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Kick Ass 2 Movie Review


Kick Ass did a good job of building a movie around seven issues of a comic book. It did it by fixing some of the holes and expanding the characters.

Kick Ass 2 tries to do the same thing, but it has one big problem. Chloe Moretz has grown up. Its solution is to stick in a Mean Girls plot that is completely out of place.

Every other second superhero movie follows the pattern of having the hero contemplate hanging up the cape. But there’s usually more at stake than date night.

The high school scenes in Kick Ass told us why someone might want to be a superhero. The high school scenes in Kick Ass 2 don’t tell us anything and belong in a completely different movie.

That’s not the only problem with Kick Ass 2. Moving the showdown from Times Square to a warehouse doesn’t do the ending any favors. Neither does cutting out the dark ending of the comic and trading it for an action movie shark finish and a neat escape.

Kick Ass 2 might have worked if it had stuck to that darker ending where the superheroes are arrested, Kick Ass is a wanted man after killing his nemesis and Hit Girl is on the way to prison. Instead there’s an uplifting moral about how everyone has a hero inside them.

The things that Kick Ass 2 does well are the same things that Kick Ass did well. It develops the villains and makes them a lot more interesting and entertaining than Millar managed to do. And Jim Carrey steals every scene he’s in as Captain Stars and Stripes, even if he’s unrecognizable and decided to take his name out of the credits.

What it fails at is developing the heroes. If Kick Ass 2 had done as much for the development of the heroes as it did in developing Chris and his relationship with his father’s bodyguard and the attention it lavished on Mother Russia, it would be a good movie.

But no such luck.

The heroes get scaled down to dumber costumes. And Insect Man is traded for a guy who is there for comic effect. Hit Girl’s big conflict is wanting to date and be a cheerleader.

Evil has a solid trajectory. Good doesn’t.

Kick Ass 2 thinks the villains are a lot more entertaining than the heroes. But a movie where the villains are solidly developed and the heroine is off doing Mean Girls doesn’t work. The movie straddles this disconnect by not going too dark. The Captain’s dog lives. Katie doesn’t get raped. Kids don’t get shot. And that takes the energy Kick Ass had off the table.

Kick Ass went places you didn’t expect. With Kick Ass 2 you know who’s going to get eaten by the shark long before it happens.

Kick Ass 2’s big mistake is that it gets too comfortable being a comedy that it doesn’t think too much about the superhero stuff. It goes for easy laughs by building up the villains and lowering the stakes. It forgets that there already was a superhero comedy and this isn’t it.

Kick Ass backed out of the some of the comic’s darker moments, but it was smarter about what it replaced them with. Kick Ass 2 has nothing to replace them with.

Is It A Bird? Is It A Plane? It’s A Comic Book Stunt?

Superhero comics run on the old serial narrative. Hero faces death. Hero is threatened by death. Then Hero saves the day. And then after a few hundred issues you have to give the threat some credibility by killing the Hero. Then you replace him with something else. Then you bring him back.

Four Supermans. Three Batmans. Doc Ock as Spiderman. And then once you’ve shaken things up, cleared the ground, you use that 8f_118056_0_SupermanVol1250HaveHorseWillFlas an opportunity to give the whole thing a fresh look before going back to the way things were all along.

Nothing really changes in comic books. That’s truer than ever because the comic book audience is now 40 year old males and they want more sophisticated storytelling without changing the stuff they grew up with. Those two are irreconcilable. And this is how you reconcile them. You make big changes and then reset them. Spiderman reveals his secret identity and then makes a deal with the devil to undo it. Big stuff happens and then it doesn’t. Everything changes and then it doesn’t.

The one thing that comic publishers fear for their IPs, even big ones like Spider-Man, is that they will be shelved and ignored. Event comics are a cry for attention. Making big changes gets readers to browse it on their iPads one more time. They make it seem like the comic is going somewhere when it’s not. When it can’t.

What can you really do with an iconic character that hasn’t been done before? Nothing.

Every comic book character has died, been replaced, had to kill, been accused of murder, lost the loves of their life, been defeated, had their identity exposed etc…

There is nothing else to do. Not a thing. Oh you can make him gay. That’s about it. And then change him back. See Vampire Slayer, Buffy. And once every comic has done its gay love story, there will be even less out there.

Superhero comics stopped being relevant a while back. Even Spider Man, one of the younger of the top superhero comics, is out of it. These aren’t stories, they’re IPs. Like Mickey Mouse or the Simpsons they’re just around because people remember them and kids buy the merchandise. That’s it.

