The Biggest Superhero Films That Didn't Happen, Part 2
Comic Books, Film
Do you worry about your daughter growing up feeling weak, ineffectual, powerless, and generally having less options in life than her male counterparts? Men are still more successful in many industries, and the changes in the status quo have created a number of social areas in which men (often unconsciously) will strive to use language and aggressive behavior to make women feel excluded, seeking to maintain their position as the top dogs. Little girls can grow up feeling intimidated by this kind of masculine posturing, or you can teach your daughters to recognize that swear words are simply words and that when men watch gratuitous violence, it’s simply entertainment and not real. There is every reason in the world that these previously “intimidating” aspects of the male world will feel as comfortable and normal to her as they do to your sons. The only thing that might make her feel uncomfortable and threatened in these situations is programming, not biology, and as a parent, you have choices about that. By all means acknowledge the differences between the sexes (and between all human beings), but let women become comfortable with traditionally masculine behavior, so that there won’t be areas of the world which they feel excluded from.
Like lots of girls, I grew up wanting to dress up as a pretty pink princess, but I also wanted to be Leia or Ripley, to have weapons and action adventures too. Some of the greatest films ever made are filled with swearing and violence and my dad brought me up to love them. Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull, Mean Streets, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, etc, all traditionally “boys” movies. These are powerful, emotionally turbulent, culturally seminal movies. I implore you, bring your daughters up with choices and options. Do not use the yoke of society’s inhibitions to restrict what you expose them to. If you see something you would let a little boy see, then let your daughters see it too, please let them grow into the strong women that they could be.
The reason all of this is top of my mind right now, is because last night I saw the movie adaptation of the comic book Kick Ass, and all I could think was that I would have loved it if this movie had existed when I as a little girl.
(Warning: I do not really enjoy film reviews because I hate spoilers, so I’m apologizing in advance for any inadvertent spoilers.)
I went to see Kick-Ass filled with trepidation. We’ve all seen lackluster movie-versions of comic books and I was worried that this simply wouldn’t measure up. I enjoyed the book and there were elements that I dearly wanted to see translated onto the screen. It’s a comic book worth reading, a nice bit of fun, but you need to be comfortable with the fact that any so-called superhero who existed in the real world would be inflicting horrible pain on people, would have to be somewhat violent and/or angry, or it just wouldn’t work. The film manages to embrace these facts.
Seeing Romita’s dynamic action sequences brought to life was a blast, the film perfectly echoes his energy and electricity. Obviously the boldest example of this is in Hit Girl, who is the most disturbing character in a story filled with disturbing characters. Thankfully the filmmakers didn’t wimp out and water down the role she plays in rescuing big strong men and violently murdering psychopaths. Hit-Girl is an angel, (one of those vengeful, scary ones from the bible.) Remember Natalie Portman in Leon (or The Professional)? Well Chloe Moretz playing Mindy Macready (AKA Hit-Girl) is twice as good. This is a cartooney film, very over-the-top, but she still brings a vitality, joy and vulnerability to her performance that is incredibly appealing. There are moments that are difficult to watch, when she’s hurting or being hurt in such realistic ways that I grimaced. That’s a bloody good thing too, because it’s important to remember that turning into a violent, psychopathic killer is not a viable career option and getting hurt is not a good life plan.
The casting throughout is incredibly strong, and the actors embrace their characters with gusto. For my money, Kick-Ass is the least interesting, likable, or reasonable character in the book, and the film is only slightly different. At least they picked a rather pretty young man to play him (Aaron Johnson, who looks like a young, confused, weedy version of Michelangelo’s David). However, as the twisted, broken, pathetic lynch pin/everyman who brings the films disparate elements together, he performs his role admirably.
Nicholas Cage as Damon Macready (AKA Big Daddy) and Mark Strong as Frank D’Amico made me stupidly happy. These are the most prominent adults of the story, and they have been perfectly cast, in looks and talent, they just fit. Unlike the comic book, which glosses over these two men’s backgrounds and connections, these actors bring their characters to life with great enthusiasm. Cage is at his absolute best when he toys with his roles and allows his humor and depth of knowledge of the medium to inform his acting. In this regard he is perfect as Big Daddy, just exactly the right mixture of fun, affection, gravitas, delight, insanity, and kindness. He has empathy for anyone who ever put on a Batman suit, (listen out for the Adam West Bat-dialogue. It is a thing of beauty). I love him for taking on this role and playing it the way he does. Mark Strong has been a powerful, versatile actor for quite a while, but as he ages, I’ve noticed him making great headway in playing some excellent villains in big budget movies (like many great British actors before him). He proves the old adage that the villains of the piece are often the most important actors. His ability to create a truly believable evil, while also conveying his own personal belief in himself is an incredibly tricky combination. In Kick-Ass Mark Strong carries it off, admirably, all the while being just exactly that right amount of comedic to remind as that this is not a movie about the real world.
One last word on the actors and their talent: McLovin! Okay, I know, Christopher Mintz-Plasse has an actual name, and like all the other actors, he brings his character Chris D’Amico (AKA Red Mist) to life and then some. Like all of the characters, I liked him a hell of a lot more on film than I did in print, so that worked out nicely.
Now I’ve waxed lyrical about the acting and the action, but the unexpected bonus of the film was the art, the wonderful, amazing, funny, appropriate art. I haven’t seen art that added this much to a film since Rushmore. While Andy Warhol’s lovely gun screenprints added much, it was Marc Quinn’s Bloodhead, in the background of a final fight scene which really drove the nail home for me. I’m sure there will be much art-spotting to engage in when I rewatch this (and I will), but on first watching, the art choices were just marvelous.
Let’s not dwell on the plot. If you read the comic books, you know the story. The changes that the film makers choose are minimal and necessary. I’m not going to ruin the surprises for you by going over them here, just go see it (and take the kids). It’s a good film.
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