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Review: Kick Ass 1 & 2

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloë Grace Moretz in ‘Kick Ass 2’.

It’s hard to number all the ways that the Kick Ass movies don’t work, but let’s start with the basics: they don’t follow through on their own concept. That concept–what if someone in the real world tried to be a supehero?—offers a world of possibilities that go unexplored in these movies. Some lip service is paid to the idea, but mostly it just boils down to the main character being an ineffectual wimp who gets beat up a lot. But the movies themselves follow a lot of the same beats as a typical superhero narrative, only with sarcastic air quotes around everything, so what you end up with is a b-grade superhero movie with no stakes, no reason to get invested, and a main character who doesn’t really accomplish anything.

It’s not just Kick Ass, though. Neither movie has any idea what it wants to do with any of the characters. The concept behind Big Daddy and Hit Girl—a traumatized police officer drafting his prepubescent daughter into a war on crime—promises a subversive look at Batman, but once the filmmakers realized they could get laughs out of a little girl cussing and murdering people, the hope of even an undergrad level of deconstruction vanished. Hit-Girl’s paper-thin characterization is especially painful when you realize she’s the most well drawn character in the franchise. Everyone else’s pain and motivation is treated like a joke, flipped around between scenes or ignored. Kick Ass’s mom dies in the opening minutes of the first movie and is never mentioned again. One harmless dumb character that provided comic relief in the first movie becomes villainously stupid in the second, causing a major tragedy he never seems to comprehend. He gets a moment of redemption at the end, but boy, who could possibly care?

Pacing is another major issue: both movies were based off six-issue comic-book miniseries, and it shows. Both movies cut between three different groups of characters. In the first movie, this eliminates any chance for suspense, as we know ahead of time all the forces that are moving around and against the main character. In the second movie, where the chance of suspense is never even on the table, it just underlines how much time is being wasted. Hit-Girl spends half of Kick Ass 2 in her own sub-par version of Mean Girls (the term “Queen Bee” even gets tossed around) and by the time she’s out of it, the characters have learned nothing and the audience has gained nothing, save for a vomit/diarrhea joke that will make any viewer over the age of 11 uncomfortable and embarrassed.

Not only does the audience never get a sense of the story’s shape, we’re never sure how we should feel about the story itself. In a smarter movie, this kind of moral ambiguity would be welcome, but in a series where every plot point is underlined by the main character’s inane, sub-Dexter narration, any moment where something manages to be unclear is a failure. The first Kick Ass is at least consistent in its own warped morality; consistent and far too impressed with itself, but still, consistent. In the sequel, both the titular hero and Hit-Girl make solemn vows to end hang up their capes, but when they inevitably back down from these oaths (Kick Ass changes his mind a mere three scenes later), it’s not clear if we’re supposed to applaud them for sticking to their beliefs or sympathize with them because they have to betray their parents to get vengeance. In Hit-Girl’s case, the movie can’t even be bothered to give a decent explanation for her abandoning her cause, meaning that the one thing people reliably enjoyed about the first movie—a little girl cussing and murdering people—gets put on hold for no good reason.

Even though they were in development at roughly the same time, Kick Ass feels like the training-wheels version of James Gunn’s Super. Kick Ass is a high school junior doodling in his notebook; Super is bipolar grad student who just finished writing a thesis on superheroes. Super brings out all the twisted elements of the “normal-guy-becomes-a-superhero” story that Kick Ass can only snicker at. The hero of Super is pathetic and delusional in a much deeper and sadder way than Kick Ass, but the movie lets us root for him and even lets him succeed in the end. Ellen Page joins in as the sidekick and in just a few scenes she shows just what kind of lunatic would be attracted to costumed heroics, and she does it in a much more effective manner than anything the Kick Ass films ever attempted.

Kick Ass 2’s confused sense of self extends into the final two shots, which dismiss the need for real-life superheroes and then immediately promise a beefed-up sequel. If the filmmakers make good on this promise—though current box office data indicates they probably won’t—let’s hope they can give us the zany, all-out superhero story they’re clearly longing to give us without any of the false aspirations to “realism”, which, by the way, is a word Mark Millar wouldn’t understand if it knocked him out of a skyscraper window and blew up.

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Movies Made Better: Pacific Rim

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Dimensional Rift Discovered in Pacific Ocean

By PHILLIP MASON

Scientists are shocked to report that a “portal between worlds” has opened up somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. A research team first became aware of the rift due to the strange sonic readings from the area, but it was quickly discovered that objects, seemingly extra-dimensional in origin, are emerging from the portal.

In a twist that officials some have called “highly ironic” and others “just a regular old coincidence, thank you very much,” the only objects discovered thus far are copies of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim on DVD. The alien nature of these DVDs was first hypothesized based on the professional-style packaging.

“In our world, Pacific Rim was just released in theatres,” said one unnamed expert, “But all these DVDs are too good-looking to be pirated… our immediate conclusion was that they came from a universe where the movie was released roughly four to six months earlier.”

The release date isn’t the only thing that’s different about these alternate Pacific Rims: out of the four that have so far been discovered, none of them follows the same plot as the one from our universe (hereafter referred to as PR Prime).