There are no more stories left to tell. Just lunchboxes to sell. Or Apps. And the kids who buy Spider Man gear aren’t reading the comics now, they’re seeing the cartoons or the movies.

The comics began it all, but now they’re just this odd relic tagging along. Disney isn’t interested in Spider Man because it wants to sell Spider Man comics, but because it wants to make Spider Man movies.

DC and Marvel are relics full of characters to be monetized by movie studios who put movies first, games second, cartoons third and comics zeroth. Their target audience is 17. The comics audience is 37.

Batman, Superman and Spiderman comics have become the ugly stepchildren of their own IPs. Their audiences are too old, their medium is dated and they have to pull off new stunts that their audience is familiar with because their audience is pushing 40 and grew up on those stunts.

Comics aren’t dead, but the big boys are irrelevant. And being irrelevant means fighting harder for oxygen. It means more stunts which get reset and alienate whatever audience remains after the initial buying frenzy for the issues that aren’t going to be worth anything in twenty years dies down.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It’s a dying industry trying to pull off one more comic book stunt. Peter Parker dying in Doc Ock’s body is a metaphor for the entire industry. Old fans. Old characters. No reason to go on.

21st Century Dead edited by Christopher Golden

A zombie anthology is dead from page one. Like most gimmicky anthologies it’s limited by its topic, and zombies, despite the 21st century deadsheer number of movies and comics about them are not very interesting.

21st Century Dead is supposed to be a more modern anthology. Forget those countless anthologies with punny names all edited by the same guy that you’ve seen on the spinner rack. This is trade paperback size. It has a splashy cover with lots of gore that looks like a movie poster. And it has a punny title. And its story quality is even worse.

There are the screenplay treatments that the authors and editor pretends are stories. There are zombies as a metaphor for poverty and for television. (Yes, there are a few of each.) There are a lot of stories about family members coping with their loved ones becoming zombies, including a few stories about people feeding other people to their family members who have turned into zombies. And there’s a novella in the middle about a ghost dog protecting a little boy from an evil alien spirit or something.

But it’s hard to blame anyone involved for 21st Century Dead. Christopher Golden has bad taste as the editor, but the topic is also on the hopeless side. What do you really do with zombies? Not a lot. There’s a virus. Everyone turns into zombies. Everyone else runs away or reacts in dysfunctional ways.

The Walking Dead can do a lot out of human reactions, but that’s not enough for an anthology, and there isn’t much that can be done. A few of the stories project a rebuilt society that finds ways to harness or cure zombies and that’s as clever as it gets. A few stories aren’t really about zombies, including Orson Scott Card’s initially funny story about a wife who comes home to her henpecked husband, but that then goes off the rails, but mostly they travel the same old territory. Virus. Bite. Depression.

There really isn’t much you can do with zombies and there’s not much cleverness on display in 21st Century Dead, an anthology that exists because zombies are popular, not because there’s anything more to write about them.

Irredeemable/Incorruptible’s Irredeemable Ending

There was a brief shining period when the Irredeemable and Incorruptible series were some of the most exciting things going on in superhero comics. Forget the umpteenth death and resurrection of Batman, Batgirl, Superman or Spiderman, here was a Superman gone mad and a supervillain gone heroic.

It was a big concept and they had no idea what to do with it.

If Superman goes evil and he has no easy kryptonite solution, how do you stop him? You don’t. So the Plutonian runs wild wiping out the planet while the superheroes stupidly sabotage each other. Q-Bit saves the Plutonian from being killed once and then saves him when he’s banished to an alien insane asylum and brings him back to earth for more devastation. Finally after earth is on the brink of destruction, Q-Bit convinces the Plutonian somehow to help save the planet and he dies in the process.

The ending spoiler is just too embarrassing to be worth spoiling.

For a while Incorruptible’s Max Damage looked like the better series, but Max Damage had nowhere to really go, just like the Plutonian had nowhere to go. The Plutonian was an aimless villain with nothing to do but destroy. Max Damage was an aimless hero with no idea how to be a hero. And the writing went to all the predictable places, something about Nazi gangs, more so than not.

But it’s the end of Incorruptible that is truly ridiculous. Not only does it turn into an Oprah special with Max Damage dealing with his feelings, but Max Damage flashes back on the time he used a device that takes away powers to fight the Plutonian hand to hand. It’s a nostalgic memory, which is insane because for the entire series the world has been trying desperately to stop the Plutonian at the cost of wiping out the entire planet.

After all that Irredeemable’s ending was the really irredeemable thing.

