Kick-Ass: Should have been titled “Lick-Cock”

Yep, this is a movie about penises.  No matter what lengths the director goes to misdirect the audience with all the banality (read: derivative, Lifetime-appropriated teenage life narratives), the whole thing boils down to a disappointingly simplistic, pubescent fantasy.  Yes: that’s bold, italics, AND underlines you see there.

First, I’ll discolse that I haven’t read the comic, and I’m not interested in talking about the film’s comic-like elements. What’s more, unlike the similarly mediocre film Watchmen, this movie doesn’t make me want to go read the comic at all.

What’s really shocking to me is the completely juvenile treatment almost every subject in the film gets from writer-director Matthew Vaughn (of Snatch, Layer Cake, and Lock Stock, and Two Smoking Gonads – or whatever it was called – fame).  From love, to violence, to revenge, every theme feels like it’s crafted for, and told through, the perspective of a pimply, bed-wetting, tweeny shut-in.

I had no real love for Snatch or Lock Stock and Blah Blah Blah.  They seemed kind of revolutionary to me when they came out; as a 15-year old who wasn’t familiar with the prolific British usage of phrases like fag, bloody, and cunt, I thought they were even a little cutting-edge.  Oooh, gross swear words!  And guns!  And more guns!  And bleeding!  Sure, I’m into that kind of thing.  I think?

Layer Cake, on the other hand, is a truly fantastic film.  Its delicate treatment of the rough-and-tumble(-and-bungle) English gangsters has a far more restrained, insightful perspective.  What’s more: unlike the other two projects I mentioned in which Vaughn played the producer, Layer Cake was his first major feature as a full-fledged director.  So, I was pretty excited for his newest take on the thoughtful-violence genre.  Or at least, what I expected to be thoughtful.

Instead, what we get is a mash-up of what I can only imagine were all of his adolescent fantasies brought to life on the big screen, processed for an American audience.

A few concessions: it definitely kicks ass!  If what you want from a film is a carbon-copy coming of age drama, a tepid love story, and a few hundred frenetically edited punches, jabs, gunshots, and pop-culture references, set in a pat-yourself-on-the-back-for-watching-a-film-featuring-a-woman-who-can-actually-fight mold, then great: you’ve come to the right place.  The violence is extreme – shocking, even, in a few places.  The “average joe” superheroes are appropriately awkward, even breaking into humorous, sporadically. There is plenty of murder.  And beating up little kids.  A bazooka is brought in and rolled out quite nicely.  But unlike Roger Ebert’s terrible, pedantic review in which he manages to miss the point of the movie, comic books in general, and the potential power of film criticism, the over-the-top violence didn’t bother me.  I kind of liked it.  The director’s vision of the characters, story, and imagery, however, were – I agree with him – undoubtedly “morally reprehensible.”

Nicholas Cage is absolutely fucking terrible, with a performance so stiff, stereotyped, and overworked I actually turned away from the screen several times in pain. (I recently mentioned to Harrison Gish that after his brilliant performance in Port of Call: New Orleans, I’d have to go back and re-watch trash like Face-Off to gauge my impression of him again.  After watching this film, I feel I can freely place him back in the “I’m sad to be an American because this guy is making more money than Barney Frank category and chalk Bad Lieutenant up to Werner Herzog being – you know – as amazing a director as Cage is a terribad actor).  But at least his character is fun to watch.  Like when he’s shooting his daughter in the chest.  Or forcing her to stop doing her homework to fight bad guys.  Or instead of sending her to bed, sending her out to fight more bad guys.  But she, (Chloe Moretz) on the other hand, is astonishingly terrific.  She’s really the one that kicks ass in this movie again and again. (What’s up with IMDB not even listing her on the main cast page?)  She grimaces, smirks, and jauntily throws her pint-sized fists around like a true ballerina of blood.  Her character is the only one that doesn’t compromise her identity until the very end of the film, and the actress pulls it off with such utter disdain for her fellow not-superheroes, it’s really a pleasure to behold.  Jared predicts: more awesome roles for her to show off her obvious martial arts skills in the very near future.  Lets hope casting agents notice her nuanced performance as well as her “hundred hand slap” lest she get needlessly typecast.  But don’t let her brazen feminine charms fool you: this is most definitely not a film about female empowerment.

Why?  Let’s start with the overwhelmingly chauvinistic subtext, and move right on into the disgustingly explicit phallic imagery.

From the first moment we see him on screen, “Kick Ass”, aka Dave Lizewski, aka “the personality-free, least common denominator stereotype of every awkward teenager in any coming of age movie, ever” is obsessed with his own budding sexuality.  What are our first impressions of him?  That he fantasizes about everything – from his 40+ year old homeroom teacher, to the cute-girl-locker-neighbor, to that African stereotype on the National Geographic website with partially exposed breasts.  As his wastebasket fills up with ejected hormones swathed in cottonelle, his voiceover implies he alone is keeping Kleenex in business, masturbating ceaselessly.  What’s that on his wall? Oh, it’s a clock with a limp penis masquerading as an arrow, always pointing down, yet also eternally erect (clearly, there’s still a lot of sexual learning he has left to go).  What, other than women, turns him on?  Straddling bad guys’ crotches, clothed in a package-revealing spandex jumper (see title image).  Also, apparently his male Skype-bromance-buddy, with whom he shares great jerk off links.  Surely, in a movie that essentially boils down to guy-falls-in-love-with-girl-then-does-some-masculine-escapades-and-wins-her-eventually, the gay subtext of the film ends there, right?  Nope!  Turns out the whole key to his plan (which, to be fair, he stumbles into, more than hatches consciously) is pretending to be gay in order to get close to his love interest, so they can have ‘sleepovers,’ so he can rub tanning lotion all over her naked body, and so they can share polite pecks on the cheek under the pretense of not really being into her.  Humorously, when his massive, ridiculous, breach of her trust is revealed, she doesn’t really seem to care.  Why?  Because this movie is all about how powerful men and their gentials are.

