Film Rant Time: Kick-Ass 2

Despite the name I’m not always going to use this feature to talk about things I don’t like. There are a lot of ‘review’ shows and blogs about that mostly talk about how rubbish a particular thing is with maybe a last few words suddenly saying “I actually liked this.” It becomes less of a review and more a ‘how comically angry can I get about this?’ game. I already talk about many games that I like so I would like to extend this to films as well. I like the feature name but this will be less ranty and more… critiquey?

So let’s get down to business (to defeat…) and talk about Kick-Ass 2. 

The idea of superheroes in the real world is not really an original concept. It’s been done a number or times, most notably with Alan Moore’s excellent series Watchmen. Kick-Ass, created by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., is this idea of realistic superheroes taken to gritty, dark, and depressing extremes. I say this mostly about the comic, for those who have only seen the film trust me when I say they lighten it up so much. 

Kick-Ass is about American high-school student Dave Lizewski, played in the films by Aaron Taylor-Johnson who one day decides that he wants to try and be a superhero despite no skills or real motivation. As is to be expected he is mostly a complete failure, getting beaten nearly to death a number of times while mostly only managing to help a small number of people on a very superficial level. But that’s okay because it’s more about the fantasy of the new persona for Dave, since in his normal life he is nerdy, unpopular, and has a hopeless crush on the token ‘hottest-girl-in-school’ (Yes it’s clichéd). Unbeknownst to Dave, however, there is in fact already a real superhero duo and they do have the skills, the equipment, and the training: Big Daddy and Hit Girl, played by Nicholas Cage and Chloë Grace Moretz respectively.

If you haven’t already seen the first film and you think you might enjoy it then I do recommend it. It’s not even nearly as depressing as the comic and has this interesting mix of horrific scenes, ironic humour, and straight up goofiness. It’s fun and it’s odd. I’m now going to talk about the sequel which takes place a little after the end of the first film and is, in part, about Hit-Girl attempting to regain her childhood and reintegrate into society. As with Elysium I will keep the spoilers to a minimum until I mark the spoilers section. Oh and if you’re offended by bad language then you may not want to read on as I will not be censoring any of the names.

They're here to fight crime and get beat up... at least one of them is.

They’re here to fight crime and get beat up… at least one of them is.

Visuals

Like the original the film has this blend of bright and dark in its visual style. The costumes of the many (and I do mean many) supporting heroes are bright, campy, and ridiculous. In normal Kick-Ass style this is set against more gloomy and dull images of the city and makes more a nice, if sometimes cringe-worthy, contrast. It’s meant to look realistic and as we all know realistic means gritty so that’s what most of the real world parts look like. 

The fight scenes (of which there are many) are well choreographed and interesting to watch, with the usual high intensity of blood that anyone who has seen the first film or read any of the comics should have come to expect. There’s also a surprising amount of bodily fluid scenes. Kick-Ass 2 definitely takes a leaf out of the adolescent and gross out humour which the first film lacked. There are numerous instances of vomiting and one of electrically induced diarrhoea, I’m not kidding. It’s a little bit cheap and it’s a shame. It’s one of the main differences between the humour of  first and second film, the first had a little bit of cringey humour but mostly derived it from the really odd circumstances being portrayed. The second goes much more for poop jokes, masturbation jokes, penis jokes, and impotence jokes too. It does certainly feel a lot cheaper than the first which was by no means high brow already.

One thing that I kept noticing throughout the film was how careful the film team had been in concealing Dave Lizewski’s body. Considering in part the film is about Kick-Ass actually training and becoming, you know, a superhero I was just waiting for the Captain America ‘Suddenly MUSCLES EVERYWHERE’ moment and it most certainly arrives.

But you'll have to wait and see it! Or... I don't know google it or something. If you put Kick-Ass 2 into google images it already comes up with 'Shirtless' as a possible refined search.

But you’ll have to wait and see it! Or… I don’t know google it or something. If you put Kick-Ass 2 into google images it already comes up with ‘Shirtless’ as a possible refined search.

Characters

Most of the characters in the sequel have been set up in the first film. Dave Lizewski is still a high-school loser to a degree (they play it up a bit more at random points) and Mindy Macready is still the Rorschach of this drama. Perhaps a bit more of an emotional one. Some of the characters from the first film get a bit more of a starring role, most notably Dave’s nerdy high school friends who get their own little character arcs. Some others drop off the map completely, in this case Dave’s girlfriend Katie who has one scene where she breaks up with Dave over a misunderstanding, makes a penis size joke and then promptly disappears from the plot.

