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Film Club: ‘Kick-Ass’

Comic Book Adaptation Splits the Critics

Above: Aaron Johnson and Chloe Moretz star as superheroes of sorts in "Kick-Ass."

Audio

Aired 4/28/10

Host Maureen Cavanaugh and film critics Beth Accomando, Scott Marks, and Anders Wright discuss "Kick-Ass" on the April KPBS Film Club of the Air.

Transcript

The KPBS Film Club of the Air welcomed City Beat film critic Anders Wright to the table this month. One of the films up for discussion was "Kick-Ass." Listen to our discussion. I even wore my purple wig. Of course it makes no difference when you listen but it inspired me to defend the film.

This month, These Days host Maureen Cavanaugh had to referee three critics: Scott Marks, Anders Wright, and myself. The biggest disagreement was over the recent "Kick-Ass," based on the Mark Millar-John Romita, Jr. comic book. Take a listen as we argue about whether the film is a satire; what if anything is controversial about Hit Girl, and whether or not there will be an end to comic book adaptations.

Here's my review of "Kick-Ass."

Enjoy! And here's what my purple wig looks like. I call myself Hit Mom.

Okay here's how I look in my purple wig. My friends and I wore wigs and masks to a screening of "Kick-Ass."

Beth Accomando

Above: Okay here's how I look in my purple wig. My friends and I wore wigs and masks to a screening of "Kick-Ass."

Here's the discussion we had on the show.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. This is the KPBS Film Club of the Air. I’m Maureen Cavanaugh. My guests are Beth Accomando, Scott Marks and Anders Wright. And we are moving right along with one of the most controversial films in recent memory. It’s called “Kick-Ass.” Directed by Matthew Vaughn, starring Aaron Johnson, Nicholas Cage and Chloe Grace Moretz. This is a movie based on a comic book where a nerdy high school student puts on a costume, pretends to be a super hero. He gets famous on the internet and finds another pair of super hero wannabes, Big Daddy and his 11-year-old daughter whose alias is Hit Girl. Here’s a scene where Nicholas Cage, as Big Daddy, gives his daughter Hit Girl a set of martial arts knives for her birthday.

(audio of clip from the film “Kick-Ass”)

CAVANAUGH: The film’s language and level of violence has shocked some critics and delighted others. It seems like the controversy around this film surrounds the character of the 11-year-old named Hit Girl. Anders, why is this character so controversial?

ANDERS WRIGHT: Well, first of all, it’s mostly because she’s 11 and she kills people in every shape, way or form. And there are stabbings and shootings and slicings and dicings, and she swears. I mean, this is a 11-year-old girl who uses both ‘c’ words in the course of the movie. And it’s an extremely violent film. I mean, the – you know, no one is left unkilled, basically, by the end of it. And it’s, you know, there are a lot of people who’ve been shocked by the fact that they decided to actually go with what the graphic novel did and have an actual 11-year-old killing everyone, basically, who stands in her way.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I’m seeing, you know, Beth, you’re here with your purple wig on, so I would imagine that you are a fan of this movie. But did you find anything offensive about the portrayal of Hit Girl or what happens to her?

BETH ACCOMANDO: No, actually I didn’t find it offensive. I mean, I enjoyed the character. And, I mean, I think – It’s funny. In a lot of the reviews, it seems like most of the – most of the people who are offended by it focus so much on the language even more so than on the violence. But, I mean, I think – Well, in terms of violence, I mean, I think it’s more realistic than a lot of the comic book movies because that’s part of the point of what they’re making. I mean, the idea is, is that being a super hero and going out and trying to commit vigilante justice and save the world is a stupid thing. And a lot of these people get hurt, including the guys who pretend to be super heroes. I mean, in a sense, I consider it more of an anti-super hero film than a super hero film. But, I mean, I like her character. I mean, I think it’s nice for girls to have something besides Hannah Montana to look at. I mean, she kicks some butt and she’s…

SCOTT MARKS: Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wait. You’re really going to tell me that you…

ACCOMANDO: Yeah.

MARKS: …think that this is female empowerment.

ACCOMANDO: Yeah.

MARKS: That this is not just let’s get a little girl to swear and beat people up so we can sit there and go, wow, that’s cool. Because I see no feminism in this film. I see nothing about female empowerment. This is a little kid.

ACCOMANDO: Yeah. So?

MARKS: No, you tell me so. The ball’s back to you now.

ACCOMANDO: Why? I mean, what’s wrong with an 11-year-old girl who’s self-reliant, thinks fast, thinks well under pressure.

