Friday, August 20, 2010

The Return of the Great 70s Dad: Nicolas Cage in KICK-ASS


I thought the age of great 70s dads was done, but that was before I saw KICK-ASS (2010), in which a truly cool father (Cage) manages to slide past the doting widower daddy ("mommy's in heaven!") morons of Hollywood to finally do what Batman should have been doing all along: using firearms, gutting mobsters with exotic weaponry, and teaching his 11 year-old daughter to be a pint-sized killing machine.

This is the kind of film where you see something genuinely subversive -- kids as instruments of lethal vengeance-- and know instantly that a dividing line will form between film critics that are cool (i.e. they get intentional subversion of the treacly overprotective cinema status quo) and the dull self-appointed moral guardians (i.e. status quo dogma-eating suckaz) as easy to demarcate as a scroll down the rotten tomato meter. My old editor at Popmatters, Cynthia Fuch's discusses for example the one-note presence of Marcus, Nic Cage's old cop buddy who raised Hit Girl while Nic was in the slammer, framed for his wife's murder :
Marcus serves one purpose here, to deliver the film’s not-so-earnest injunction against Big Daddy’s monomaniacal exploitation of his daughter: “You owe that kid a childhood!” With that done, the movie can proceed apace, exploiting her in every way it can think of. Serving as Kick-Ass’ mentor, savior, and inspiration, she’s abused and abusive, horrified and horrific, tearfully vulnerable and ingeniously cruel. (4/16/10)

Hahah! Well, frankly, if there wasn't some uptight backlash against all this "exploitation" the character wouldn't have nearly enough subversive zing, so I'm glad at least some critics felt the need to jump on this, like they have to make sure we know it's wrong WRONG WRONG to train our daughters to be assassins. "You owe that kid a childhood?" Really? What's a better childhood than not having to go to school and spending all your time hanging out with your cool superhero gun nut father? What is she missing? Facebook chats? Sexual subjugation and elementary school belittlement? Tedium in front of the TV? Wasted hours playing with dolls and engaging in clique-y slumber party backstabbing?

Even more inflammatory is a review by someone named Prarie Miller:
... let's just say that it's reached the point in movies where pedophiles could conceivably launch a movement protesting that double standard filmmakers get away with all sorts of exploitative behavior with children in movies that would land predators in the real world in handcuffs. It would seem that we're talking a line here between reality and fantasy, with the emphasis on a different kind of graphic at work, and a line that has been seriously crossed (Newsblaze)
 Yeah, Prarie, let's just say that... wait, what? Are you seriously using the phrase "in movies" redundantly in a sentence? Do you even know where the line between reality and fantasy is? It's not in a comic book movie, anywhere! Ever!  Don't you see that this girl assassin is a direct and intentional affront to your hypocritical projecting? More than anything, we love Hit Girl for the very reason that we know she will get you all up in arms; we know that some serious standing-up to nervous industry suits must have gone on to prevent their meddling with the script and turning her bullets into, say, tranq darts. Hit Girl is a triumph for the very reason that she kills her victims without qualms! She's an emblem for child empowerment rather than for child victimization mentality, which the Praries of the world prefer, and misread as saintliness.

Of course, as I say, without the whack-job moral guardian fringe ringing their alarm bells, you wouldn't wake up to realize that finally something genuinely ballsy is happening in a superhero movie -- a gleeful finger in the eye of the still-lingering remnants of the Hollywood moral production code and the whole "Won't someone think of the children" hysteria of films like Cage's "worst dad" film, KNOWING. Actually, Hit Girl's the first 'free' kid I've seen since 1979 and OVER THE EDGE, or the other cool kids I wrote about last week in my slam against Michael Cera (since amended), like Tanner from THE BAD NEWS BEARS!

I'm also reminded of one of the story threads in D.W. Griffith's INTOLERANCE (1919), wherein a moral crusader matron is out to rescue the exploited children of the slums, so she can drag them away from their loving mothers and throw them into a giant orphanage where they can be safely ignored in long rows of cribs by uncaring city employees. I think any girl who had the choice to be raised by Nicolas Cage and trained full time in the art of killing vs. being forced to go to some dumb public school and then come to a distracted babysitter while a single righteous mom works double shifts would choose the former. Watch fucking BLUE CAR and see how bad it could be.

