The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Monday, April 19, 2010

Kick Ass (2010)

This is one of the best comic book movies ever made. And the most delirious, morally reprehensible fun I've had at the movies in recent memory. "Kick Ass" asks the question "why hasn't anyone ever tried to be a superhero" the way Watchmen asked "what kind of human beings would Superheros actually be?"

And in its way, Kick Ass is as good, or better, than Watchmen, which I liked a hell of a lot. But Kick Ass, because perhaps I was not exposed to its source material, hit damned hard, with some unexpected emotional fabric that actually dropped my guard. I cared about these characters in ways I never did in "Watchmen" or even "Dark Night." "Spiderman II?" Top of the heap. "Superman II"? Similar kudos. "Blade"? You can imagine why I cut it extra slack.

But "Kick Ass" is so rude, so off-the chain and in your face, that I could hardly believe what I was watching. What you have here is a movie that moves back and forth across the line between reality and fantasy that you literally don't know in any given scene which world you're in, in a manner similar to Shane Black's "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", where the detective (in Black's words, "touches the myth" at certain moments, suspending ordinary psychology and gun skill to become a movie hero.

Well..."Kick Ass" bends the laws of physics. The titular hero lives in the mundane world, and wonders why no one has ever tried ot be a Superhero for real. But the real star of the movie, Hit Girl, and her papa Big Daddy, are real Superheros, driven by the same kinds of tragedies that motivate the Spidermen and Bruce Waynes of the world. And they touch on the mental damage that the Bruce Waynes display. I mean, I don't care if your parents were gunned down in front of you when you were ten. That is no excuse for not allowing yourself love or a peaceful heart. Get over it, Dark Knight. Man can afford excellent therapy, and wallows in pain.

All right...but "Kick Ass" puts the dysfunction of the situation right out there for you to see, if you have the point of view to see it. And Nicolas Cage, as Big Daddy, is reprehensible, stealing his daughter's innocence in the name of vengeance. Chloe Moritz is so good as the eleven year old who just wuvs her daddy and wants him to be proud--and also as the human cuisinart, one of the best "lethal human being" images ever put on film. Female empowerment indeed: she mows down countless men, and one woman. Whatever.

Look--if you aren't a comic geek, are offended by ultraviolence, or are looking for a movie to take your kids to...stay away. But "Kick Ass"...kicks ass. I loved it.
##
Warning! Sambo alert!

Not really. Several black characters--all assholes, criminals, drug dealers. Presented as sub-human. One, it is implied, had sex with a white girl, so OF COURSE he has to die. Fine. All this is balanced by the fact that there is a lean-bodied, smart black cop who protects Hit Girl. See? I'm easy.
##
I mentioned watching "Megafault" for the fun destruction (a SfFy channel film about an impossible seismological event). It stars Brittany Murphy and Eric LeSalle. She is married. He dies protecting her. He is also the only black man in the movie. Now...no one who cannot name a film in which there was a solitary white character in the whole film...dies protecting someone black cannot begin to understand how this feels. Especially if you're like me, and have seen this trope dozens of times.
"You can't have sex, but you may die protecting my genetic investment." It's supposed to be better because the white folks mourn him? Because they vow vengeance? We know what they did...as an affirmation of life they scurried to their bedroom and boffed in his honor. I am like...so touched.

In that same line, I'm deeper into "The Stand" and I'm seeing King's problem. Like most of the Western World, darkness itself is evil and frightening. This isn't racial--it is a function of our senses not being adapted for nocturnal activity. Darkness IS danger. Blackness is ugly, dangerous, mysterious, death, unconsciousness and disease. It is encoded in the language, and Africans just were shit out of luck. Absent SPECIFIC counter-programming, whites are going to apply these emotional reactions to black people--they cannot help it.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

"...Like most of the Western World, darkness itself is evil and frightening. This isn't racial--it is a function of our senses not being adapted for nocturnal activity. Darkness IS danger. Blackness is ugly, dangerous, mysterious, death, unconsciousness and disease. It is encoded in the language, and Africans just were shit out of luck..."

Yeah, but the nighttime sky is dark *blue*. People with darker skin have complexions that are dark *brown*. So I'd still call nasty reactions to darkness on people a racial thing!

Anonymous said...

BTW, if I did meet someone with skin way darker than mine with a bluish tint, I'd be all "Are you OK?" (and maybe rescue breathing and pointing to a bystander and yelling "Call 911! [He's or she's] not breathing!", depending on his or her answer or lack thereof). Doesn't a bluish tint in one's skin color, no matter how pale or dark, mean one getting nowhere near enough oxygen?