The character of Red Mist/Chris D’Amico also returns, with Christopher Mintz-Plasse reprising his role. He gets promoted to the role of primary antagonist after an incident involving a tanning bed, a set of bondage toys, a couple of guns, and his mother, which leads him to become the world’s first supervillain, dubbing himself The Motherfucker… don’t ask. He recruits a number of henchman into his group known as the Toxic Mega Cunts, and he proceeds to generally give racially insensitive villain names to all of them. They are really enjoyable to watch and I can’t help but feel the actors protraying them were trying to have a lot of fun. Similarly the supporting hero cast also have a chance to shine with some bizarre and entertaining names and origins. Notable names include Donald Faison as the bat-wielding Doctor Gravity and Jim Carrey as the ex-mob enforcer turned born again Christian superhero Colonel Stars and Stripes.

The acting is pretty spectacular and remains entertaining throughout. It really does feel like people were having fun with their roles even during some of the more intense moments. I should also mention a little cameo appearance of Iain Glen who plays Chris D’Amico’s uncle and, technically, the leader of the D’Amico family now. For anyone not familiar with the name Iain Glen then you might remember him as Jorah Mormont from Game of Thrones. I kept waiting for his accent to slip and for him to say “Khaleesi”.

And so the crew of slightly pathetic superheroes marched off to battle.

And so the crew of slightly pathetic superheroes marched off to battle.

Plot

You know what, I was really surprised by the plot here. The trailers made me think that the plot was going to be Hit-Girl struggling to adapt to life in high-school while Dave Lizewski tries to turn her away from her past as Hit-Girl. Maybe that’s just me but that trailers certainly made me think that. Turns out I was wrong, it’s the reverse. Dave is bored with his life again and wants to go back to being Kick-Ass and is encouraging Mindy to stay as Hit-Girl. Most of the plot is about the consequences of trying to be superheroes in the real world, just like the first, but with the added danger of the creation of The Motherfucker, the world’s first supervillain.

It sounds, when written down, that it’s just a re-hash of the first plot but there’s enough variety and twists and new character development (and bodily fluid jokes) to feel like a very different beast from the original. The moments where Mindy manages to ingratiate her way into high-school life are very entertaining, mostly due to her reactions to the various situations.

Down this road leads only to spoilers, that and Castle Vampire

The main motivation of Chris D’Amico, aka The Motherfucker, is his hatred of Kick-Ass. After the events of the first film he wants revenge over the death of his father and is prepared to go to extreme lengths to get it. Kick-Ass himself has been training with Hit-Girl but she is forced to give up that life once again as her adoptive father does not want her to continue life as Hit-Girl but rather to try and grow up normal. Kick-Ass is despondent at losing his partner and thus starts teaming up with likewise “superheroes” many of whom are even more pathetic than he. As the film progresses we see Mindy try and live a Hollywood high-school life and, ultimately, pay the price. These bits are quite entertaining, particularly a brilliant scene with a One Direction rip off that is weirdly hilarious. But the main thing we want to see a Kick-Ass film is for are the superheroes. Kick-Ass 2 doesn’t disappoint here as Kick-Ass’ team quickly grows to a huge number, 

But The Motherfucker has also been creating an army and beings to wipe out police and costumed heroes alike, just to get back at Kick-Ass. As a result costumed vigilantes are all arrested in a very Keene Act way and Dave Lizewski’s dad admits to being Kick-Ass in order to protect his son. The Motherfucker, continuing his revenge plot, arranges to have Dave’s dad murdered while in custody. As a result Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl and the remaining superheroes team up once more to fight The Motherfucker and his henchmen.

It’s quite a standard superhero plot with the realism touches that really make it interesting. There are a few duff scenes, mostly the ones with the cheap jokes, and, bizarrely, the most unrealistic scene is the “revenge” scene of the popular high-school girls. It’s odd considering the subject matter that this is the most unrealistic scene.

You’ve survived the spoilers, well done.