Hit Girl is lucky she gets to spend all her time with a cool, loving father and when you consider (as I've written about in SALT) the usual back story of female assassins--their cruel schooling and tough surrogate parents--Nic's kindly Tod Browning-ish scheme of vengeance is a breath of fresh cool air.  He even takes his daughter to get ice cream after shooting slugs into her bullet proof vest and gives her cool butterfly knives in a big swanky box. This was the first film I've seen since about a single father-daughter pair bond that didn't make me want to wretch, and even makes me want to be a father if I could ensure I had a daughter into knives and not a dorky son into superhero comics.

For an example of the latter, let's examine another case of superhero childhood with (in this case surrogate) dad and no mom, HELLBOY.


Now, I liked the first HELLBOY which involved the origin of an adopted demon child by a squad of rough and tough American GIs in WW2. The child demon grew up a cigar-smoking badass, as if he'd been raised by Sam Fuller. But then in the insipid sequel we get this treacly homespun flashback of Hellboy as a goofy nerd, watching Howdy Doody with his glasses and buckteeth and wearing his jammies and getting tucked in by a loving and responsible... zzzz, I turned it off right at that moment. What the hell happened, "Hell" boy? Prarie got to you, didn't she?


Then there's the drably hypocritical "clean" conscience of heroes like Batman--on whom Cage's Hit Man is cheekily based--who would never, say, shoot a real gun at the Joker or something, because "killing is wrong," -- no guns, Alfred! So he has to invent all these bizarre non-lethal weapons so he can wipe out whole blocks with collateral damage (chasing the Joker around Gotham, he totals dozens of cars and I'm sure incurs a lot of fatalities), but as I've written before, he's as "innocent" as our precision bombers over Baghdad - though to their credit at least the military's not squeamish about shooting a bad guy up close.


Anyway... as Hit Girl, Chloe Grace Moretz is a revelation. Fresh air finally becomes breathable once you see an 11-year old girl eviscerate a room full of thugs and do so with a convincing air of detached cool and scary intellect we haven't seen since Anna Paquin in THE PIANO. QT had to do it in anime with the Lucy Liu backstory in KILL BILL, but that was all dark to be begin with. The juxtaposition of the day-glo highschool coming of age shenanigins in the dorky comic book guy side of things and the colorful costumes make the bloody merciless killing of KICK-ASS's pint-sized avenger all the more striking. We're just not used to it, it's original! Hollywood has this unofficial policy that good girls don't shoot guys - that's why Jamie Lee Curtis has to drop her Uzi before it's allowed to shoot everyone in TRUE LIES.

It's so liberating. One wants to go back in time and rescue Patty McCormack from her mom in THE BAD SEED and teach her to fight crime-- an army of bloodthirsty children stalking the streets! Pedophiles dying right and left. If Nic Cage's Hit Man could become a role model for all the dads of tomorrow, what a blood-stained, crime-free world we would have.


Moretz is next scheduled to appear as the vampire kid in the remake of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (above). I can't wait to read the uptight film critics' anxiety that seeing blood-sucking children onscreen sends the wrong message to parents everywhere: "Children are meant to be locked in their rooms with bibles and homework, not allowed to kill adults willy nilly!" Yeah, you wish, downpressa!

4 comments:

  1. I love how, out of all things, it's Kick-Ass that makes you want to be a father.

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  2. Love this. Go Nic Cage with his built-in helpless sarcasm - so ideal for movie Dadness!

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  3. I can't tell you how happy I was to see that you picked the absolute greatest shot in the movie. I love that shot so much I want to marry it and have its babies.

    I truly loved Cage in this movie. For all the hype that Bad Lieutenant got, I felt like it was rewarding bad behavior. The Cage I saw in it was the Cage from Ghost Rider, Knowing, National Treasure and The Wickerman.

    Kick Ass though, that Cage came from Raising Arizona, Moonstruck, and Wild At Heart. That's the Nicholas Cage I fell in love with, and I was so fucking happy to see him back.

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  4. Too bad all that Nic Cagey goodness was hidden away by the dull-as-dishwater Kick-Ass/McLovin' stuff.

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