Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Kick-Ass (2010)

Hollywood is widely deemed to be the gateway to mainstream consciousness. Works of art crafted for niche tastes are assumed to have a more extensive and potentially dangerous cultural influence the moment they make the leap to celluloid.

Few works of fiction are considered to have this transformational power before their elevation to the silver screen. Saramago's Blindness for example, was a much-lauded novel by a Nobel Prize-winning author, appreciated largely by the sort of people who appreciate literary fiction, but as soon as the movie adaptation was released, the story was suddenly lambasted as offensively misrepresentative of the plight of blind people. (The most notorious exception is of course The Satanic Verses, but the majority of those who condemned Rushdie's novel had never even handled a copy; God had read it though and that was the problem.)

So, on the principle of monkey see, monkey do, the cinema, with its essentially visual nature and popular reach, is supposedly the best conduit we currently have for radiating moral vacuity across the globe. (Though video games, like China, are fast catching up.)

Hence perhaps the furore surrounding Matthew Vaughan's Kick-Ass, with its origins in graphic-novel fanboy subculture, which arrived in multiplexes this summer complete with Asian geek (via Tarantino) inflected shock-violence, much of which is perpetrated by and against a twelve-year-old going by the name of Hit Girl.

Two film critics I respect went their opposite ways on this one. For Roger Ebert the spectacle was 'morally reprehensible', for Peter Bradshaw it was 'gloriously irresponsible', so we knew it was going to be a bit of a Marmite taste test before we sat down to watch it.

In the end V was as entertained and largely untroubled as I was, and like Peter Bradshaw, found it five-star hilarious. Taste can be divisive, that much we already know though, thanks mainly to Dexter, one of my favourite shows on TV, which V loathes with a passion (...but not, I might add, because its hero is a serial killer and what kind of example does that set, eh?)

The most ardent detractors of Kick-Ass appear uncertain whether the snake in the grass here is the video game- style fragging of adult men committed by the twelve-year-old girl in the film, or the rather brutal beating she later receives at the hands of another adult male in the final show-down. (It has an R-rating in the US, so it's statistically more likely to corrupt adults than minors I suppose.)

Living in a society with a daily double digit death rate (and just south of a nation where 28,000 have perished during a four year 'drug war') I find it harder than many
Daily Mail readers back in the UK to ascribe anything other than a minor explanatory role to art in all this.

Habits other than the cinema-going ones surely lie at the root of this, and even though the baddies of Kick-Ass are of the comic book variety, the market they are enriching themselves on is real enough. If anything, this 'irresponsible' flick also carries a potent social message about not standing by while others are preyed upon by scumbags.

That there's a taboo in our culture surrounding children acting out adult roles was something I came across quite early in life when I went to see Bugsy Malone with my mother. Her reaction strongly indicated that some sort of line had been crossed. I think it was Jodie Foster rather than the splurge guns that set her off however.

Now sexualisation of Hit Girl is something that Vaughan has clearly gone out of his way to avoid, in spite of her notorious usage of the C word. In this respect movies like Leon have strayed into more dangerous territory e.g. Natalie Portman's tummy-rubbing scene. At 13 she had already crossed another line, and Luc Besson played with this remorselessly in ways that only French directors seem to be able to get away with. Japanese geek cinema is also packed with tartan-skirt wearing joshi kosei with automatic weapons who act out the adolescent and adultescent fantasies of their primary audience. Hit Girl shows up here in one scene dressed as a schoolgirl, but by virtue of being just a year younger than Portman was in '94, Cloe Moretz's startling performance is properly pre-pubescent and carefully shorn of nascent sexiness.

Having recently re-watched Leaving Las Vegas (one of V's favourite movies) and enjoyed his wild, improvised performance in The Bad Lieutent: Port of Call, New Orleans, it was great to see Nicolas Cage back in one of his trademark edgy-funny roles. (One could almost forget Knowing, The Wicker Man, Captain Corelli...)

Grade: B+

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