MARKS: How was she self-reliant? She – Her father is basically…

ACCOMANDO: He died. I’m sorry.

MARKS: Ohhh…

ACCOMANDO: I didn’t say that. She’s on her own.

MARKS: Oh, he dyes his hair. It’s Nicholas Cage. He dyes his hair.

WRIGHT: Yeah.

ACCOMANDO: She’s on her own for a bit and has to improvise under extreme pressure and does. I mean…

CAVANAUGH: Let’s talk about, Scott, why you didn’t like this movie.

MARKS: I, you know, it – Roger Ebert wrote – I guess he started all this rolling, that he wrote a review saying that he thought that the film was just shocking, all the horrible things in it. And he does have one quote that I like when he talks about comic book fans. He said, you inhabit a world I am so very not interested in. And I could not agree with him more. This is basically “The Watchmen” meets “The Professional.” It’s the same story as “The Watchmen.” Let’s take normal human beings and turn them into super heroes, and it’s “The Professional” where you have a little girl who becomes a killing machine, and a little “Bad News Bears” because “Bad News Bears” you have children swearing, and that’s there to make people laugh.

CAVANAUGH: We don’t want to forget the fact that one of the controversial aspects about this movie is that Hit Girl gets beaten up pretty terribly in this movie, this 11-year-old child. Does anyone have an issue with that?

MARKS: No, none. I have – I have no – None of that offends me. What offends me is that they reference Sergio Leone and they play Ennio Morricone. That offends me. That, I find horrifically – You have no right to rip that off when you’re doing a film as facile as this. Shame on you. This is by the guy who did “Layer Cake,” which I think is a great film.

WRIGHT: It’s also…

MARKS: It’s also by the guy who did “Stardust,” which I think is Robert De Niro’s worst film.

WRIGHT: But I think it’s closer to – Prior to making “Layer Cake,” he produced those Guy Ritchie movies…

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

WRIGHT: …“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch.” And I think this has much more in common with those films stylistically than the others. I think that one thing people seem to lose sight of is that within the world of the film itself no one actually thinks that it’s a good idea for an 11-year-old girl to be doing all these things. I think the action sequences are terrifically fun but that’s just it, it’s everybody who’s outside of the – You know, Roger Ebert is, oh, my God, it’s terribly shocking that all these things are being done by an 11-year-old girl and everyone in the movie is like, oh, my God, it’s terribly shocking that all these things are being done by an 11-year-old girl.

ACCOMANDO: And obviously people aren’t watching Japanese films right now because 11-year-old girls doing terribly shocking things are quite commonplace in those films.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take a step back from the movie for a minute, Beth, and talk about the way this movie was poised to be a big hit. I talked about scenes being shown at Comic-Con last summer, fan anticipation on the blog – the blogosphere.

ACCOMANDO: I wouldn’t say it was poised to be a big hit.

CAVANAUGH: No?

ACCOMANDO: I mean, when it showed at Comic-Con, nobody knew anything about it except for, you know, people who were fans of the comic books.

WRIGHT: The fan boys, yeah.

ACCOMANDO: People were mostly just blown away. I mean, people that I – It was shown at Hall H, they showed about 20 minutes of it, and it’s a 6400 seat venue. And, I mean, I heard people talking and everybody was going, like, man, I never heard of this movie, and, where’d this come from? This looks great. So, I mean, I think the studio producing it, I don’t think anybody really thought, oh, boy, you know, we’ve got this huge hit on our hands. I mean, I think the people working on it were hoping for that but when they showed it, I think most of the reaction was, wow, where did this come from? And, I mean, it’s been popular on blogs and on the internet and people who like the comics have, you know, been looking forward to it but, I mean, I don’t think it’s – I think it’s always been kind of a small film.

MARKS: But it tanked. Aren’t you shocked that this film didn’t make $40, $50 million opening week?

ACCOMANDO: It didn’t tank. It was number one at the box office for the week that it came out.

MARKS: Barely. Barely. And it…

ACCOMANDO: But it only cost like…

MARKS: $20 million is…

ACCOMANDO: …$30 million to make.

WRIGHT: Yeah, they made their money back.

ACCOMANDO: They made their money back already.

MARKS: Even with all the expense to publicize this?

WRIGHT: Yeah, yeah.

ACCOMANDO: They made…

MARKS: Because they didn’t publicize – Oh, there’s been posters, there’s been commercials for this thing for months.