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003215.htm

Scott said...

"Darkness IS danger. Blackness is ugly, dangerous, mysterious, death, unconsciousness and disease. It is encoded in the language, and Africans just were shit out of luck. Absent SPECIFIC counter-programming, whites are going to apply these emotional reactions to black people--they cannot help it."

Blacks too; paper bag test, you know?

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"Darkness IS danger. Blackness is ugly, dangerous, mysterious, death, unconsciousness and disease. It is encoded in the language, and Africans just were shit out of luck.'

Which raises the mystery of why extreme pigmentation evolved in humans in the first place. While the various degrees of skin melanin content obviously serve adaptive purposes vis-a-vis UV protection or vitamin D synthesis, researchers from Darwin on also recognized that shade was selected for sexually. That is, ancestral Senegalese, Fijians and others decided jet-ebony skin was aesthetically desirable and breed accordingly. Thus the mystery: If humans instinctively equate darkness with danger and death, why did millions of them choose to be Black?

Dan Moran said...

"Darkness IS danger. Blackness is ugly, dangerous, mysterious, death, unconsciousness and disease. It is encoded in the language, and Africans just were shit out of luck."

Whiteness is ice and cold and sterile, the color of skeletons and protruding bones and teeth and pus and lice.

I don't buy the language-based thing at all. Black skin is considered unattractive because it belongs to a class of people who were conquered. If dark-skinned people had conquered pale skinned people, the pale skinned people would be buying tanning products and getting their hair frizzed.

Shady_Grady said...

White is associated with death in some East Asian (Chinese) cultures.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I think I cleared some of the darkness = danger and evil overlapping "black" people by imagining an African market-- black people, bright sunlight. It did feel as though it snapped something over.

I don't know if it would work for anyone else.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I think I cleared some of the darkness = danger and evil overlapping "black" people by imagining an African market-- black people, bright sunlight. It did feel as though it snapped something over.

I don't know if it would work for anyone else.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I think I cleared some of the darkness = danger and evil overlapping "black" people by imagining an African market-- black people, bright sunlight. It did feel as though it snapped something over.

I don't know if it would work for anyone else.

Anonymous said...

"...the pale skinned people would be buying tanning products..."

Read this!

http://www.jaalmag.com/01052004/smearscape.htm

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Sorry for the triple post. Google changed my password, and I wasn't sure whether "publish your comment" was working.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

http://kateharding.net/2010/04/19/in-defense-of-hit-girl/#more-4519

Reviews the movie from the angle that it was a lot of fun to have a female action hero who wasn't sexualized-- the point of a action hero is to want to be them, not to want to fuck them.

Marty S said...

In "Western" fiction good guys haven't always wore white and bad guys black.Hopalong Cassidy and Zorro both wore Black.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Unfortunately, the copy I read of The Curse of Ham is back at the library, but iirc, when the classical world found out about black people, the black people were seen as interestingly exotic, not evil or frightening.

Also iirc, but I think the idea of black skin as having symbolic significance didn't kick in until enslaving black people became common.

It would amaze me if black people saw each other as evil/frightening in the absence of racism.

Travis said...

"the point of a action hero is to want to be them, not to want to fuck them"

Right, which is why they hire ugly people to be Bond. Oh wait no, they try to increase market share by having characters appeal to the opposite sex.

Travis said...

That came out more sarcastic then intended. Sorry.

But think about it, I enjoy sexy women on screen. Presumably many women enjoy sexy men onscreen. Here there were good story reasons to deviate from the formula, it's in large part that deviation that makes the movie so good. But absent those reasons I don't think movie makers have any reason to unsexualize characters from a simple marketing standpoint.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Travis, it's probably a matter of degree.

I don't know if you read the review I linked to, but Kate was talking about the pleasure of having a female main character who's in the movie to be a successful fighter, without emphasis on her looks.

Anonymous said...

@Dan Moran:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gweilo

Steven Barnes said...

Ethiopian Infidel:
While equating darkness with danger and death is common, it is not totally universal.

When I've been in the woods at night, it was the shadows, not the sky, that bothered me. And the shadows were black, not blue. The fact is that you can find negative associations with darkness in cultures that never saw a black person. This stuff is deeper than racial competition.

Steven Barnes said...

Fighting doesn't feminize women: by that I mean that men, in general, aren't more attracted to a woman because she can kick ass. In fact, a lot of very skillful female fighters find it more difficult to date. They have some of the same problems that men who are extremely "yin" face. Being attractive to each other keeps the species going. But we ARE more flexible about that than we used to be, that's for sure.

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