Sunday, May 23, 2010

Asses, and the kicking of same.

So I downloaded the movie Kick-Ass today. I feel a little bad downloading it illegally, but then again, I couldn't convince Tanja to go see it when it was at the cinemas, and it was gone before I could organise nerds to see it. I had bought the trade of the series and read it months ago, before the film came out.

So my thoughts upon seeing the film? "Man, I can't wait to blog about this."

So yeah.

**warning: Spoilers for the comic and film Kick-ass. Your punk-face be warned.**

I think they missed the point.

I read interviews with Mark Millar (the writer of the comic), who said his aim was to try and present a realistic take on the Superhero origin story. And no, not a Batman Begins "realistic" take. I mean, a 16-year old kid up and decides to be a superhero. Well, a vigilante. Well, a guy in a wetsuit who decides to beat on people for justice, or some such. Problem is, he can barely fight, has no physique, training, or powers to speak of, so he gets beat up. Like a LOT. John Romita Jr's art shows the brutal detail of the amount of damage that a few street thugs can do to a person. So anyway, the line in the comics was that it doesn't take a radioactive spider-bite or a dead parent to make a super-hero. It just takes the right combination of boredom and despair. The film takes this line and declares "It just takes the right kind of optimism and naivety." Uh oh.

So I'm not going to run through the plot, but I'll hit the main things they changed in the film that bugged me. In the increasingly original point-form:

1. Hit-Girl and Big Daddy.

Hit-Girl, they did right. In a nutshell, she's an 11-year old girl who's been trained and conditioned to be the deadliest thing on two legs with any weapon she can get her hands on. No fear, no hesitation, she will literally kill you as soon as look at you, in a number of deadly and interesting ways.

Big Daddy, however, they messed with. In the comics, he was first explained to be an ex-cop, who was framed by crooked cops in the employ of the mob kingpin and sent to prison. His pregnant wife committed suicide, but they saved the baby. 5 years later, when he got out, he took custody of her, and turned her, rather lovingly/brutally, into Hit-Girl. He funded their operation with a secret silver suitcase full of something that he sold on a regular basis but kept secret from Hit-Girl.

But it was all a lie.

Comics-Big-Daddy was actually an accountant for a credit-card company who had a wife who hated him, and a job he loathed, so he took his comic book collection and his baby girl and ran away. He wanted her to be special, so he trained her, gave her a mission, and made her into Hit-Girl. The real connection to the mob kingpin? They needed a villain, and he had been on the news. The silver suitcase? About a million bucks in old comics he sold to dealers all over the country.

Now THAT'S a fuckin' origin story.

So the film. They took all of the above, EXCEPT the fact that it was all a lie. Film-Big-Daddy WAS an ex-cop. So instead of deconstructing the what-makes-a-hero idea, they played it as absolutely straight. Sigh. And they gave the role to Nicolas Cage. Sigh. And they designed his costume (which in the comics is a kevlar vest, a trench coat, and a dark red mask which covers his whole face except for eyes and hair) to look like Batman without the ears. Sigh.

2. Red Mist
In the comics, Red Mist is introduced as a copycat hero to Kick-Ass. In every aspect, he's better: he has a cool car, a better costume (with cape), and seems to have it all together. He and Kick-ass meet up, and team together for a while. even doing some straight-up hero-ing, such as saving what they thought was a child and what turned out to be a cat from a burning building. Kick-ass starts to improve as a hero around Red Mist, and they become friends.

But it was all a lie. Again.

Red Mist was, in reality, the son of the mafia kingpin, who was also a comics nerd. He went to his father (who found him useless), and offered to help by befriending Kick-Ass and bringing him into a trap (the kingpin wanted Kick-Ass, because he had been blamed for a bunch of mob guys, Big Daddy and Hit Girl had killed). Red Mist gleefully reveals to Kick-Ass that he played him for a sucker and never liked him anyway. Their final match-up is no epic battle, as Kick-Ass just clubs him with a bat and leaves, telling him he's pathetic. The reveal of Red Mist as a villain is a big shock, as the mafia-son had only been referred to once in one panel two pages into the book. The fact that he and Red Mist were one and the same was shocking enough that I leafed back to that page and looked again.

So the film. They introduce the son early, but they keep him around. They show him trying to be a big shot like his dad, and wanting to help. He then comes up with "a plan" and tells his dad he can get him, but he'll "need some stuff." Cut to the next scene with the reveal of the Red Mist costume. Snore. He meets up with Kick-Ass and they drive around. The fire? It's a trap Red Mist was taking Kick-Ass to, where his dad's goons were waiting, but Big Daddy got there first and lit the place on fire. So they rush in, but save no one. Snore. Then when the kingpin does capture Kick-Ass, Red Mist pleads with his father to let him go, as he didn't do anything (because they're such tight buds, from that one time you were hoping to get him killed, but it didn't work out). His father ignores him. Leter, when Kick-Ass escapes, Red Mist attacks him, they're evenly matched, though the fight is pathetic and consists of them hitting one another with random martial arts weapons until both fall down. Kick-Ass wakes up first and leaves. Snore. It also doesn't help that they cast the kid who played McLovin in Superbad to play Red Mist. I wouldn't have been able to look at Red Mist and not know "Yep, it's that guy."

