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Kick-Ass 2


Kick-Ass 2

When Roger Ebert reviewed the original Kick-Ass, he wasn't primarily taken aback by any one single incident—Hit Girl's being shot, with the audience having to take a moment to remind themselves about her bullet-proof vest, for instance—but by the fact that people behind the movie were so comfortable exploring a whole terrain of something which had pretty much taken him off stride upon first occurrence. He couldn't believe that a movie primarily involving kids could be so comfortable with people dying, being butchered, all over the place, coldly, bloodily, humiliatingly, with this not counting it as beyond fun and games. "This isn't comic violence," he writes, "These men, and many others in the film, really are stone-cold dead. And the 11-year-old apparently experiences no emotions about this. Many children would be, I dunno, affected somehow, don't you think, after killing eight or 12 men who were trying to kill her?" Ebert worried about what would happen to the 6-year-olds who wanted to see the film, and, despite his proclaiming himself not so worried about them, evidently also about the sheer fact of the older ones who'd already been ruined to become of the internet. Specifically he writes, "The movie's rated R, which means in this case that it's doubly attractive to anyone under 17. I'm not too worried about 16-year-olds here. I'm thinking of 6-year-olds. There are characters here with walls covered in carefully mounted firearms, ranging from handguns through automatic weapons to bazookas. At the end, when the villain deliciously anticipates blowing a bullet hole in the child's head, he is prevented only because her friend, in the nick of time, shoots him with bazooka shell at 10-foot range and blows him through a skyscraper window and across several city blocks of sky in a projectile of blood, flame and smoke. As I often read on the Internet: Hahahahaha.”

Ebert pretty much assumes that if you liked Kick-Ass, you've got to be pretty much lost to the human. Zombies might have great sport figuring out what to do with the various body parts that remained after they've gorged themselves full, perhaps bowling human heads through assembled foot-and-ankle "pins," or making rib-cages and thigh bones into cunning hefty decorative wear, but anyone still human isn't going to be in mind to demarcate their creativity here, but just drain it of distinction so that the sheer fact of its blunt awfulness, not its variegatedness, holds your attention. If in real life a mob is ripping apart its victim, do you describe particulars involved so the act looks to possess a distinguishable aesthetic, a uniqueness—worth? Would irony save it from now possessing validity? Or do you eclipse it, deny it, and just hold it as not worth describing? Ebert does, or shows, both—we already have the description, and he ends his piece with, "then the movie moved into dark, dark territory, and I grew sad." But since his description is compelling enough to have you think that Ebert was aware that his foremost problem is not with the film but with a world that gets sufficient kicks from energies he finds repellent that it gives latitude to art that partake of them, he mostly sounds as if with this essay he knows he's successfully enunciated his own demise. The foremost thing he did by setting out as a critic to analyze the film, was welcome himself innocently but conclusively to how little this changed world is going to factor him in. It's not true that this was the last essay of Ebert's I ever read, but it's the last one of significance he ever did: it's tough to admire the work of someone who's crawled into his own dark corner, out of realizing that as considerable as he is, he hasn't the momentum to take on a world when it isn't dialing down its emerging preferences. 

I liked Kick-Ass, just like I also liked (or rather, loved) Refn's Drive—a movie Richard Brody accused as being inhuman, of being in love with the idea of "the poker face as the key to success"—and as well Game of Thrones, a show Maris Kreizman argues with genuine case is for "Star Wars fans who thought Princess Leia should have been raped." For both bad and good reasons. The bad, or at least, the regrettable reason, is because I'm not so different from those 1930s artists who were daunted by their predecessors—those 1920s greats who hung out at the Parisian cafes, like Fitzgerald, Joyce, Hemingway, and the rest of those populating Midnight to Paris—but grew wings when a Depression climate frowned on those who arrogantly showed how ripe human life can be. You watch Kick-Ass or Drive, and you know that completely non-misanthropic critics like Ebert and Brody—both the highest class of loving people—are going to find reprehensible anyone who'd take much pleasure from them (Brody would give you the okay, only if you liked Brooks' gangster, and not, that is, for Ryan Gosling, the film's style, and the 95 percent of the rest of the film). Being someone who is bit daunted by how personality rich these two men are, who is fascinated at what kind of early experience enabled them to bring so much presence to the world (it's more than their being surely first-borns), and whose inclination is to quieten myself to take in more and more from them and maybe locate the maybe-still-tapable source, I like films which break this spell, which give you a sense that somehow the world has incrementally changed, accrued, layered, so that things that wouldn't have had much chance to distract the attention of men like these, can find themselves irritating them for their requiting them to swat at them or tear through them before lunging awesomely at what they're actually in mind to take on. It's easy to imagine them eventually willy-nilly pinned or hopelessly entangled as these accumulations bear down—like the great uber-man in Prometheus stunningly blocked and enveloped by the-even-greater, great python-muscled tentacle horror that barged in his path—if they don't find some place of refuge, and you can kind of factor them out and see the world—however Depression grey and stilled—as your own grounds now to range over. 