A crack squad of film critics was called in to analyze the movies, and what they have reported back is shocking. Each of the alternate movies is unique, though there are some broad similarities. None of the alternate Pacific Rims include the five-year jump that follows the prologue in our version, and none of them make any mention of “the wall”, a plot point so nonsensical and inconsequential that readers would be forgiven for forgetting that it ever happened at all.

Pacific Rim Alternate Version #1:

The first alternate Pacific Rim (PR) focuses on the opening years of the Human-Kaiju war, instead of breezing through it in a prologue. The very first scene is from the point of view of a young Asian girl (later revealed to be Mako), visiting San Francisco with her parents at the time of the first attack. We see the monster from her point of view, immediately establishing the sense of scale and giving us a personal investment in the devastation.

Some critics derided this plot as “obvious,” tossing around the term “destruction porn” without care. Still, few can deny that the spectacle is enthralling. With each subsequent attack, the death toll grows, and the governments of the world get more desperate, leading to the development of the Jaeger program. It’s thrilling and even a little uplifting to see so the people of the world put aside petty differences in race and creed and band together to save the planet. In this version of the film, the first Jaeger/Kaiju fight is built up to for nearly an hour, but when it comes, it is satisfying and exciting. The movie treats it as a spectacular event, from a technological standpoint and a humanistic one, as opposed to the “just another day at the office” tone of the first battle from PR Prime.

While the first alternate PR ends after a climactic victory that turns the tide for the humans, it ends before the war is actually won; a blatant sequel hook, according to critics, and widely regarded as this version’s biggest flaw.

Pacific Rim Alternate Version #2:

The second version focuses on humanity’s last-ditch effort to defeat the Kaiju. In many ways, this version is the most similar to ours: the prologue explaining the opening years of the war is still intact, though it omits the confusing and unexplained details about how the humans “got good at winning” and turned the Kaiju into some sort of joke.

In the second alternate PR, Raleigh is still a washed-up pilot, agonizing over the death of his brother years earlier. Instead of leaving the Jaeger program, he continues to work within it as a technician. Mako works alongside Raleigh as a test pilot in this version, but Raleigh gives her little notice until he discovers that she lost her family in a Kaiju attack.

In PR #2, non-familial drifts are considered impossible; Dr. Geiszler is the only person to propose that two unrelated pilots could work together. Raleigh senses that his and Mako’s shared tragedy might give them the bond they need to drift successfully, and he gets a chance to put his plan into action when a surprise attack leaves Chuck Hansen and his father in critical condition.

In the beginning, Raleigh and Mako are terrible partners. Their first drift re-opens old wounds and leaves them both crippled with guilt and fear over their lost family, and they nearly trigger a nuclear meltdown because of it. Only when they accept each other’s companionship and trust are they able to work as a team; their victory over depression is tied directly to their victory over the Kaiju. Critics note that this plot point, while overly sentimental, does create emotional stakes for the characters not present in PR Prime, and allows the audience to better connect with their struggle.

Also in this version, the plan to drop the Jaeger’s core into the rift is a last-minute improvisation by Dr. Geiszler, who returns from his movie-long mission just as the final battle reaches its peak. Up until this point, no one has figured out a way to destroy the rift, thus adding suspense to the climax and not rendering Geiszler’s mission essentially pointless, as it was in PR Prime.

Pacific Rim Alternate Version #3:

The third and final version to be discovered thus far has the most radically different plot from any other PR. Instead of focusing on a single man’s fall and redemption, the plot concerns a group of people that come together from different backgrounds to join the Jaeger program and defend the Earth. Raleigh’s character is completely removed, as is Chuck Hansen’s father. Greater development is given to Sasha and Alexis Kaidanovsky from Russia and the Wei Tang triplets from China.

Chuck takes on most of Raleigh’s role, though he receives less screen time. As in PR Prime, he is presented as arrogant and unlikeable, though the death of his father in the prologue lends him a degree of humanity. He is paired with Mako (a competent if untested pilot in this version, as opposed to the bumbling, simpering character from the original film) for the first half of the movie, but when two Kaiju attack at once, his inability to works with the others leads to his own death and the destruction of much of the base.

In the end, Stacker Pentecost partners with Mako for the final battle, their father/daughter relationship providing emotional depth that isn’t present in PR Rime’s under-developed love story. Stacker sacrifices himself to destroy the rift and protect Mako, while the Russians and the Chinese fight off the Class-5 Kaiju with their Jeagers instead of setting off a bomb.

When the rift-destroying explosion does come, both remaining Jaegers and the Kaiju are caught in the blast. The Kaiju is destroyed, but it’s not clear at first if any of the pilots made it out in time.

Mako’s escape-pod/life-boat surfaces and she looks around. For a moment, she is completely alone in the middle of the ocean. Almost on the verge of tears, she sees an escape pod surface, followed by another… then another… then three more in rapid succession. Mako is thrilled that her fellow pilots survived, but she’s obviously disappointed that Stacker didn’t make it. However, as Tendo Choi reveals, Stacker’s escape pod entered the rift moments before the explosion, leaving his survival doubtful but ultimately ambiguous.

Sociologists have been particularly fascinated by this version of the film, coming as it does from a society so different from ours, one in which the default point of view in popular culture is not that of the heterosexual white man.