3. The romantic plot.
So Dave (that's Kick-Ass to you) has a huge crush on a girl named Katie who doesn't know he exists. After his first Kick-Ass fight, he's left a bloody mess. In the comics, the thugs steal his costume and leave him naked for the paramedics. Shortly after, Katie begins talking to him. He atributes it to his new confidence, but his friends advise him that it's due to a rumour that he was "pimping his ass in the village" and that he was being beaten up by his clients. Katie's mom runs an abused womens' shelter. She Katie is feeling pity, and is thinknig of him as her "gay best friend". He decides to go with it, as a way to get closer to her. It's played as really, really sad. At one point, after a big fight, he stands outside her house and declares that he is Kick-Ass, and no, he's not gay! He then promptly runs. Later, she says that someone stood outside her house yelling he wasn't gay, and was that you, Dave? "Yes," says Dave. "I'm not gay. And I love you." And then he says all this great stuff about how she's the only one for him and he cares bout her so much and loves her and stuff. Her response?

"FUCK YOU! You manipulative little prick! How dare you make a fool out of me!"

And then she tells her large boyfriend to beat the shit out of Dave. Which he does. She then SMSes him a picture of her sucking the boyfriend's cock.


Oh, the film version? He reveals that he's Kick-Ass, and that he's not gay. She lets him spend the night, and they have lots and lots of sex. Sigh.

4. The Tone.
I don't have the energy for scene-by-scene comparison at this point. The early, brutal, learning-to-be-a-super-hero-and-getting-beaten-badly stuff is played in a silly, irreverent way. Later, the tone goes ponderous. Instead of Big Daddy's death being a single execution-style shot played in a shocking way, he's lit on fire for ages and ages as Hit-Girl tried to get to him, and he lives long enough to have a whole deathbed conversation. Instead of Hit-Girl getting revenge on many, many of the bad guys before being overwhelmed, and a weakened Kick-Ass saving her with a pistol (shooting a guy in the crotch which gives Hit-Girl the second she needs to escape and finish everyone off), she goes mano-a-mano with the boss, who she for-some-reason can't defeat, and Kick-Ass saves her on a jet-pack. With two miniguns on it. And shoots the boss with a bazooka.

So yeah.

I don't know, I'm rambling, but I mostly feel that the film was just-okay, and mostly a missed opportunity.

EDIT: Ooh! I thought of a way to sum this up! I was trying to explain to Tanja why I was so let down, and it hit me. The book basically says that Dave, as Kick-ass, acts as though the world will follow the story tropes of the hero's journey: it'll recognise his courage, give him the girl, allies who are both noble and effective, and a villain he can defeat. Instead, he is repeatedly smacked in the face that the world does not run on narritivium* but is mostly an unfair and uncaring place. Despite this, he does manage to be a hero, and do some good. The film basically takes the premise and gets none of the message. Dave gets the girl, beats the bad guy, and gets to feel okay and get a happy ending. So yeah.

*copyright Terry Pratchett

Friday, May 14, 2010

O.G.: Origin Gangster.

After watching Iron Man 2 with Tanja and the Nerd Herd, I was watching the Totally Rad Show review of it at the gym. It got me thinking about films and origin stories, specifically when it comes to superheroes and comic book films.

Now, I've heard from people that the second film can be more difficult than the first, due to the terrors of sequelitis, the law of diminishing returns, and viewer fatigue. Other comments have said that sequel films are easier due to the fact that you don't need to spend half the film introducing everyone, but can get right down to telling the story you want.

Where it gets interesting with Superhero stories is simple: everyone knows the end of the origin story. We know Peter Parker will become Spider-Man. We know Bruce Wayne will be Batman. We know Wolverine may take off in a snit, but he'll always come back and be part of the X-Men. Everyone knows this plucky kid/cavaleir inventor/troubled man will become the superhero. If nothing else, we know it because it was on the poster for the film that we walked by to get into the theatre. So how do you build tension?

Well, in the case of the better superhero stories/films, you make the origin not about the destination, but about the journey. This can be difficult, and may require fleshing out due to the fact that most comic book origins are a single issue. That's 16-25 pages, with ads, to go from soup to nuts, introduction to actualisation. In the 40s, 50s, and 60s, it was not hard. Hey look! That's your hero. We know because he's on the cover. He got his powers from a lightning strike and now he can run fast, calls himself The Flash, and fights crime. Boom. Done. That took about two pages. That, however, makes for a terrible film. So the better ones (which is how I started this paragraph) take their time and use the origin to establish character.

Batman? Show the parents' death. Show the training. Show how determined and dangerous he becomes. Spider-man? Show the getting of the powers. Show the fun side. Show it turning dark and the acceptance of responsibility. Iron Man? Show him cavalier. Show his interest turn from the frivolous to the immediate (ie survival). Show him using his genius outside the box and that with constraints comes true discovery (In a CAVE! With a BOX OF SCRAPS!).
This is why, when Marvel asked Brian Michael Bendis to create a new variant of Spider-Man (Ultimate Spider-Man) with no continuity to the 40+ years of history, he took a bold step and instead of telling the origin in the first issue, he used the entire first story arc. All 6 issues of it. And it was heralded as a masterpiece of storytelling. By the end of it, we don't just know Spider-man. We know Peter Parker, the kid who, just maybe, has it in him to be a hero.

I have no idea where I was going with this, but I find all of this fascinating. I love the wayposts of the Hero's Journey. I love looking at stories, be they film, book, comic or TV show slightly off to the side so you can see the strings. It the same reason I love magic. You can watch it and love the spectacle, and you can also appreciate the technique. Plus, once in a while, a magician will do something where you have NO idea how he did it. And that's real magic.