Also bad, is the fact that I like the fact that films which I know to be, maybe not precisely misanthropic, but endorsing orientations towards the world which are reroutes away from approaches which'd have one face one's personal scourges and actually, like, grow, appeal to me for the fact that they favor reroutes I know I also need to have championed to appear ideal. They convince me that I don't stand out too much as a self-realized, self-satisfied douche, a bitchy demon presiding over our age would feel the need to sweep down upon and teach a swift scolding lesson to. She could read deep into my thoughts, recognize that I know everything that is going on in an age which inverts what is good—self-realization—for the bad—self-sacrifice/diminution—know that I ultimately want Her gone for inhibiting something as precious as a human life, and at such an awesome scale, but still pat me on the head as no threat—even give me a lift, if I needed one, and smile genuinely to me—because She knows I'm still broken sufficiently that I'll need her "fix" like all the rest of them. This means that when someone like Brody chastises a film like Skyfall for something that may well be regrettable, and that I should want to be the kind person who like him had instantly noticed, I'm actually glad that at the moment it hadn't occurred to me. 

Specifically, when he writes, 

The colossal chase scene through Istanbul at the beginning of Skyfall recalls the escape through Shanghai, early in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, with pushcarts overturned, merchandise scattered, terrified bystanders diving for safety. Spielberg offensively turned ordinary people going about their business into just so much confetti for his spectacle—exactly the sort of cavalier colonial-era bravado that might have repelled a filmmaker who started his career in the late sixties. Plus ça change: Skyfall, too, scatters Istanbul’s residents and their goods like bowling pins. From the start, Sam Mendes, the director of the latest installment of 007, proves faithful to tradition, yet not always the best of that tradition.

I realized him to be like the sober peasants in Monty Python's Holy Grail, who made clear King Arthur's requisiting them not just for directions but for confirmation of his own grandiose status, or like the whole feel of the Lancelot bit in the film, where Lancelot's a crazed loon with a sword, hacking away at an innocent assembly of peacefully gathered people, for a point he'd actually end up staunching himself in retreat from. But the point is that I evidently enough relate to the fantasy of being someone inflated that when you see the like in a film, you're too much enjoying and partaking in his paving through swaths of less-mattering people to be instantly critical or self-reflective of what he'd just done to the actually probably quite fulsome people around him.

Same thing applies, especially, with Brody's superb criticism of Drive, where he argued that "Refn doesn’t seem interested in pain but in its infliction—specifically, how blank-faced, soft-spoken people manage to commit mayhem and, at the moment of violent outburst, stay fixed on their plan and maintain a fearsome calm in the face of disgusting gore." Yes, absolutely true: Refn clearly enjoys that Ryan Gosling's ostensibly accommodating, becalming, boyish manner, can be exploded so conclusively that anyone who might privilege their own interests through it find themselves unable to handle whom he has revealed to them as a good part of his core, and he's got them now in a position where they'll never be quite sure about him; always a bit fretful and fearful, prepared to disengage and let "you" be free, so you can decompress and relax in your own space, the moment you show any hint of being tweaked from normal. He enjoys creating protagonists who experience other people's startled pulling back, like as if it's at this point where you can begin to form a friendship with them, if it would still take, and they remain interested, because you now know them well enough from what they have revealed to you—you've had that advantage—before you revealed the dragon-self they've actually also to tangle with (something akin to Black Widow's technique in the Avengers). And I know what that is about. One of my favorite characters from fiction was once Severian, from Gene Wolfe's Shadow of the Torturer, and this was him to a T. Just as soon as you think you've got him pegged, and are moving on with your further plans, he shows what he's been hiding, and does the like of surprising you by punching your nose-bone into your brain. And though I'm aware enough of it's immaturity, or rather, its origins as a defense mechanism against abuse, like the "ignoring of emotions of others and the crawling inside boxes and clinging to hard surfaces and mechanical devices in place of relating to caretakers" (deMause, "Why males are more violent") that autists do, I can't quite stand outside a film like Drive and find it hard to slip Gosling's character on. Rather, it is a bit more the character Brody actually likes in this film, Albert Brooks' gangster, whom I am prone to engage with rather secondarily.

