I thought I’d posted this, but anyway:
Kick Ass is a wonderful, wonderful superhero film. If you’re in Korea, see it while you can… it’s not some huge crappy film, so it won’t play for long! (I find films succeed more when they are mediocre, and less when they are wonderful, here: the same goes, very generally, for Korean films, unfortunately.)
And yes, it does have the most violent little girl you’ve ever in your life seen. This is one of the film’s charms, and anyone who’s horrified by it needs to go kiss Frank D’Amico’s crooked, murderous ass.
But what makes the film kick ass isn’t the over-the-top violence, or the fact much of it is carried out by a little girl. The film kicks ass because it touches on the fundamentals:
- We live in an organized society, in which injustice corruption and crime are inevitable.
- We like to think we are moral people, but do nothing about this crime and corruption. We are, in essence, a large group of hypocrites — especially seen from an idealistic point of view. (One often ascribed to teenagers, but in fact more widespread in our fondest wishes.)
- We have an urge — an instinctive urge, it seems, shared with some of our primate cousins — to preserve or enact justice, but don’t believe we can do so in our own public personae.
- Sometimes, violence seems to be the only way that injustices or their recurrence or perpetuation can be prevented. And some people are so toxic to justice that their removal from society seems like the only reasonable solution to the problems they cause.
Someone somewhere commented of my own writing that I am very interested in something like “positive terrorism,” but I think that’s off the mark. Rather, I’m interested in the fact that governments, since some point in the middle ages (for the western world) have claimed for themselves a monopoly on violence.
Well, while I don’t think violence should ever be a first resort, I wonder to what degree it should be available to humans faced with certain kinds of injustices: a intractably racist and change-resistant society that also happens to be highly centralized, a society in which women are mechanized and dehumanized, a world where the tech used to combat global warming disrupts life in the Southern Hemisphere and kills millions?
And beyond my wondering, it seems like an inevitable element of human fantasy in response to injustices. Violence, and the power inherent in it, is something probably everyone has fantasized about using — especially the geeks of the world: in high school, there definitely were people whose teeth I dreamed of kicking in, people whom longed to seal into a burlap bag to be tossed into the river.
I never did those things, of course. But it was a natural fantasy, finding myself confronted with assholes whose behavior seemed to be hemmed in by absolutely nobody. (Teachers were always absent those altercations, and other students mostly stood around watching, too scared to join in and whup the ass of the school bully, though they could have done so easily if they’d joined together.)
The superhero is born of this realization: the majority of the school wants the school bully shamed into docile obscurity. But they will not come together and beat him up once, gloriously, spectacularly, and so they instead find they must endure his tyranny. The superhero narrative takes for granted that most people who could do something won’t. The standard superhero narrative presumes special powers are necessary, and this is why most people don’t act. The most interesting superhero narratives, though, presume that powers aren’t necessary, and people don’t act because they are selfish, terrified sheep. They suggest that if you want to get something done, you need to step up like an adult and do it yourself… even if you’re twelve or thirteen years old.
I like this message. I like imagining a group of high school nerds turning up after thre 3:30pm bell, in costume, to pound the living shit out of some school bully — who forever after leaves them alone. Of course, that’s safe. What about the unarguably racist soccer coach? The teacher with a penchant for throwing things at students?
This is why the kids would be tracked down and punished even for just beating some sense into a bully: the idea that individuals can so something about their circumstances is exactly the opposite of what schools, workplaces, and other institutions are designed to tell us constantly. Protecting yourself, or your friends, is too much of a threat to that system. It will not be tolerated.
Which makes me hope Kick-Ass 2 will focus on Mindy and Dave’s struggles in high school. Sure, Mindy’s final scene suggests this could be played for laughs, as an aside. But it’s a knowing aside. It’s because of bullies that so many young people dream of being vigilante superheroes.
By the way, if you look closely at the poster, it’s one of the smartest examples I’ve seen. The way the characters’ costumes seem to be bleeding away into ink that drips off them in every direction is really expressive of how their identities are fashioned, fabricated, fluid, and fallible. I didn’t mean to alliterate that, but after three Fs, it’s hard to resist adding a fourth.
I’ll confess — as insanely busy as I’ve been, I’ve seen this film twice in cinemas, and would love to see it once more before it goes off the silver screen for good.