Here’s how nerdy I am: this last weekend, I played D&D on Saturday and Sunday and they weren’t even the same campaign. When something of concern to nerds rears its bespectacled head and roars with the fury of a thousand Simpsons quotes, I take notice. So it was impossible to ignore the collective wailing and gnashing of teeth that greeted the box office failure of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and Kick-Ass. To my collective group of friends, this was a great injustice that signaled the death of everything good in the world: kittens would be punched, Seyfried would remain clothed and Michael Bay would direct a series that focused entirely on the Autobot Twins and their aunt Precious. I finally watched both Scott Pilgrim and Kick-Ass last week and I have an alternate take. Maybe, just maybe, these movies failed because they weren’t that good.
I don’t listen to the radio. That’s not me trying to brag about how the bands I listen to haven’t even formed yet, that’s just laying some groundwork that I’m somewhat insulated from pop music. A couple months ago on youtube, I experienced my first Katy Perry song and my first Ke$ha song back to back. The Katy Perry song was an awful morass of auto-tuning, vapid lyrics and a melody that could most closely be compared to those brain worms in Wrath of Khan. Still, I understand Perry’s appeal. Zooey Deschanel’s head on a porn star’s body? There’s no part of that sentence that’s not awesome. Also, Perry’s a hardcore Christian and we all know what that means. Ke$ha, on the other hand, was like a dumbed down and uglied up version of Katy Perry. I was reminded of Peter Griffin’s brutal deconstruction of Christina Aguilera. She looked like she was covered in a thin glaze of heroin, sex sweat and day old bacon grease. I could smell Ke$ha’s myriad social diseases through the computer screen. While I understood Perry’s appeal, I can’t imagine the soul-crushing dystopia that would embrace a sticky dimestore hooker warbling nursery rhymes.
My point is that Scott Pilgrim is Katy Perry and Kick-Ass is Ke$ha.
Now settle down, nerds. I realize I’m going to be attacking a couple sacred cows here. You don’t have to love these things just because they came from comics. Stockholm Syndrome doesn’t have to extend to art.
I didn’t hate Scott Pilgrim. I understand the appeal. It’s slick, it’s shiny, it makes loud noises; it’s the artistic equivalent of jangling a bunch of keys in front of an infant, or, considering the movie’s target audience, a collection of Arcade Fire b-sides. It even has its moments, namely the first evil ex fight, “I have to pee on her,” and anything involving Chris Evans, Kieran Culkin or Aubrey Plaza. On the other hand, it was nearly two full hours and did nothing to justify its running time. The fights quickly grew tedious and the cleverest of all of them was lifted from a mediocre Jet Li movie. Scott’s biggest problem in the world was trying to decide which girl he wanted to fuck. Man, he really has it tough. You really feel for the guy. In a lot of ways I feel like Harvey Pekar screaming at Toby Radloff about Revenge of the Nerds. When my friends like Scott Pilgrim, I want to tell them that this isn’t them. They’re file clerks living in ethnic ghettos! Pilgrim is a guy who gets so much hot hipster ass he probably has a dick shaped like Hello Kitty.
Which of course, begs the question, why exactly was he into Ramona? He really can’t find another girl to glower at him from under a Vegas stripper’s wig? To many of my friends, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is sexual unobtainium (this is also the name of my futurepop quartet). They would literally murder thousands of ten-foot smurfs for the chance to count her ribs. I acknowledge that she’s not hard to look at, but nothing in her character or performance suggests the kind of slavish devotion that Scott has for her and the script is far too lazy to look for actual moments of human connection between the two of them.
Far more disturbing, however, is Scott Pilgrim’s deep resentment of women. As a boy, I too resented women. Of course now that I’m a man, I don’t. In Scott Pilgrim, every woman is either a hostile bitch or addled stalker. Every woman except Ramona, that is. She’s an empty vessel to be filled with whatever Scott chooses to shove in there: soulful indie rock, mentos or his penis. Ramona has no agency of her own; she would be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but she doesn’t even have the MPDG’s lust for life. In fact, her only distinguishing feature is that having seven exes makes her damaged goods. Seven exes! Someone call the vicar, because there’s a harlot on the loose! And to top it all off, the only reason she doesn’t like Scott Pilgrim is because of a mind control chip on the back of her head. Now, I realize I’m taking this a little far, but this means that Scott could have seduced her at any time if he just donkey-punched her. Was this movie written by the Situation?