Brody makes the gangster out to be a horror, "[some]one whose professional identity emerges, tantalizingly, only by degrees," but he isn't, like Gosling, the guy who disengages and puts the cold-face on, but rather the saddened older guy who realizes there's really no other option for him, and so does what he has to, still himself the whole while. Indeed, when he forks and knives a guy repeatedly to death, in a scene of massive violence and emotional heat, it's as if it's more his way of displacing his anger at his partner, who caused the problem but who just can't any longer suffer himself the gore, like a husband requited to killing the pest in the tub or who was eating away at the yew bush, that he had no real truck with—that is, more a manner of communicating, to someone else, like a hard-slammed door, than it is your spelling a hard lesson to whom you're directly accosting. Gosling, on the other hand, when he kicks and crashes in the skull of the assassin fallen before him, has entered some other kind of state, separated from emotions, with even his nearby beloved completely momentarily out of the picture; and it is only afterwards that he can regroup himself to something human like earnest communication—even though you've surely fallen back by then, probably concussed into pitiful trembles and nervous quivering, and on your way to actually running away.

How the hell could I orient more towards Gosling than Brooks in this film, you ask? Because Gosling in this picture is more drawn from wounding than Brooks is, and I relate, and whatever love I've gathered since then hasn't quite become sufficient that I tilt more the other way. This means that I expect a good portion of my life has still been too much about a re-route than about a healthy full-on engagement with a logical path, and this means any god on the lookout for anyone treading disallowed hallowed grounds and heaping and integrating life riches found there-on into his life drawers, might temporarily fix on me—or even quite a bit—but ultimately desist, contented in my non-threat, like the momentarily confused military drone in Oblivion. This isn't exactly the right comparison, but I won't be due to be a Bradley Manning; which is the way I need to have it.

And now to the good.  To the good reason that is, for liking or loving films that enormously astute and psychologically healthy critics like Ebert and Brody are bound to find offensive and largely unenjoyable. There are some periods of human existence, where, as I mentioned concerning the 1930s, all the great artists sound about opposite the great artists who thrived just before, when humanity was involved in some kind of true renaissance period. These types—the actual lessers—do in this instance have the advantage—the times are behind them, for them, and it means for them they see, they experience, a landscape of fresh things they might explore, rather than blockages, howling spirits instructing them on how despite their whatever genius, they're not wanted, they don't matter, and they're no good—now try to do your best work with this holy hell of shit on your tail! So artists like Walker Evans, who thought humanity so spoiled it needed to be taught the Depression lesson, thrived, and artists like Fitzgerald, whose blood was Jazz-Age, began to wilt. If you look at 30s films from the perspective Ebert and Brody show towards Kick-Ass and Drive (or that Maris Kreizman  shows towards Game of Thrones), as you show up every director for their potential amorality, their dispirit, their exploitation, their dehumanization, you'll be showing up a lot of what turned out to be the best films of the era. 42nd Street made people into "cogs in a wheel" (Dickstein, Dancing in the Dark), it took away their worth as individuals, favoring only what they counted for as part of a collective—it kind of was a Nazi film: and Busby Berkeley was great 30s innovation, for example. And critics who could only point out the bad and not recognize that increasingly it is from sour motives that real art is increasingly to be found, have surely come to their terminus: If it's not humans but oily kaiju masters who are making the better 'bots, no matter how much you hate them, you've got to be at least be able to recognize this. Brody thought Drive a poor movie, with only one thing going for it; Ebert showed no sense of how exciting and out-of-the-blue Kick-Ass was; and years later you go about and talk to bank-tellers, retail workers, average joes—movie goers—you watch how they light up when you talk about these movies: they were favorites of the year, for many. So, concerning Ebert (I know, I know—rest in peace) and Brody, and their likewise actually wonderful ilk  ... do we keep them? One begins to think—no, lest we come across something awful they spelled out about friggin' Game of Thrones, a world-wide beloved phenomenon, for Heaven's sakes, and feel compelled to seek them out and torture them out of their eyes and ears to demonstrate our point that clearly for them, their owning them no longer much matters.

