Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Kick-Ass isn’t very good

One guiding rule for anyone writing a “blog” is (or should be): don’t deliberately antagonise your readers. If your Perch and Perching “blog” is going smoothly, don’t suddenly start extolling the virtues of bream or pike. If the creator of …

Tue, Dec 21, 2010, 22:15


One guiding rule for anyone writing a “blog” is (or should be): don’t deliberately antagonise your readers. If your Perch and Perching “blog” is going smoothly, don’t suddenly start extolling the virtues of bream or pike. If the creator of Wibbly Wobbly Wonder Weekly has an avid readership, he or she should not irritate that constituency by suddenly siding for the Eskimo Sandwich. And so on.


Well, you can see where this is going. A few weeks ago, I invited readers to suggest their favourite films of 2010. A huge number of people named The Social Network. Fair enough. I wasn’t quite as keen as some reviewers, but, on a different day, it could easily have snuck into my top 10. The same is true of Inception.

What surprised me, however, was the huge swell of support for Kick-Ass. Again and again, that superhero pastiche appeared on readers’ lists. Really? It also popped up on Pete Bradshaw‘s top 10 in The Guardian. Really? Really?

I don’t think it’s a bad film. Working with comparatively limited resources, Matthew Vaughn created a complete universe that served his story pretty well. Okay, Canada, site of the shoot, still looked very like Canada, but I wouldn’t deny  that the director  (faint praise alert) demonstrates solid control of the medium. Nor, I hasten to add, was I in any way “shocked” by the film. Regular readers will note that I am one of the few critics who regularly complains that there is not enough violence in contemporary cinema.

Ahem! Ahem!

But, darlings, it just felt so old. So second-hand. So worked-through. Enthusiasts for the film have — my contemporary Pete B’s opinion noted — tended to be younger than those left cold by the thing. So, is the problem that we geriatrics “just don’t get it”? Quite the opposite, I would argue. Kick-Ass seems very proud of the fact that it is deconstructing and subverting the traditions of the comic book. Haven’t Mark Millar (creator of the source comic) and Mr Vaughn being paying attention over the last few decades? Post-modern takes on the superhero comic-book have been going on virtually since the medium began (that’s to say, before the term “post-modern” was coined) and, in recent years, the smart-ass virus has reached epidemic status. I remember, as long ago as 2002, greeting Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man with both enthusiasm and relief. It wasn’t just that the film was lively, exciting and funny. Raimi’s decision to play it straight came as warming, surging relief. This was a superhero, not a “superhero”.

This year alone, we’ve had the wearisome Scott Pilgrim, the amusing Megamind and, yes, the passable Kick-Ass. All these films argue that the language of comic-books has become so settled that — just as Tristram Shandy attacked the novel even before the genre was fully formed — the opportunity exists for creative subversion. Ha! Aren’t these conventions simultaneously delightful and ridiculous? Doesn’t the internal logic collapse if you look at it too closely? Isn’t it worth considering how odd a crime-fighter would look if he really did go outside dressed in a coloured leotard?

All this is true. If you want confirmation have a glance at the original Batman series (1966), the underrated Mystery Men (1999) or the durable The Incredibles (2004). Or you might like to read comic-books such as Howard the Duck (1973), Watchmen (1986) or the Tick (1986). If you want a good laugh, watch the TV adpatation of The Tick. If you want a good snooze watch the film version of Watchmen.

The comic book satire disappeared so far up its bottom so long ago that it now seems likely it will never see daylight again. Of course, it is still possible that this class of pastiche might discover  new directions and new flavours. Kick-Ass (to my mind) did not achieve that feat. The point at which I totally — perhaps literally — threw my hands up and waved goodbye came when the foul-mouthed young heroine progressed towards her final conflagration to the accompaniment of an Ennio Morricone tune from a Sergio Leone film. Hang on! Didn’t this seem a little over-referential when it happened in Kill Bill. Now, if I understand Vaughn correctly, I am supposed to welcome allusions to allusions in contemporary cinema. I’m sorry Matt. But, to get away with that, you’re going to have to produce at least one idea that’s fresher than the green scum beneath my lavatory seat.

Anyway, if you are a Kick-Ass fan, then I apologise for dissing one of your key enthusiasms. This is a “blog”, not a comments board. (Though one is attached.) I’m not saying “kick ass like sucks y don’t u go bak to watching norbit thats wot u like”. I’m just saying that I don’t think it’s very good. I don’t think it, well, Kicks Ass.