I didn’t hate Scott Pilgrim (although I kind of hated Scott Pilgrim, if you follow me), but I did hate Kick-Ass. Based on the comic written by the sublimely untalented Mark Millar, Kick-Ass is a film that has no fucking idea of what it wants to be. It starts life as an alleged comedy about what it would really like to be a superhero. In short, you’d get your ass royally kicked. It loses interest in this plot fairly quickly since writing something like that, to paraphrase Scott Pilgrim, would be haaaaaaard. Instead, it abruptly turns into a bizarre cross between Oldboy and Kindergarten Cop as directed by Dick Cheney’s withered prostate.
This isn’t odd, considering most of what Millar writes has weirdly fascist (and ass-related) overtones. All of Mark Millar’s work can be summed up thus: horrible people doing horrible things for horrible reasons. Mark Millar is what would happen if Garth Ennis lost the capacity for joy. Mark Millar hates his characters so much he probably thinks they’re trying to get him free medical care. Mark Millar respects his readers the way the Catholic Church respects your child’s personal bubble.
Okay, I think it’s all out of my system now.
Every Kick-Ass apologist I have spoken to immediately dismisses Kick-Ass, the film’s ostensible hero and a character that somehow makes Michael Cera look like Lee Marvin. They say that they prefer Hit-Girl’s movie. They are entirely correct in identifying Hit-Girl as existing in her own film – she’s a Torgo. Her introduction to Kick-Ass takes place as she goes all Jason Voorhees on a roomful of petty criminals. For this to be a reasonable reaction, the city needs to be built up as an urban hellscape in which rape and murder are the consequences of leaving one’s graffiti-and-gore-covered home. Death Wish and Robocop managed to do this. Because Kick-Ass is mostly grounded in reality, Hit-Girl comes off as a chibi psychopath, although the film is far too stupid to realize this. In fact, it applauds her ultraviolence. Kick-Ass can only be redeemed by emulating her and putting on a jetpack with mounted miniguns. Hey, remember when Kick-Ass was about the real-world consequences of being a vigilante? That’s okay. The movie doesn’t either.
A smarter film would have realized that Hit-Girl and Big Daddy are the villains of the piece and acted accordingly. It would be about Kick-Ass being seduced to the dark side and becoming worse than the criminals he terrorizes. Eventually he would have to face his surrogate family and defeat them. Instead, for villains we get McLovin and a kung fu mafia don. No, really.
Why all the love for Hit-Girl? I honestly have no idea. She is shockingly original, as long as we pretend it’s 1996 or we’re in an alternate universe in which South Park doesn’t exist. Maybe she surprised people who had never seen Halloween? Maybe it was Chloe Moretz’s unconvincing delivery of her dialogue that won them over? It’s also possible people wanted to see a little white girl re-enact scenes John Woo directed twenty years ago. Not really sure there. On the upside, Scott Pilgrim would probably try to date her just for the haircut. The guy definitely has a type.
I might forgive Kick-Ass these faults, but it fails in every conceivable way. It’s an unfunny comedy, a boring action film and a thematic mess. It’s two retarded movies sewn together like a human centipede made from tea-partiers. It’s a horrid little trifle that doesn’t even understand how very ugly it is. And the worst part? It has somehow spawned a sequel from the depths of its haunted testes.
The true irony is that the nerds were right, although not in the way they thought. Scott Pilgrim was the better film but did much worse that Kick-Ass, which somehow managed to make money domestically. Neither movie was good, but the less bad one did worse. Any way you slice it, bemoaning either movie’s fortunes is a complete waste of time. Save your energy for something that doesn’t suck.
Like Hobo with a Shotgun.