I don't remember a single particular moment of Kick-Ass I especially enjoyed; it was more how surprised I was, how excited I was, to see a film-maker just truck on through a landscape of horror like it was all just so what? Yeah, a pre-teen is carving up bodies and having a heap of fun—if this sounds like something you've got to work yourself up for an entire movie to be ready for, you're dark ages, because this director instructed us to the fact that a whole bunch of talent is about to take it as nothing really special. So, if in good times, when artists do this, make inroads into taboo turf, this means they're exploring hush-hush topics like racism or adult sexual relations, then in the bad—times of purgatory—it's going to mean going the distance with things likely to wound more evolved predecessors. So if you're looking for people making inroads, then these days when artists put butterfly-knives into the hands of children and explore what they do with them, or not pull away when the barbarian horde does its pillaging and raping, but instead lets the cameras role on and even go for grim close-ups, here perhaps most especially is where you're going to find it. The reasons they're being explored are surely sordid, but you couldn't work with this material before—for reasons that were never truly convincing—so you should be able to find some way, through watching their explorations of it, how it might someday be made to work in a humanist sense.

Kick-Ass 2 doesn't provide that same sense of a taboo territory confidently being repossessed for public use, though from what it does in the beginning, I was actually a bit surprised at this. The movie begins with the villain accidently-on-purpose killing his mother, and donning her clothing for his next super-villain persona. Any time a villain does this, adopts a mother-persona, it usually means that this character is going to be given greater latitudes than you'd normally expect. This will be true for a 1960's film like Psycho, but especially true for any film emerging out of a Depression period. Depressions are all about a population punishing itself for having taken too many cookies from the cookie-jar previously, and it's pretty much lived as if there isn't anything you do that your righteous mother with her tightly gripped rolling-pin isn't felt to be watching over. The last thing you're in the mind to do, that is, is say anything derisive about her, no matter what the hell she might be up to, and you're not about to take advantage of her likeness in film to overtly show what you really think of her abuses. Instead, you'll see the likeness, and immediately take advantage of this opportunity to manifest a repentant attitude, and not say a word no matter how many how many transgressions she pulls, no matter how many cookies disallowed to you, she swallows down herself. Brody could watch a film like Skyfall and point out M's rather arrogant "clinging to her position," which actually made things worse, but the rest of humanity, be sure, stayed mum. Yes, the rest of humanity was also secretly joyous when she gets disposed of at the finish, and that, thank god, an affect-dialed-down male lead is left in charge of operations, while Brody was free of any such malice, but Brody was casually telling the emperor off to her face, with his not even being aware he'd done anything especially inopportune: which you just don’t do.

The boy arch-villain, Motherfucker, isn't actually the one given any latitude; he aims at one point to rape someone, Night Bitch, who'd been set up as if already abused—with her perpetual nervous trepidation—and as akin to the girl in a horror movie who's doomed to be slain for her being sexually active, and thus part of the cohort that are usually not in geek films spared humiliations but rather made to feel susceptible to being bitch-slapped consummated into fully ravaged victims. But his penis fails him, and she ends up being denied her ill-fate by the someone present who probably could have been shown raping her, with a strap-on, and with the camera not feeling the need to fret and pull-away, as if it's got sure protection for its plainly powerful-indulging, evil-purposed scrutiny. Specifically, Mother Russia, the gargantuan villain recruited into Motherfucker's service, who's not like a brute in a Bond film in service to the mastermind—clearly a number two—but rather more like Kraken to Poseidon, a vastly dwarfing entity, who's show is now its own once released into the film. It felt strange that the movie handed the mother's mana all to her, after it had just set up Motherfucker as the mother-visaged psycho due surely for a number of personally inflicted massacres—though I got the point behind this afterwards—but regardless, Mother Russia is the bad bully mother in this film, whom geeks fear so much you should explore their decision to converge in basement-caves at the onset of real world-beckoning adolescence, as owing to it. She's Iron Man inflated to 400 percent power, she's the adrenaline hit that Hit Girl takes later, to enable drama to potentially take place that without her it wouldn't dare. 

