Monday, 19 August 2013

Movie Review: Kick-Ass 2

I'm pretty much done with Mark Millar. You may claim that he's the most talented writer of comics today, and there's a good chance that you're right. His work has pushed comics forward and influenced the modern cinematic treatment of comic properties. He's a great writer. However, he is also coming across as a mysogonistic prick.

I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and accept that he's probably just an idiot who doesn't realise how offensive his work has become. But that doesn't mean I like his work any more than if it was deliberate. I have similar issues with Alan Moore, an author who frequently uses rape as a plot point in his comics. However, in Moore's work, rape is portrayed as the abbhorantly destructive act that it is, and is used against male characters as well as female. It is disgusting, but it exists, and it is shown as one of the most appalling acts that can be committed. In Millar's work, however, rape is used solely against women, and purely as an attempt to be edgy and controversial.

I didn't read past issue one of Kick-Ass 2, so feel free to discard my argument as uninformed. By the time I'd got round to it, I'd already heard what was coming up in issue four. Katie, the love interest of Dave/Kick-Ass, is brutally gang-raped by the MotherFucker and his gang of villains. This is just one of many incidences of rape in Millar's recent work, but is easily the most well-known and shocking. It is also the most indicative of Millar's complete lack of understanding of the appalling trauma that rape victims suffer. The rape of Katie is committed by the main, male villain for no other reason than to piss off the main, male hero, and to show how bad he is. Millar's own words betray his lack of undertanding:

“The ultimate [act] that would be the taboo, to show how bad some villain is, was to have somebody being raped, you know?” he told me. “I don't really think it matters. It's the same as, like, a decapitation. It's just a horrible act to show that somebody's a bad guy.”

No, it is not. The Kick-Ass comics and films are full of astonishing acts of violence, but rape is another thing entirely. It is not the same as a decapitation. I don't know anyone who has been decapitated, or microwaved, or pureed in a car-crusher. I know a number of women who have been raped. That's the difference.

What's also aggravating is that Millar is capable of creating great female characters. In Kick-Ass 2, the most powerful, intimidating characters on both the good and evil sides are female, namely Mindy/Hit-Girl and Mother Russia. Both are clearly messed-up, damaged characters, but so are most of the male characters o both sides, and it's apparant that both Hit-Girl and Mother Russia are the ones who genuinely pose a threat to their opposing team's plans. In the movie, this comes to a head in a gruesome but visually impressive and well-choreographed fight scene between the two of them, while the other, almost entirely male super-characters flail around them.

The movie version of Kick-Ass 2 thankfully does not include the rape scene. Indeed, Katie, played by Lyndsy Fonseca, barely features, being written out very early on and taking no further part in the proceedings. Clearly, if she isn't on hand to become a convenient rape victim, she's of no use to the story. Jeff Wadlow's script lays off the misogyny, although it is not entirely absent, and shadows of the original remain. In place of Katie, it is Miranda/Night-Bitch (Lindy Booth) who is threatened by the MotherFucker. In the event, this is turned into a comedic moment, where the MotherFucker is unable to perform under pressure. Miranda is still viciously beaten, however, thankfully off-screen.

I am very glad that the actual rape was ommitted from this version. Had it been included, I think I would just have walked out at that point. Instead, we have a female character who is merely threatened with violation, again, purely to show how bad this new version of Christopher Mintz-Plasse's character is. Her suffering, as she lies in a hospital bed after her beating, is there not because she's an important character, but because it gives something for Dave to feel guilty about. The fact that Booth gives one of the best performances of the film will no doubt be lost on most viewers, who will be following Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Moretz and Mintz-Plasse as they give distinctly mediocre performaces as Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl and MotherFucker respectively. They all seem to have lost enthusiasm for their roles.

What's missing from this sequel is much of the sheer anarchic fun of the first movie, and indeed the first book. The violence was absurdly over the top in the first Kick-Ass, but it was portrayed with an almost slapstick style that removed it from reality. The sequel takes itself far too seriously, and what comedic moments there are mostly fall flat due to the oppressively grim atmosphere they reside in. The main fight sequences are performed with aplomb, but the satirical bite of the original is lost as they revel in their own nastiness instead of sending it up. Call me an old bastard, but I fail to see how a movie featuring copious, bloody violence, nudity and threats of rape can be considered suitable for a '15' certificate.

Owing to the level of violence in the film, and the apparant age of the characters involved, Jim Carrey has famously withdrawn any support for the production following the Sandy Hook massacre. It's an understandable action, although I would be interested to know what he did with the money he received for his role. It's a shame; Carrey's role as Mafia goon turned unlikely superhero Colonel Stars and Stripes, a twisted parody of Captain America, is the highlight of the film. While I don't think such films can be blamed for the violent acts of young people - disturbed people will always find something to latch onto - I can understand why Carrey felt the need to distance himself from the production. Or maybe it's all a publicity stunt, I don't know.

In any case, Kick-Ass 2 the movie manages to avoid, for the most part, falling into the traps of becoming a retread of Millar's questionable work in Kick-Ass 2 the comic. It also, however, manages to avoid being a successful sequel to the first Kick-Ass, failing to capture the irreverent verve that film displayed. While Kick-Ass could be enjoyed with a perverse glee, Kick-Ass 2 is a joyless affair. While I'm sure that's the point, it doesn't make for a good movie.

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