady friends, the only variation of this that has happened to me was a friend who would walk around our apartment half-naked at times. However, touching was off-limits unless she wanted it, which was mostly in the form of hugs.

    Oh, and Hit Girl being another example of how in order to be accepted (by the default geeks) as full-on superheroes or geeks or whatever, women must be “more-than.” She is more violent than him. She is more crass than him. She is more skilled than him. She is more homophobic than him. She is tougher than him. She is more than him in almost every way.

    Ooooh boy, this comment is long and ranty, but really, I hated this movie. It just felt like the same old shit I’ve seen before, repackaged with more of the stuff I don’t like, and sold to me as something new and interesting. I’m just not buying it anymore.

    Monday, May 24, 2010 at 6:37 am | Permalink
  8. Jasmin wrote:

    Wow. I wanted to like this movie, but the things you mentioned made me really uncomfortable in the theater. The Child Soldier issue you pointed out didn’t even cross my mind at the time. Thanks for writing this.

    Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 8:03 pm | Permalink
  9. Dawn. wrote:

    Full disclosure: I really liked Kick-Ass. But what made me unable to love Kick-Ass was an EXTREMELY problematic subplot.

    According to Kick-Ass:

    1) It’s impossible to rape straight men because they’re super manly so if you are raped and a man you must be gay. Duh!

    2) Gay men are totally cool with being sexually assaulted by anonymous car thieves! And all gay men are high-femme and love high-femme things. Didn’t you know that?

    3) It’s okay to pretend to be gay to close-up ogle and rub up on the girl you like. She’ll forgive you after being mad for like two minutes and you’ll totally bang. High-five!

    4) There are no negative repercussions from coming out. No harassment, social isolation, silencing, assault, family conflicts, etc. That stuff is so 20th century!

    Unacceptable subplot. Fail.

    I actually didn’t have a problem with Hit Girl. I think it’s because I expected her to be all that she was. I was pre-conditioned to accept Hit Girl as viciously violent and the kind of supporting character that would typically be male in action/superhero films.

    My influential years (10-18) were spent obsessed with Quentin Tarantino, so foul mouths paired with sociopath levels of violence have never bothered me, despite my awareness of how problematic they can be.

    When I was 16 I had a collage of Tarantino women, including Uma Thurman as Mrs. Wallace (in Pulp Fiction) with a massive needle sticking out of her chest and a blood/cocaine combo running out of her nose; Gogo, a hench-woman (in Kill Bill 1; I had a major crush on her), bleeding from the eyes with a mace stuck in her head; and another of Gogo gutting a man with a sword. This collage was next to a collage of Black Panther women carrying rifles and semi-automatic weapons and another collage of fashion mag editorials. I was kinda weird.

    Death Proof is still one of my favorite films and it’s chock full of foul-mouthed violent ladies. So a 12-year-old lady isn’t too big of a jump for me.

    Thursday, May 27, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Permalink
  10. Dawn. wrote:

    P.S. I am fully aware that Quentin Tarantino is a creeper and I do not worship his work like I did in high school.

    Thursday, May 27, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Permalink
  11. Phoebe wrote:

    Having not yet seen the film, I can’t comment on it, but just from having read the comic, I saw the depiction of Hit Girl highlighting some of the issues you brought up. The idea of having someone so young participating in that sort of over-the-top violence is something that comic culture ignores most of the time – like the various Robins, for instance (Big Daddy does look a lot like Batman, right?) – and I think Mark Millar was drawing attention to that more than anything else. We know it’s wrong, but I guess the question is why it took having a young girl (who was actually aged up for the movie, if I remember correctly) taking on that role for it to cause such an uproar.

    Friday, May 28, 2010 at 12:20 am | Permalink
  12. Kellytrobertson@hotm wrote:

    Aw…I was just happy there was a girl kicking ass and not showing boobs. And also explosions. And [SPOILER] Nicolas Cage on fire. I’ll admit the gay/rape/getting some subplot was seriously stupid, but…I just wanted to enjoy a movie with people kicking ass! And also explosions.

    Friday, May 28, 2010 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

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