WRIGHT: I actually think that, in fact, the movie’s problem is that for the most part the trailer and the posters and all that gave it a sort of standard PG-13 rating. It looked like something…

CAVANAUGH: Ohh…

WRIGHT: …other than what it actually is when, really, it’s a hard ‘R’ movie.

ACCOMANDO: But, you know, the other thing, and, I mean, I think in a certain sense, although this is nowhere near as good as “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” but in a certain sense it’s biting the hand that feeds it in the same way that you were talking about. I mean, it is making fun of the fan boys and it’s making fun of, you know, the action. I mean, it’s kind of delivering what it’s making fun of at the same time.

MARKS: But it’s also a film that wants to make fun of its characters and embrace them simultaneously.

ACCOMANDO: Yes.

MARKS: And if, indeed, this is supposed to be a satire, it becomes what it’s satirizing 10 minutes in.

WRIGHT: I don’t know if it’s a satire.

MARKS: Really?

ACCOMANDO: No, I think it is.

MARKS: Of course it is.

WRIGHT: No, I don’t know, because at the same time, when it – I think it’s a movie that’s actually really about the comic book world and the people who inhabit it. You know, I mean, look at – I look at it like this. Forever, we’ve taken these comic book movies and we’ve made them PG, PG-13, and you feel like they’re made by people in suits who actually don’t read comic books when really the people who read comic books like the violence. They like the sex, they like the swearing. It’s – it comes with the territory. So these guys finally got together and said, you know what, let’s just make a movie that actually has all of these things in it.

MARKS: But they’ve made a lot of R-rated – “Watchmen.”

WRIGHT: “Watchmen” is a totally different beast.

ACCOMANDO: And “Bladerunner.”

WRIGHT: Yeah.

ACCOMANDO: I mean, “Blade…

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask a question about this.

MARKS: “Blade…

ACCOMANDO: You think so?

CAVANAUGH: A lot of people who don’t like the movie as well as people who do like the money – movie, are all praising the performance of Chloe Grace Moretz. And I’m wondering, here we have an 11-year-old girl playing an 11-year-old girl who swears and gets beat up and kills people. Tell me a little bit, Anders, about how you feel about her performance.

WRIGHT: She’s great.

ACCOMANDO: She’s amazing. She’s so much fun.

WRIGHT: I mean, she really is great. I mean, she really does sort of go all out, and you feel as though she is wise beyond her years.

MARKS: You don’t think this is an example of Tatum O’Neal in “Paper Moon” where the director sat down…

ACCOMANDO: No.

MARKS: …and said, here’s exactly what I want you to do and you imitate me and do it to the letter.

WRIGHT: I think…

MARKS: …because that’s what I felt while I was watching the film.

WRIGHT: No, I understand what you’re saying. And, you know, who knows. But I hope not. No, I think actually she’s – She is the hit of the film. She’s very, very funny.

ACCOMANDO: She feels really genuine…

WRIGHT: Yeah.

ACCOMANDO: …and natural. I mean – And, I mean, I think for what they have her do, they also don’t like sexualize her like you might expect.

WRIGHT: There was sex in the film but…

ACCOMANDO: Still, like – But not with her.

MARKS: It would’ve been so much better if they did…

ACCOMANDO: Why?

MARKS: …because then the film would’ve had some guts and it would actually have tried to make a point.

ACCOMANDO: Why is it guts to do that?

MARKS: This film doesn’t make – Because this film reaches no point.

ACCOMANDO: It does make a point.

MARKS: What’s the point of this film?

ACCOMANDO: It’s got a number of points. It makes fun of – I think it makes fun of the fan base that embraces those characters. I mean, right after the super hero comes out there’s costumes out and there’s comic books out and there’s merchandise for sale, I mean, as much merchandise for sale as there is in “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” And, I mean, I also think it’s making fun of the fact that, you know, here you’ve got this guy who’s out there trying to help people, he’s getting beat the hell up and people are videotaping them with their cell phones and posting it on the internet. I mean, part of what I think they’re making fun of is that we’ve blurred this line between reality and fantasy. We can’t tell reality TV from narrative fiction from, you know, a hoax that’s put on the internet and people don’t care, they’re out there going like, wow, this is really cool, look at this guy’s, you know, getting his ass kicked. And then they videotape it on their cell phone and they post it…

WRIGHT: Straight to YouTube, yeah.

ACCOMANDO: …to YouTube, but nobody helps him. And, I mean, they’re making fun of that.