The key scene in the film, the only one maybe worth re-watching on Youtube, is when the gang of villain elites marches into the suburbs, each one an arrogant sure shell of ego for essentially standing behind the power of their way highest paid, Mother Russia. She's going to get to do anything she wants, is what you feel, and it may be the movie's encouraging you to feel this way, to be reminded that moods can take over people where trespasses can be effected, and the world thereafter just can't placidly reset, is what it deserves credit for, and not really with what it shows done within this protective cloud of latitude. She launches a lawn-mower into the face of a police-officer, and gives you the same sense that the first Kick-Ass at times did with Hit Girl and Big Daddy, that this just happened: in real life, someone like her, a real human being, could have come out of the blue, and done this. They're ridiculously costumed, and they’re striding into the suburbs as if conquerors of Rome, but it's not, it's not, simply funny. You can’t quite comic book them, which makes the scene feel kind of awesome. 

Mother Russia is ostensibly in the film to be an appropriate foe for Hit Girl, but she's really in it for this. This said, the fact that Mother Russia dwarfs everyone else who is also part of the elite club of villains, helps make another of the film's points. What Kick-Ass suggested … has been already terminated: we're not in the mood to inflate geeks so they might pass as true super-heroes, but for splitting them off into the sliver few—the 1%—who are undeniably awesome, and the rest, who even with costumes on and trained, look like they're just waiting for someone truly skilled to take them down for their silly pretense, á la what you felt was partly at work when Night Bitch gets paid that grim visit at the hospital, and what was behind even mafia-trained Colonel Stars and Stripes surprisingly quick exit from the film. To me, it's amazing the movie would want to go this way, but it did—and with confidence. It gets right that what we wanted was for Hit Girl to receive what looked like her due in the original Kick-Ass, to not properly belong in any movie too much owned wholly by geeks. When she rides off alone at the finish, she's the 18-year-old with the physical capacity now, to fit right into the Avengers without blinking, with a big-league foe played by a big-league actor, taunting her, rather than essentially unadulterated nobodies and Hollywood castaways. And if she surprised us in Avengers 2 by serving as Black Widow's replacement, we'd calculate the actresses' already-stardom, as well as what she's surely due; consider her character's superlative killing out of Kick-Ass; and actually probably let her do the unthinkable and be the only one you're ever likely to see in a Depression period, rise from the slums and get to keep their stay.

Be warned, however, that though it looks like she's off to the big time, it's not quite true to say she's leaving everyone else behind. All the other heroes drop their super-hero garb and personas, but they don't sulk back into the individually bullied. Rather, they take the other empowered end of the super-hero stick that the last Depression period—the one that gave birth to superheroes in the first place—enabled. Specifically, like the last Depression gave us Captain America and Superman, it also ended up giving us the people as folk, or in Germany, as volk. That is, the people ended up being the depersonalized "cogs in a wheel" that Dickstein rightly laments, but these same cogs ended up feeling that as an anonymous legion they were empowered together as something all-pure, all-powerful, and all-virtuous—look into the New Deal era, or, sorry, the Nazi vision of "people's community," to get some sense of this. Every one of the heroes are shown indistinguishably back in their street clothes, amongst the mass, but one feels that when "filth" passes by them, they're going to be at liberties to disassemble them that you just couldn't imagine. Here's where an awful lot of latitude is going to fall over the next number of years, and I think we feel this at the end of the film—how Dr. Gravity, surrendered of his "Superman" and contented in his "Clark Kent, " almost eclipses Hit Girl's racing off to her own individual future in Manhattan, when he smiles to participate in a righteous lynching. If his skills were a bit better, he'd fit in with Coulson's crew of black-garbed, non-glam agents, which as we know, no one's passing over for its possessing serious, serious legs. 

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