Kick-Ass doesn’t change anything

Kick-Ass has had the cinema-going public dribbling a bit too much for my liking. It may be an enjoyable comic film, with an average rating of 8.8 on IMDB at the moment, but it’s not nearly as genre-busting as some would have us believe.

Ben Childs writes this:

“A comic-book character so postmodern that he makes all those who came before look like relics of a bygone age […] Something fresh and new is required. Kick-Ass is defiantly unconventional when it comes to comic-book tropes. He has a normal American name […] and real-life teenage problems. He doesn’t have a girlfriend, though desperately wants one, and hasn’t really got much of a clue about what he wants to do with his life.”

That’s ‘defiantly unconventional’, is it? The truth is that Kick-Ass has plenty in common with previous superhero films and for all of its sly references and nods, it doesn’t so much subvert as embrace the genre.

Kick-Ass (the character) follows basically the same arc as Peter Parker. He’s powerless and a nerd, he witnesses injustice, he gains a suit and some extra abilities (nothing on the scale of other comic book heroes but enough to give him a bit of an edge), he becomes a popular hero, he takes a beating then comes back from it all to win the day. There’s even a montage. So where’s this fresh new take on the hero genre? Why is it all just Spider-Man with ironic nods to Spider-Man?

“I always thought it would be good to do a realistic superhero book,” says Millar […] who is chief writer for Marvel. “You always hear the word realism with superheroes but it never really is. Watchmen isn’t that realistic – there’s a big blue guy with his dick out, you know? It’s not like a guy just putting on a costume, going out with no superpowers and trying to make it happen.

But for all it’s claims of realism, it has the same physics-defying fight sequences as any other action film, with Hit Girl bouncing off of walls as if she’s filled with helium and improbably reloading her guns in mid-air, and the film ends with some absurd hardware in play. The film does have a full awareness of modern-day technology — Facebook, email, Youtube, iPhones etc. — but that doesn’t make it postmodern, that just makes it, well, modern.

It’s all a bit more bad-taste than the average comic book — more swearing and more killing and a bit more sexual — and that’s fair enough, but it’s no worse than you’d have seen in Sin City or Watchmen. The idea of powerless heroes isn’t new; it’s been seen before in Mystery Men and can be seen in Woody Harrelson’s Defendor, amongst others. It’s admittedly new to see an 11 year old calling people cunts, but it’s about as shocking as the now-standard trope of the foul-mouthed old lady seen in countless other films.

It’s all well and good to have your characters explain that real-life superheroes don’t exist because there are no such things as special powers or implausible Bruce Wayne-style gadgets, but going on to give your main character steel-plated bones, an increased tolerance for pain and a few implausible Bruce Wayne-style gadgets is undermining your point a bit.