CAVANAUGH: We have to wrap up this discussion.

MARKS: Aww. Aww…

CAVANAUGH: I do want to ask you one more question, though, Scott, because you have been the voice…

MARKS: Oh, great, I get the closer, aren’t…

CAVANAUGH: Well, you’ve been the voice of…

WRIGHT: Gotta get the last word, huh?

CAVANAUGH: …saying that you don’t like this.

MARKS: Yes. Yes.

CAVANAUGH: And I’m wondering if you have any thoughts about how film historians and critics are going to look back on this obsession that we’ve had about comic books in movies during the last decade or so.

MARKS: I don’t think film historians and film critics will look back. I think fan boys will. And I think they’ll sit and salivate and drool and I think we’re in the middle of the comic book – the golden period, so to speak. I just can’t wait for it all to come to an end and I wish they would start making movies about real characters, not little kids dressing as imo twinks and going to beat up people. And Chloe Moretz, you want to see a much better film? “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” And she’s in that…

ACCOMANDO: Oh, that’s awful.

MARKS: …and it’s a much better film.

ACCOMANDO: No, that’s an atrocious film.

MARKS: Okay.

WRIGHT: She’s playing the lead in the remake of the vampire movie…

ACCOMANDO: Yeah.

WRIGHT/ACCOMANDO: …”Let the Right One In”…

ACCOMANDO: …yeah.

WRIGHT: …that’s going to come out, I think, next year so…

CAVANAUGH: Oh, that – that Scandanavian…

ACCOMANDO: Can I just say one quick thing…

CAVANAUGH: Sure.

ACCOMANDO: …about comic book adaptations. I mean, we don’t talk about it like are we going to stop making adaptations of plays or adaptations of novels. I don’t think it’s some fluke. I think comic books and graphic novels have finally reached a point where people are acknowledging that they are part of the literary world and we are going to keep seeing them. There are good comics and bad comics and there’s going to be good comic adaptations and bad ones. But I don’t think this is just some fluke and we’re never going to, you know, there’s going to be an end to it suddenly and…

WRIGHT: And I’m going to take the last word. I’m sorry but here we go. The thing that I do love about this movie is that they did decide to make it a rated-R film.

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

WRIGHT: That unlike all these other movies, they said, look, we’re not going for the Happy Meal prizes here. We’re really trying to do something that is over the top and violent and it’s not for kids. And I think that’s important.

CAVANAUGH: “Kick-Ass,” currently playing in area theaters.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Comickaze'

Comickaze | April 28, 2010 at 10:45 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

This exchange really hit a nerve. It's suprising that professional reviewers (with the exception of Beth) continue to use labels like "comic book movies" as if comic book were a genre rather than a format or medium.

As if 300, Sin City, Road to Perdition, Kick Ass, 30 Days of Night, A History of Violence, V for Vendetta, Whiteout, American Splendor, Ghostworld, Scott Pilgrim... were all cut from the same cloth as each other, let alone Spider-Man or Iron Man, which couldn't be further from the truth.

The simple truth is, that every genre that exists in literature and film also exists in comics and many prose and even film and television writers are flocking to the format because of the freedom, power, immediacy and dynamisim this format affords them over all others.

That so many comics are making the move to the big screen, including many of the most successful films of the last decade, is a tribute to the caliber of work being delivered in panel form.

As to when Hollywood will give up make "comic book movies"? Why would they? Look at the box office on Spider-Man and Batman. How about the interest in Heroes and the Incredibles, original comic book style productions not sourced from comic books.

Considering that the surface has barely been scratched in terms of available material, I can't believe that we'll see a cessation of "comic book movies" any time soon.

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Avatar for user 'trere8'

trere8 | April 29, 2010 at 12:47 a.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

If we dismiss films from serious criticism because of their popular and violent source material, we should also ignore much classic Horror, Giallo, Noir, and Westerns, early work of Fritz Lang and Louis Feuillade, Serials and Silents. One should not lose all perspective simply because it is contemporary.

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Avatar for user 'The0ne'

The0ne | April 29, 2010 at 10:28 a.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

As I commented in Beth's previous post, Kick-Ass is a very dark movie. The tone, music and action, scenes and filming are fit in very well. How Beth continues to honestly support this with minimalistic opinions like self reliant discredits her background as a objective film critic, IMO.

The movie is more realistic which makes all the killing, the agony, the vengence, the swearing all more real. That's why this is disturbing to me and my nephews. I don't mind that it's a kid doing it, but the film was done in a more realistic environment and that differences itself from your typical superhero movies like spiderman/watchman.