The Motherfucker's costume... it's not subtle

The Motherfucker’s costume… it’s not subtle

Themes

Themes of a Kick-Ass film… well I know I’ve gone on about it so far but the main theme of the film is the realistic depiction of superheroes. Many characters start talking about how this sort of thing doesn’t work in “real life” and that people like Dave and Mindy should just try to lead normal lives. But ultimately the film is at odds with its own ideas as its portrayal of real life is pretty unrealistic. The high-school life is a complete Hollywood idea of high-school with all its fun archetypes. I’m not American so I don’t know how realistic these ideas are but I can’t imagine they’re particularly close to reality.

But Kick-Ass has always excelled when it comes to the reality of superheroism and the consequences of leading such a life. So the film does a very good job of showing that while it is cool, which is undoubtedly is, it has unique problems to do with how to merge your life with and without the mask, the dangers you face yourself, and ultimately how it affects your relationships with other people. Kick-Ass 2 does a good job of exploring these themes further, it just falls short when it comes to portraying normal life. Maybe that’s a bit strange but I think the film just does the bizarre better than the mundane.

This is Mother Russia, she's basically the Bane of the film

This is Mother Russia, she’s basically the Bane of the film

Final Impressions

If you really enjoyed Kick-Ass then you will probably enjoy the sequel but might find there are some real disappointments in store. It’s still entertaining and the fight scenes are brilliant but it’s a more heavily flawed gem than its predecessor. I wouldn’t call it bad, not at all, because I enjoyed it immensely but I think that for the potential third film they should stick mostly with the heroes and villains and stay away from the issues of ‘real-life’. Oh and they should move away from the vulgar humour. The only reason that I enjoyed those scenes was that someone in the front row of the cinema seemed to really enjoy them and had a very distinctive laugh. 

So it’s a good film that maybe needed a bit more polish before being sent out. Still enjoyable even for its flaws.

Oh all right, here you go.

Oh all right, here you go.

Film Rant Time: Elysium

I doubt this will be a regular feature here at Polar Bear Gamer but I felt it necessary for me to have a little talk about a film I’ve recently seen.

Elysium is a science fiction film directed by Neill Blomkamp of District 9 fame. The film is set in the not too distant future where overpopulation has split the world into two classes, a majority lower class who live in squalor on an overcrowded Earth, and a wealthy upper class that live on an orbital space station known as Elysium where they enjoy a comfortable lifestyle waited on hand and foot by robotic servants and (and this is one of the main points of the film) have excellent healthcare.

Matt Damon stars as Max, a lower class citizen with dreams of ascending to Elysium along with his childhood sweetheart Frey. But the years have torn them apart and Max is now a car thief on parole trying to earn an honest living. After an accident at work Max is exposed to a lethal level of radiation that is set to kill him in five days. Fortunately for him he gets given some magic pills that mean he will not suffer the effects until death (apart from when the plot requires it of course). Not wanting to die Max starts to concoct a plan to get to the one place that can save his life: Elysium.

As a set up it isn’t bad, magic anti sickness pills notwithstanding, and the images of Earth it portrays, with a crowded ghetto for L.A., look impressive and imaginative. I think the best part of the film is in the early stages and parts of the middle. But let’s get into the film in detail.

Ah I see the problem here. It's your acting, Matt, we might have to do a complete reboot of your acting circuits.

Ah I see the problem here. It’s your acting, Matt, we might have to do a complete reboot of your acting circuits.

Visuals

The film’s strongest area and I would expect nothing less from the director of District 9. The overpopulated Earth looks scummy but not so bad that you couldn’t imagine anyone actually living there. It looks like a slum in a third world country and that’s pretty much exactly what it’s meant to be. A brief bit of text in the beginning tells us that Earth’s population has exploded to unsustainable numbers. As a result Earth looks pretty much how you would expect it. The droids that make up the police, security, and apparently prison forces also look excellent and were probably my favourite part of the design, a shame they didn’t delve further into the robotics.

But to contrast, Elysium itself  is really, really boring. The idea of the orbital ringworld hovering above Earth like a moon is pretty good but every shot of Elysium itself makes the place look so boring, just the same area copied and pasted again and again. I would think that, given the technology to manufacture liveable habitats in space, humanity could have gone for some interesting designs but apparently everyone just wants to live in what seems to be the typical Hollywood enormous mansion with attached pool design.

The contrast is nice and the robotics look excellent but Elysium is just so boring that, aside from the excellent healthcare, it doesn’t seem like the Olympus or Asgard that they are trying to convey.

Elysium: Where aesthetics take a back seat to “Ooh quick, make everyone look rich!”

