First: No, I still haven't seen Kick-Ass, though I probably will by the end of the week. A pale glimmer of hope still burns deep within my heart that somehow something good could be harvested from the fairly execrable source material.* But I have been reading much about it in the last few days. To wit:
Roger Ebert did not like it, not at all. In fact, it made him sad. That's perhaps the biggest strike against it yet. I like Roger Ebert. I don't like things that make Roger Ebert sad. He's a nice guy, and he doesn't need to be made sad. More to the point, his reasons: they mostly involve children and violence, not the deeper elements of "missing the point of superheroes" that I discussed in my review of the comic. Let's be clear about this: it's not the violence that bothered me in Kick-Ass-- that is, not the violence alone. Lots of things that I like are violent, and I think violence in entertainment serves important social and psychological purposes. But, in genre terms, the violence needs to be there for a reason beyond itself.** In Kick-Ass-- the comic, at least-- the violence is there simply to be "kick-ass," in support of a story that is no story.
In response, Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News writes a rebuttal that rebuts... nothing. Instead of offering an argument against Ebert's points or a defense of the role that violence plays in the film, he meanders on for a few paragraphs about how the movie isn't for kids, kids today are different than they were in the '50s, and in the '50s kids played with guns anyway, but kids will probably see it despite its R rating, and what were we talking about again? Indeed, by arguing that "the sort of kids that will see Kick-Ass this weekend are well prepared for it," he actually ends up explaining exactly why the film makes Ebert sad, perhaps better than Ebert himself did.
I quite like Slate's review, because it basically says all the stuff I said about the comic (so maybe I wasn't misreading the whole thing all along!). According to Dana Stevens, the film
never provides a reason for Dave's transformation into Kick-Ass beyond his vague adolescent notion that being a superhero sounds neat. That may be enough to justify Dave's embarking on the experiment, but it doesn't explain why he continues to venture out in costume after being beaten, stabbed, and hit by a car.
Late in the movie, in voice-over, Dave puts a glum twist on a line from Spider-Man: "With no power comes no responsibility." If this film proposed any alternate moral vision, that line might count a sly reappropriation of the original. As the prelude to a climactic orgy of bloodletting set to the punk anthem "Bad Reputation," the joke comes off as nihilistic and flip. What do these characters consider worthy of killing and dying for? That a protagonist lacks superpowers is no reason for him to lack motivation, conviction, or purpose.
Nicely put. Hey, she even said "nihilistic"!
Echoing another thread from my review of the comic, friend of this blog Erin Snyder writes on the Middle Room that the movie isn't fun. And might have (gasp) benefitted from being toned down by a studio.
On the other hand, another friend (who watched the movie, very likely with Mr. Snyder, but has not read the comic) informs me that many of the lines I quoted in my review appear in the movie in contexts different enough to invert their original meanings. And I know that the "first mission" was changed from beating up graffiti writers to beating up honest-to-goodness burglars, which likely lessens the racial overtones that irked me. So maybe the film gives more context and a better sense of purpose to the character? I dunno; I'll find out soon.
Lastly, Millar's recent interview with the Onion AV Club is worth reading. He has some interesting things to say about, for instance, the role that conservatism and conservative characters play in his work. I think he's a bit in error, though, in describing Superman and Batman as "law-enforcement people" and "authority figures." I actually think that superheroes are countercultural figures who critique or even undermine society's values rather than uphold them. More on this later...
*That hope mostly has to do with McLovin, because that kid is hilarious.
**For this reason I hated the French horror film High Tension/Haute Tension, which has some extreme, and extremely unpleasant, violence at the beginning. Until the final moments of the film, I was hoping it would give me some kind of payoff to justify that unpleasantness; instead it served up one of the worst twists in film history.