Beth keeps saying this movie is "fun." Sure there a "few" moments where it was funny but the overall flow and mood of the movie is dark. Just from this, I think Beth is a very sick person personally. Her "small" points to support her view of this movie is utter ridiculous. Seriousl, the movie begins with a kid trying to fly but instead falls to his death...nothing funny about this, NOTHING. Yet beth thinks this is funny? Wow.

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Avatar for user 'IanForbes'

IanForbes | April 29, 2010 at 1:56 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

A person falling to their death in REALITY is horrible. A person falling to their death in a FICTIONAL FILM can be funny. It's all about context and separating reality from fiction.

Everybody has their own point of view, which is unique to them and not right or wrong by definition of another person. As a fellow film critic, it is my job (and Beth's and Roger Ebert's and Kenneth Turan etc. etc.) to relate a point of view. Should someone disagree, that's fine. By reading a particular reviewer regularly, you begin to understand their perspective and can use their criticisms to guide yourself towards fare best suited for your desires.

I find it offensive you would attack Beth personally because of her opinion. Feel free to present your opinions on a film, especially if you disagree (because everyone's personal point of view is valid) but judging someone based on their film taste is marginalizing all of the elements that go into a real person ... and not the fictional person you perceive them to be.

Now, when it comes to material that is dark or mature, that's where the ratings system comes into play. "Kick-Ass" is rated R for multiple reasons. It is up to individuals 17 and older to decide for themselves if they can handle the material. Yes, "Kick-Ass" is done in a more realistic manner, but it's done so to show that trying to enact vigilante justice via scuba suit and bravado is 99 times out of 100 going to get your ass kicked.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | April 29, 2010 at 1:58 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

Thanks for the comments and for the reminder of other genres such as Giallo and Noir that draw on popular and violent source material. And I feel comic books, like anime, tend to be treated as a genre and that ignores the diversity they contain.

As for Kick-Ass being dark and realistic-- yes! That's the point. As I stated in my response to TheOne's comments on my earlier review post for Kick-Ass it offers realistic violence and realistic consequences to violence because it is an anti-superhero movie. Just because it is based on a comic doesn't mean it is a "comic book" movie like Fantastic Four or Daredevil where the violence is sanitized. Kick-Ass tells us that trying to fight crime is dumb and you're likely to get hurt but it also comments on our violence obsessed culture in which people would rather videotape someone getting beat up than help them. So Kick-Ass should be disturbing but it is also funny. Funny in a dark and twisted way. That it manages to be both is one of the reasons I like it.

Thanks again to everyone for sharing their thoughts.

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Avatar for user 'michaelnoon'

michaelnoon | April 29, 2010 at 2:35 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

Hi Beth:

I've long maintained that comics have been and, in some cases, continue to be...a great pop-cultural repository of the best movements in art, literature, film, etc; comics absorb virtually everything around them and, oftentimes, reproduce these movements in more palatable ways.

You're going to find amazing artwork, fine art, in comics; you're going to find philosophy, spirituality, mythology, psychology, sexuality; you're going to find Aristotle's poetics - comics use it all, a great mirror of society and culture, unpretentiously.

Both my parents were English teachers. When I was growing up, I was allowed to read comics because my parents deemed them "literate" and because looking at the art was teaching me to draw; in fact, much of the "purple prose," overwriting, of comics - my parents felt - was, at least, a terrific vocabulary lesson. Comics are the Cliffs Notes of every major discipline.

This is not to say that all comics achieve this - some are awful - but, generally speaking, comics get to make perfect 2-minute rock-n-roll songs out of otherwise unruly symphonies.

If you look at comics and see only fighting and spandex, you're not looking closely enough.

So, yes, comics are a worthy source for film adaptations!

Cheers!

Michael Noon

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Avatar for user 'Gabriela'

Gabriela | April 29, 2010 at 8:33 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov was not meant as an incitement for renters to kill their landlords. Violence exists in fiction, and in the movies, for multiple reasons, and not all of them reducible to simple sociological and moral statements. An eleven year-old female vigilante is perfectly acceptable if the aesthetic logic of the film demands it, especially if it contributes to an exhilarating, thought-provoking, convention-bashing ride. And no, she does not have to live up to some fantasy of feminism. Beth engages this film on its own terms, with neither false solemnity nor annoying patriarchal intonations. Really guys, loosen up already!

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