Characters

I’m going to include acting in this and since I already made a joke about it in an image above you can already guess at what I will say. Our protagonist Max is… boring. His motivation is justifiable, the desire to get to Elysium and to prevent his death, but so much more could have been done to flesh him out. Instead we basically just see Matt Damon being Matt Damon, which sometimes works but alas here does not. He’s very much a Hollywood protagonist with just enough flaws to seem human and rogue-ish. His love interest, Frey, has almost no character at all and we see this in her acting. Her primary motivation is looking after her daughter who has ‘advanced stage leukaemia’. Despite this, however, the daughter doesn’t look gaunt or sickly or anything, heaven forbid a Hollywood child look anything but cute in order to win over the hardened heart of the main character with a story about a meerkat and a hippo (Cue retching noises). Seriously that child should look skeletal by this stage.

Aside from them we have Jodie Foster playing Jessica Delacourt, the Elysian Secretary of Defense. Her speech is baffling with strange inflections and an unidentifiable accent that makes her sound less like a human and more like an alien that is infiltrating humanity and has only just learned how to talk. Her motivation is to take control of Elysium because the current government doesn’t want her blowing stuff up. The whole political plot on Elysium is really simplistic. She is aided by Agent Kruger, played by Sharlto Copley who you may recognise as Wikus van der Merwe from District 9, who is a psychopath and apparently the only Earth operative that Jodie Foster has. For some reason they’re pretty lax on security on Elysium. He plays his role well enough but there isn’t enough in the character to make it worthwhile, he’s just a typical psychotic agent character.

The only main character that I felt had some depth to him was The Spider, the head of a criminal organization that, among other things, deals with illegally ferrying people up to Elysium. He is the only character that’s really worth watching in the film and that actually has some depth to him. He gets demoted to more of a sidekick later in the film and that’s quite disappointing but the early and mid scenes with him are some of the better ones.

I’m on the lookout for prawns!

Plot

To warn you in advance you are now entering spoiler territory. I’ll do a quick summary of what I felt about it and give you a warning when I actually get into the spoilers.

The plot is very Hollywood with a simplistic “I need to get to X or else I/this small child will die!” with the added complication that Max is being hunted for some information he possesses. It’s pretty boring and generic with no real twists to speak of. It’s not hard to guess at what is going to happen next at any given point.

Here be Spoilers, Yarrr, Proceed at your own Risk!

Oh my but the third act to this film is boring, really boring. To give an added summary of what has happened: Max bargains with The Spider to get a ticket up to Elysium in order to heal his radiation poisoning, but in order for Spider to give him a ticket Max has to complete a job for him. Spider outfits Max with an exosuit that will allow him to be as strong as a droid in order to complete his job of capturing a billionaire and basically downloading his brain into Max’s. However, this particular billionaire is engaged in a coup with the Jodie Foster character and in his head has the code for a reboot program that has the potential to put anyone in charge of Elysium.

For obvious reasons, Jodie Foster wants Max for this information, after the heist goes bad and the billionaire defense contractor ends up dying. After an annoying scene where Frey manages to save Max’s life after what should have been a fatal stomach wound (Don’t worry, he’s up and about after a few hours, ’tis but a scratch), Frey and her daughter are captured by Agent Kruger. After discovering the bargaining chip he has, Max lets himself get caught and promises to give up the information in exchange for him being healed on Elysium. Things go south again and Max ends up crashing on Elysium with Frey, killing Agent Kruger, and getting caught again. Spider manages to sneak onto Elysium in order to bust Max free but the newly revived Kruger (They play fast and loose with the whole immortality thing in this film, Kruger can basically get resurrected after having most of his head blown off but a being shot in the chest, ain’t no coming back from that) outfits himself with an exosuit and kills most of the crew.

The whole film ends with Max defeating Kruger, getting to the core to unleash the reboot program, and him sacrificing himself after giving this pointless and boring speech to Frey, and making Spider the new president of Elysium and turning everyone on Earth into Elysium citizens. As a result medical robots and ships are automatically dispatched to Earth to cure everyone’s illnesses.

Everyone’s illnesses.

Everyone.

Maybe ten or twelve billion people.

HOW DOES THIS HELP ANYONE? THOSE SHIPS COULD MAYBE CARRY FIFTY PEOPLE EACH, IT WOULD TAKE FOREVER!