While we could construct various arguments that any number of characters in the film are portrayed as the “hero” or “heroine,” there is undoubtedly an arch-villian, and his long-time nemesis, true to the comic book genre.  Normally, in a simple film like this, you’d expect some kind of contrasting imagery to distinguish them thematically; I’m thinking of how Darth Vader wears all black and wields a red lightsaber, while Obi-Wan wears a white robe and wields a green saber (uber-nerds feel free to correct me if I have the sabers backwards).  In contrast, my absolute, hands-down, favorite aspect of this film is that both the “ultimate good guy” and the “ultimate bad guy” literally cover their walls with guns; they have an identical fixation on cylindrical (read: cock-shaped) metal.  For the villain, we see two giant, 15-foot tall paintings of revolvers pointed at each other, framing the door to his office.  For the anti-villain, we have all four walls of a room covered, from floor to ceiling, in actual guns, of all calibers, shapes and sizes.  The masculine sexual imagery is almost too painful to point out explicitly: these men, both wifeless (one, through death, the other, through a lifetime of obvious subservience) live with, and for, their weapons; the bigger, more prominent, and numerous, the less their sexual identity is decayed.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg.  What does Kick-Ass fight with?  Two nightsticks, essentially glorified phalluses.  How about Red Mist?  Four phalluses: nunchucks, in pairs attached by wire.  What gets Hit Girl hot for her birthday?  “A pony, and a Bratz doll… oops, no, just kidding Dad!” (apologies for the terrible paraphrasing). No, don’t be ridiculous – she drools over a pair of spring-loaded butterfly knives!  What else could a girl need to constantly fondle suggestively throughout the movie ?  Howabout a $300,000 gatling gun-equipped jet pack?  Let’s get serious: (warning: this is me being blatantly sexist) she’s basically a 12-year old boy trapped in the frame of a spunky 12-year old girl, with a hard-on for heavy-duty phallic weaponry. This is actually my favorite shot of the film (see if you can find the cock, anywhere, in the frame):

What does Red Mist stroke when he gets nervous?  The wheel of his lacquered, expensive, long, fire-truck-red car.  What does the car do?  It ejaculates a cloud of white mist at the push of his button, when he’s feeling saucy.  What does the big black guy need to match his size, shape, and finesse?  A giant bazooka, of course.  How do the gangsters torture a suspected informant?  By circumcising his fingers!  What’s the pivotal moment, turning Kick Ass from a boy into a crimefighting anti-superhero?  When he gets shanked in the gut by a thug’s giant blade, hunched over sexually like he’s being raped. Other than guns and knives, what else does Hit Girl pack in her crime-fighting fannypack-utility belt?  Oh, some nice, round, feminine grenades and smoke bombs; too bad she never uses them!

I could do this all night.  Suffice it to say, nothing is powerful in this movie if it doesn’t have a long shaft of some kind.  Phallus beats flesh.  Period.

On the whole, I could see enjoying this movie if you can successfully ignore all the ramifications and subtexts that are deeply ingrained in Matt Vaughn’s psyche, unleashed on film, and visited upon the unsuspecting, R-rated, sneak-past-the-ID-check teenage crowd.

Walking out of the theater, I overheard a woman exclaim to her boyfriend, “It’s so cool to see a woman as the hero of an action movie!”  I’ll let you know if one comes out any time soon.

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2 Responses to “Kick-Ass: Should have been titled “Lick-Cock””

  1. Funny, I disliked it for other reasons.

    First off, I liked the Nicolas Cage parts the best. Cage is the opposite of a method actor, and his horribly stilted line-readings make me think of zaniness of pre-Kazan Hollywood.

    What bothered me was the violence. When they tossed in a John Woo shout-out halfway through the movie, I had a depressing thought: I am the target demographic for this movie. I love action movies; but since Pulp Fiction, most seem to include increasingly elaborate, post-ironic violent flourishes that rely on highly sexualized violence. Seeing something like this perpetrated by a pre-pubescent girl is disturbing.

    So maybe we did pick up on the some of the same strange undertones to the film, but focused on different details. The romantic sub-plot involving fake homosexuality and self-tanner didn’t bother me that much, but maybe my standards have been lowered by keeping up with my high-school classmate’s turn as “Cooze” in the American Pie direct-to-video installments.

  2. Jared Parmenter Says:

    “When they tossed in a John Woo shout-out halfway through the movie, I had a depressing thought: I am the target demographic for this movie.”

    QFT

    “but maybe my standards have been lowered by keeping up with my high-school classmate’s turn as “Cooze” in the American Pie direct-to-video installments.”

    LMFAO

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