Comics Comedy

With all the outrage over a Smallville Season 11 coming out in comic book form, you would think that there was something really awful happening, like a Doctor Who- Star Trek The Next Generation crossover happening. (Yes that’s happening too.) Is there absolutely no room for a Smallville comic book in a lineup that already features Superman, Superboy, Supergirl and Justice League?

The reason for it is a no brainer. Smallville had plenty of fans, especially female fans, who aren’t picking up issues of Superman. Getting them to read a Superman comic by any name is a no brainer. With a good writer, which it has, there’s no reason that Smallville Season 11 can’t be good. Or moderately decent. Or better than Buffy Season 8.

Speaking of what I assume is Buffy Season 9, which I avoided because there’s only so much crap that even I can take, that has a storyline where Buffy gets pregnant and has an abortion, which is already being praised as groundbreaking by some of the fanboys who hate the idea of Smallville Season 11, sight unseen. I’m sure this will be just as well thought out and groundbreaking as Buffy’s lesbian tryst and not at all a publicity stunt by people who have already shown that they shouldn’t be allowed to crochet samplers.

Why not just turn over Buffy to David E. Kelley and get it over with? I don’t really see much difference in concept between his Wonder Woman TV show and Buffy anyway. All the fanboys who want to claim that Buffy was a strong female character might want to consider how much she really had in common with Ally McBeal. And how much of the differences came down to the actresses, not the writing.

Secret Six, What a Crock

The current incarnation of Secret Six was one of the more intriguing things DC was doing, emphasis on was. The entire dinosaur fantasy world trip and the trip to hell already killed it in a downfall of ugly art that made everyone look like muppets and stories that were all sound, fury and set pieces, and nothing else.

But nothing compares to the idiotic wrapup. Bane’s revival was interesting enough, but the idea that everyone would decide that their destiny lay with killing Batman didn’t fit anything that had come before. But at least it meant a final showdown. And that’s exactly what it meant in the worst way possible.

The whole thing ends with the Secret Six getting ratted out in a warehouse, taking a family hostage and then having every DC superhero, including the Krypton bunch show up to take them on. Stupid enough already. The Secret Six aren’t that impressive, and Batman alone has taken on tougher teams. But Secret Six deserves go out in the same stupid over the top style that killed it after the island escape.

No the real crock is Huntress mourning their defeat and damning the heroes for beating them. Really? Are we supposed to feel bad that Superman, Batman and Green Lantern beat three killers and a few less homicidal gray area types who were holding a family hostage, because they represented the spirit of independence, or something like that?

The Spirit movie review

The Spirit film posterThe Spirit is one of the odder comic book movies ever made, but its spirit is much closer to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again. It’s one of the few comic book movies that actually is a comic book, not just in the way it looks, but in its crazy energy, unfulfilled ambition and pulp traditions.

Sit through the whole thing and you come away with a completely different experience than the modern comic book superhero blockbuster. The Spirit has nothing in common with Nolan’s Dark Knight or Bryan Singer’s X-Men, the movies that define the 21st century comic book blockbuster. It does its awkward horrifying best to be a comic book on film. And it’s the closest thing to seeing Frank Miller on film.

Like most first time directors, Miller is way over his limit and doesn’t realize that he hasn’t yet learned how to tell a story. But there are glimpses among the ruins of what The Spirit might have been if Miller had been given a reality check by a producer who knew his stuff.

The worst thing about The Spirit is Samuel L Jackson as The Octopus, a monster of crime who’s all Id with no Superego. It’s not Jackson’s fault that he’s been set loose with no tether and mugs for the camera like mad. What else is he supposed to do. Especially when he’s being dressed in a Nazi uniform or a Samurai scalplock. There’s nothing Jackson could have done to fix this mess. That was Miller’s responsibility and he blew it.

But the best thing about The Spirit is the Spirit himself. Macht isn’t a great actor, and the narration is usually over the top, but the Spirit’s mad race through the city, his pratfalls and escapes, capture the pulp energy that once made comics so exciting to generations of kids. There’s a freedom here that’s completely missing from the summer blockbusters. A freedom that goes beyond the panels. That says anything is possible.

The encounter with Sans Serif in her hotel room, The Spirit riding up in a transparent elevator past falling snow and gargoyles captures the quintessential urban pulp noir feel. But Miller doesn’t know when to stop. Most scenes with The Spirit’s allies go on way too long. The Octopus is so far over the top that it’s unwatchable. There are too many women around The Spirit and all of it runs in a comic book story which doesn’t work on film.