I don’t understand the end of this film. It’s stupid. There is a reason that Elysium exists, as far as we are aware, there are not resources enough for everyone. I understand the whole social commentary thing but if your commentary’s solution doesn’t make sense then what have you really said? They never really address the issues of technology in this film (Like how a rocket launcher can produce enough energy to fire guided rockets into space, or where the hell Elysium gets its energy from) but we can quite clearly assume that this is not the Culture, it is not a post-scarcity society and resources still need to be managed. Maybe if we saw more of Elysium we would see people leading decadent, wasteful lives and use far more resources than necessary that could be put to better use. But we don’t, we see almost nothing of Elysium itself so I’m just going to assume that these people are normal people that are under the constraint of the resources available. So suddenly giving everyone access to these resources would end up destroying the planet and the sanctuary of Elysium. I’m not trying to justify the vast gulf between the classes that the film portrays but I’m suggesting that the solution given by this film makes no realistic sense.

The plot is boring and ends up not really making much sense. And yet most of what happens in the film is bent in order accommodate the plot. Our technology says we can make people immortal but we want to kill this character off, whelp let’s just pull the magic plot lever that makes everyone forget the technology. Seriously that annoyed me. The film does give a brief explanation saying that Kruger still has some brain activity but that’s just nonsense. No one in the state that he was in can have brain activity and if he does then someone just getting stabbed in the neck should be fine.

Spoilers end here, along with hope for this film.

Tell me it ends soon!

Themes

Elysium is a science fiction film and as such is used in order to give a social commentary on current issues. Issues such as immigration, class division, Healthcare, overpopulation. And yet it gives no real solutions to the problems it raises. Mostly what the film says about these issues is this: They exist. Yes they exist, we know they exist, the question is what do you think we should do about them? As far as immigration goes this film seems to suggest that a “We should let everyone in” solution is the best. I’m not the sort of person that hates immigrants and thinks they should go back where they came from but I also don’t think that “Let everyone in!” Is the right solution. It’s a really simplistic idea that just doesn’t stand in reality.

As for healthcare, I’m English and so have access to the NHS. It’s not a perfect system but I’m much happier knowing that I live in a country with free healthcare. This is probably more of a contentious issue for American audiences given the frankly shocking healthcare system they have. But Elysium, as with its other themes, offers no real solution to the problem it raises. The film doesn’t tell us enough about the issue of resources in order for us to judge whether or not another healthcare system would be viable. It just gives us a very simplistic outlook.

Class division is an interesting and very relevant issue and the film seems to end up favouring the idea of a classless society (I wonder how that stood with die-hard capitalists). Yet the issue is not viewed with enough detail. According to the film poor = good and rich = bad. This is because all we see are the people suffering on Earth and we see almost nothing of the people on Elysium. Seriously, we only meet about five people who live on Elysium and they are all government workers. Is this film really trying to tell me that not one person on all Elysium thought “Hang on, maybe we should do something about the billions of people suffering.” Not one rebellious teenager decides it isn’t fair? Not one charitable soul exists on the whole of Elysium. To put things in perspective: in English history the era with one of the biggest divisions between class was the Victorian era. During this time one of the very popular activities that higher class ladies would get involve with was charity work to help the poor. It just happened like that. I fail to believe that Elysium is that far removed that no one would wonder about the plight of those below, not even a little.

Finally, overpopulation is a big issue and one that does need to be addressed but Elysium doesn’t suggest anything about this. Despite it being the major issue of the film there doesn’t seem to be any birth control laws on Earth or Elysium and if the population has reached the stage that people have constructed a place to house people in space you would think that something would be in play to try and stop the population growth. It’s the uncomfortable thought I had through the whole film that we’re meant to root for all these people to survive despite the film warning against overpopulation. At least the film isn’t suggesting a cull but it does send some mixed messages about what exactly we should be doing.

One of the more interesting characters in the film is an animatronic parole officer.

Final Impressions

If you’ve made it this far into my little rant then you are a trooper and deserve your very own gold star… there you go, just for you.

Do I regret seeing the film? Well, it’s not a film I want to see a second time but I can at least appreciate some of the ideas and spectacle. That being said it is a major disappointment for me considering how much I enjoyed District 9. It feels like the ideas that created District 09 were here but had Hollywood Executives’ greasy fingerprints all over it to the point that it became unrecognisable. It’s a very generic film with lots of clichés and not enough interesting areas to make up for it .

Final verdict: Generally poor with a few mediocre moments.

The prawn is not happy about what happened here.