Kick-Ass vs. Super

If any of you paid attention to The Parallax Review from the beginning, you’ll recall that I hated Kick-Ass. In one of our only contentious podcasts, Matt and I vehemently disagreed about the film’s quality and worth. I argued that the story was an unfocused, structurally unsound mess, that the satire was weak and self-defeating (by ignoring its own premise — that regular people have decided to act like superheroes — the moment Big Daddy and Hit Girl show up), and that the jokes were incredibly repetitive. Granted, it was more than a one-joke premise — it pretty much gave one joke to each character, then beat it into the ground repeatedly. Worse than all that, I never felt like I was watching a story about characters I could believe doing things I cared about. It’s merely a movie that tries very hard to be shocking and irreverent without having the narrative or comedy chops to back up its brazenness. (And even its brazenness was dulled quite significantly — disturbing and unfunny as I found Chlo&eum; Moretz as the foul-mouthed, ultraviolent Hit Girl, I probably would have believed in the character more, and found her relationship with Big Daddy more compelling, if he had been drugging her as he does in the comic. Granted, I haven’t read the comic, and I hear it’s quite awful, but by most accounts it’s much bolder than the sanitized-for-your-protection-but-still-pretending-to-be-aggressive-and-filthy film.)

But I had another reason for not liking Kick-Ass, one I tried very hard to keep from spoiling what I think of as “objective subjectivity” — in other words, accepting a film on its own terms, on what it’s trying to accomplish, and whether or not it succeeds. The first 20 minutes of Kick-Ass paint it as the story of a “regular person” who decides to don a wetsuit and call himself a superhero. In the film’s funniest scene, he gets his ass kicked immediately and winds up in the hospital. That’s when the movie it claimed it would be effectively ends — Kick-Ass develops a superpower (his injuries have left him virtually indestructible), and we meet Big Daddy and Hit Girl, who do not exist in any believable plane of reality. Kick-Ass creates its own half-assed comic-book universe, with just as much artifice as Spider-Man or X-Men, while maintaining the ruse that this is merely a film about “regular people” who fight crime in the “real world.”

To give one random example of how little the film cares about the humanity of its own characters, think about the treacly voiceover narration Kick-Ass gives late in the film, after he’s started dating Katie. He says something to the effect of realizing that now that he had fallen in love, he had something to lose. It gives the impression that, typical of most superhero movies, the girlfriend will become the damsel in distress that he’ll need to save to prove himself. In a legitimate genre satire, such a development could have played out a thousand different hilarious ways. In Kick-Ass, Katie appears in one more scene and has no bearing whatsoever on the climactic moments. It’s not that it was a letdown; it just shows that, just like with everything else in the movie, they pay lip-service to dramatic conventions without doing anything interesting with them.

Back to my other reason… A script I read several months before I saw Kick-Ass: James Gunn’s Super. Slated for a March release, my biggest disappointment about Super is that its target audience will probably reject it as a Kick-Ass clone. It’s not, though — unless it wildly deviates from the shooting draft I read, it’s what Kick-Ass should have been. Whereas Kick-Ass got too distracted with towing the line between “irreverent comedy” and “straight-up superhero movie,” Gunn’s script has no such problems. I don’t know if he hates superhero movies or not, but his script does the best job of deconstructing and ridiculing the superhero myth that I’ve ever seen.

His main character, Frank, is portrayed as a narcissistic sociopath, beaten and traumatized into his emotional problems by God-fearing fundamentalist parents. Because of his rearing, he has trouble meeting reality on its own terms. He thinks that he’s very special, because God has seen fit to punish him, Job-style, pretty much since birth. For instance, Frank doesn’t realize his girlfriend is a drug-addled prostitute. He believes he’s rescued her from a terrible life as a stripper and drug addict, and when she disappears one day, he assumes she’s been kidnapped by her sinister employers, as yet another of God’s tests. Unlike Kick-Ass, Super uses its narration to very effectively illustrate Frank’s point-of-view while the action depicts reality as it actually is — that she ran off with her sinister employers to live an easier life, trading sex for drugs.

After Frank has a disturbing spiritual epiphany, he goes to a comic-book store and starts researching superheroes, thinking God has chosen this path for him. Before long, he’s developed a secret identity, The Crimson Bolt, and he’s taken it upon himself to beat criminals to death with his weapon of choice, a lead pipe spray-painted red to match his costume. Libby, a psychotic girl who works at the comic-book store, realizes Frank is The Crimson Bolt and signs herself up to be his sidekick.

The script isn’t perfect, but it’s damn near. Gunn uses a framework of believable human behavior — not the weird, outsized, comic-booky bullshit of Kick-Ass — to craft a brutal satire of superheroes. I took it as a thematic suggestion that anyone taking these movies seriously (and many people do, especially Nolan’s Batman films) is deserving of only the most derisive mockery imaginable.

Say what you will about Gunn, but he’s a man with comic vision. I try not to let myself get too overwhelmed with imagining the possibilities of a finished product when I read a script from a writer/director I know, but the script would be phenomenal for any halfway competent comedy director. The fact that Gunn, whose underrated Slither has become a well-deserved cult favorite, will direct his own script only makes me more excited. I can already feel the “Kick-Ass knockoff” backlash, but I have a lot of faith that this film will be what Kick-Ass only wishes it could have been. Or, at least, what I wished Kick-Ass had been.

For Wednesday, I’ll start at the very beginning (a very good place to start) with a 2003 story called “The Protest.” It’s about the time I decided to go down to Washington, D.C., to protest the impending Iraq war, in order to meet women. And then, days before the trip, I ended up punching one of the trip organizers in the mouth. The story set the tone for what this blog would become, chronicling my seriocomic misadventures through a life that I’ll mock ‘til the day that I drop.

For Friday, I know I promised “screenwriting articles or script reviews,” and that’s sort of true. I’d started to get a little bit interested in the unemployed wannabe-screenwriter blogosphere, until I stumbled on the blog of somebody whose mind-boggling stupidity transformed the trajectory of my blog. So, I figure it only makes sense to start with “Stupid Bloggers Need the Most Attention,” since the discovery of that blog changed my mission from “ramble about movies” to “correct all the bullshit and misinformation perpetuated by blogger retards.”

Part of me is fully aware that it’s petty and sort of cruel to not only call out another’s stupidity through the shroud of relative anonymity that the Internet affords, but another part of me — the one that just reread this old blog post — is still angry that people this dumb are allowed on the Internet. There should be some kind of license. On the plus side, I also mock Bob “Back to the Future” Gale for his own petty assessment of No Country for Old Men, and I make what I believe might be a helpful suggestion to budding screenwriters trying to learn the form by reading examples. Stay tuned!

Posted by D. B. Bates on March 21, 2011 10:53 AM