Then there’s the mismatch of art styles, a problem that crippled The Dark Knight Strikes Again, it’s not as bad in The Spirit, but it’s a major problem. Playing with art styles in comic books is one thing for a pro like Miller looking to test the boundaries of the medium, but Miller doesn’t realize that he’s not a pro here. He’s an amateur director and when you’re an amateur, you need boundaries.

There are some beautifully lit and shot moments, but the movie feels like browsing through DeviantArt at random. There are some gorgeous scenes, and plenty of amateurish ones, and none of it hangs together as a consistent whole. The Spirit needed dramatic reediting and a few reshoots. Had Lionsgate done that, The Spirit wouldn’t have been a major success, but it wouldn’t have been a punching bag either.

Still what The Spirit has is valuable. In a summer when there are a ton of comic book superhero blockbusters that all feel the same, it’s a reminder of something undeniably different. The spirit and energy of the comic book living faithfully on screen.

Are Comic Books Dead?

Sure the theaters are plastered with comic book movies. The Marvel and DC line are being thrown out into theaters all summer. But that’s just Hollywood’s desperation for IP’s to build blockbusters around. When WB bought DC and Disney bought Marvel, it was an IP sale. The studios would get properties. And what happens to DC and Marvel?

The comic book industry has been shaky for a while. And it’s only getting shakier. The average age for comic book readers is climbing. Many of the major titles are just not that accessible to younger readers. One in four comic book readers is over 65. Not exactly the image of the kid grabbing a comic from the rack and consuming it along with soda pop. Those kids are sometimes still reading comics, they just happen to be a lot older now. And the actual kids, much less so.

The industry is blaming the usual suspects. Piracy. Which might be a factor, but piracy hasn’t stopped the movie industry and games from having booming sales. But it doesn’t take much to see the real problem.

Comic books have the same problems as books and TV shows. Competition. Back when comic books emerged as a powerhouse, its competitors were black and white movies and radio shows. Now they’re competing against games and the mobile life.

Top that off with an industry that’s oriented to middle aged men. Comic books are expensive and involved. They cater more to older audiences than younger ones. Think of JMS’s bright idea to have Superman address the economic recession or the whole insane Batman Inc thing.

The levels of violence have been climbing, the dark stories and the gimmicks. Kill Superman, kill Batman, roll back Spiderman, then kill off Spiderman. It all smacks of desperation.

Comics connected with large audiences because they offered escapism and adventure. Now they offer addicts another issue to buy, read and then complain about.

Why the Comic Book Movies Are Failing

DC and Marvel have thrown three comic book superheroes at the big screen and they all got shot down. Not badly shot down, but performed weakly. None of them have turned a profit on the domestic box office. Not Thor, X-Men First Class or Green Lantern. And that should be an alarm bell ringing in the offices of studio executives who decided that they could turn every property they had into another Batman and cash in.

The problem? No name brand superheroes. Green Lantern has a brand, but it’s not 200 million dollars worth. Thor is well known, but more for the mythology, than for the Marvel property. X-Men First Class is a prequel to a series that had too many movies around it already. If you’re going to bank on a 300 million dollar domestic box office, then your superhero needs some identity.

Iron Man made that happen, and it was a harder trick than Marvel realized, taking a character that maybe 10 million people were familiar with and breaking him out. And that was done by making him larger than life. Green Lantern and X-Men First Class have no one larger than life. Thor sorta does. And the sorta is why Thor performed a little better than the rest as audiences knew they were going to see a big muscular guy hit things with a hammer. Even if they had never read the comic book.

Summer of Comic Book Movies Not Going So Well

With Thor, X-Men First Class and Green Lantern, this was the summer of comic book movies. Too bad they weren’t very good and didn’t do all that well.

Domestically they all look to tread water and not much else. And that includes Thor which fell out of the Top 10 with 25 million over its bare budget, which doesn’t cover promotion. X-Men First Class is falling off drastically and may not make back its budget domestically. Green Lantern debuted at a quarter of its budget. And unless audience prove to be really in love with this and keep coming back, it probably won’t either.

The problem isn’t just limited to comic book movies. Pirates 4 is in the same boat. Kung Fu Panda 2 is struggling. Fast Five is the only action movie that has really cashed in. It’s the closest thing to a winner so far.

Don’t count on Marvel and DC changing their strategy much. None of these movies are losing money internationally. Thor has made most of its money internationally. It isn’t that huge of a payday, but enough that a sequel is likely. X-Men First Class is also doing better abroad. It’s too early to tell about Green Lantern, but if its international box office doesn’t pan out, then no sequel.

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