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So yesterday Kerry and I watched movies on Netflix all day. Two of them were The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Kick-Ass. Both pretty awesome; both featuring Nicolas Cage. I’ll start with Kick-Ass.
Part Daredevil, part Superbad. Kick-Ass is a “superhero” who doesn’t actually have any super powers. I won’t spoil the movie for you, but he’s just barely super-human. Not because of any gamma radiation or mutated animal encounter.
But before I really get into it, here’s the first thing: I don’t care what anybody tells you. This movie is NOT FOR KIDS. If you’re not old enough for high school, you’re not old enough for Kick-Ass. If you’re not old enough to buy beer, you’re not old enough to watch Kick-Ass without your mommy. This is a grown-up film for grown-up Humans. Not surprising, since the graphic novel it’s based on is similarly targeted. Mark Millar doesn’t write comic books for kids, and movies based on his work are likewise rated for big boys only. If you wouldn’t let your 9-year-old watch Wanted or 300, you shouldn’t let him watch Kick-Ass. Just because this movie is largely about an 11-year-old girl doesn’t mean 11-year-old girls should watch it.
At any rate, Kick-Ass chronicles the adventures of a high school kid who doesn’t understand why there aren’t real superheroes. Scratch that. He understands why there aren’t real superheroes. He doesn’t understand why there aren’t more people who try to be superheroes. Batman, after all, is a totally plausible story. No super powers; just insanely rich with a highly developed sense of justice. Ditto Punisher. Along for the ride are the team of eleven-year-old “Hit Girl” and ex-cop “Big Daddy.”
As with anything written by Mark Millar, the story seems to derive directly from common childhood fantasies, tempered with an adult sense of how the world really works. There’s no real Batman largely because nobody with enough money to be Batman gives a shit about the crime in New York City. Expert martial artists (who don’t have Batman money) don’t dress up in costumes and fight crime because they can make a lot more money as hollywood stunt men. Or because they’re afraid of guns. But wouldn’t the world be a more interesting place if people like that did that sort of thing? Not all of them; just one or two here and there. I mean: wouldn’t a lot of petty criminals give at least a second thought if there was a real Batman?
That seems to be the rationale behind Kick-Ass. Also like other things written by Mark Millar, people die in Kick-Ass. And they don’t get shot ambiguously just off-camera. They get stabbed, sliced in half, blowed up in a microwave and thrown off buildings. Oh yeah. And they get shot.
The one detrimental thing I would say about Kick-Ass is that it’s too much about the hero and not enough about the alter-ego. Spiderman was great because it wasn’t really about Spiderman. It was about Peter Parker. Kick-Ass is a movie about high school nerds who never get shoved in their lockers, pantsed in gym class or thrown in a dumpster by the football team. They talk about “we’re such nerds and the cool kids always pick on us.” But there’s precious little footage of anyone actually getting picked on.
Here’s an analogy: What if Harry Potter just happened to take place at Hogwart’s, and you never heard about any of the actual school things that happened at the school? Would it still be a good story? Sure. But it wouldn’t be as good. One of the large factors that made Harry Potter great was its new twist on an old story. It’s the same basic story as Ender’s Game, Horatio Hornblower, Glee or Dune (say “Star Wars” and I will kick your ass. But yes, that fits too). It’s the same old “growing up different” story in a fantastic setting.
I feel like Kick-Ass is a growing up story where nobody actually does any of the usual kinds of growing up. Don’t get me wrong: all the characters learn things, and by the end of the story they’ve all grown. But we don’t follow anybody from childhood to adulthood. Nobody graduates into a new, profound understanding of humanity; nobody has a seminal moment of “so THAT’S how the world works.” It almost feels like an introduction to the beginning of a growing up story.
I guess that’s not really a negative; just something that struck me as odd about the movie. Maybe it’s different in the book. I’ll have to read it. Without having read the book, I give Kick-Ass five stars. Once I read the book, I’m sure I’ll downgrade it to a three.
Now, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. There have been a lot of reboots and retellings as of late, and why should Uncle Walt be left out of the fun? Granted, this is the first full-length feature in the franchise, but we all know the original apprentice had big ears and a pointy, blue hat.
In contrast to Kick-Ass, this movie absolutely is for kids. I would feel totally comfortable letting a 9-year-old watch the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. They might not follow it all the way through, but there’s certainly a lack of objectionable content (it’s Disney; It’s kosher).
To sum up, the film follows the adventures of David, the apprentice of Balthazar, a former apprentice of Merlin. David is a molecular physics major who plays with tesla coils a lot. Balthazar is a very old wizard who’s spent centuries searching for the perfect apprentice.
One of the cool things about this film is how magic is portrayed similarly to the way it is in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. “A carefully placed thumb on the scales of the universe.” Magic isn’t really magic. It’s just science that most of us can’t grasp. That was kinda cool.
The effects are well-done, the acting was good (Alfred Molina is always awesome), and the plot was good as well. The dialogue was a little dry, but it was okay.
And yes, there is a mop scene with lots of water splashing all over the place. Fantasia fanatics: be placated.