A couple of weeks back, before I went off to Edinburgh, I went to see Kick Ass 2 at the cinema. I remembered enjoying the first film, although I can’t recall all of it, and I had an idea what to expect. I knew it was going to be violent, and a little offensive.
I didn’t expect to have as big of a problem with it as I did.
Let’s get something out of the way first: I enjoyed Kick Ass 2. It was fun and it did some things well… But.
And here are the reasons for that but, from smallest to biggest.
To be honest I’m not entirely sure how problematic this one is. In the film, the main villain is kind of an idiot, a loser with more money than sense who uses that money to become a supervillain. To this end, he hires a group of henchmen and gives each of them a name and costume. These include a Russian woman named Mother Russia, an asian man called Genghis Carnage, and a black man he names Black Death.
They are intentionally cheesy stereotypes, and the film hangs a lantern on the racism of these characters: every time D’Amico comes up with one of these ideas, his bodyguard and father-figure Javier immediately calls him out on it. But does pointing out that you know something is racist give you carte blanche to then just go ahead using it?
The fact that the film is aware of the racism, and that D’Amico’s supervillainry is intended to be ridiculous and worthy of mockery, could absolve them somewhat, but it still doesn’t quite sit right.
Sexualisation of Minors
This one is more straightforwardly troubling. Besides Kick Ass, the other main character of the film is Hit Girl, aka Mindy, who is now 15 and in high school. A major part of the film’s story concerns her trying to live a normal life by becoming friends with a group of popular girls.
Now, within this are some parts about Hit Girl discovering boys, but I don’t have a problem with these scenes. The problem is just in one scene in particular, where the leader of the popular girls, Brooke, takes Mindy to the school dance team tryouts.
At this point, we are presented with a sequence showing Brooke performing an extremely provocative dance, to a sexually explicit soundtrack. This character is a 15 year old girl. It’s just not right.
And here is the one that people probably expected from the title of this post.
Kick Ass 2 is a very violent film. Kick Ass was also a very violent film, so this is unsurprising. I posted a link recently to a piece by Warren Ellis about the necessity of violence in media, and I do agree with what he said. I enjoy some violent films – I’m a particular fan of Korean director Park Chan-wook, who created such films as Old Boy and Lady Vengeance.
But lately my reactions to violence in general in film have been changing, and there are times when it just doesn’t feel right to me. The mass destruction of Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel got to me that way. And the violence in Kick Ass 2.
The violence in the film is over-the-top, cartoonish, not really meant to be taken seriously. But there are times when the film seems to be revelling in showing you this violence, enjoying it, almost glorifying it.
There’s a sequence where Mother Russia works her way down a suburban road killing ten police officers one-by-one. It’s a well done scene, it’s entertaining, it’s exciting… it’s a villain slaughtering police officers, and it’s presented as fun – not for the villain, but for the audience. The other villains function as audience proxies in the scene, watching and cheering her on.
The film tends to try to make extreme violence not just engaging for the viewer in the context of the film, but entertaining in and of itself.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’ve changed and I just don’t like this stuff any more. But watching it – and enjoying it – at times did make me feel uncomfortable, and that’s why I just wouldn’t feel right recommending this film.