Jim Carrey’s recent denunciation of his role in Kick-Ass 2 has sparked quite a bit of controversy. Sunday afternoon the actor posted on his Twitter account:“I did Kickass a month b4 Sandy Hook and now in all good conscience I cannot support that level of violence…. my apologies to others involve[d] with the film. I am not ashamed of it but recent events have caused a change in my heart.”
Movie producer and comic author Mark Millar posted a long response defending the film, writing: “This is fiction and like Tarantino and Peckinpah, Scorcese and Eastwood, John Boorman, Oliver Stone and Chan-Wook Park, Kick-Ass avoids the usual bloodless body-count of most big summer pictures and focuses instead of the CONSEQUENCES of violence, whether it’s the ramifications for friends and family or, as we saw in the first movie, Kick-Ass spending six months in hospital after his first street altercation.”Kick-Ass 2 can’t be blamed for a lack of effort in trying to address violence, regardless of its success in that area.There’s a lot to unpack here. Firstly, there’s the question of whether Kick-Ass 2 belongs in the company of Tarantino and Peckinpah. I did quite like the first movie, which took the idea of the “gritty, realistic” superhero to its logical extreme to point out how illogical it all really is and then allowed its heroes to relish in entertaining fantasy violence against the scary realistically violent villains. However, reviews of the sequel’s source comic have complained about it going too far for the sake of shock value, including one massacre which could remind people of Sandy Hook. While such upsetting content could serve a purpose in some movies (see, for example, Chan-Wook Park’s recent film Stoker, which essentially looked at what could create these young small-town serial killers), it doesn’t seem to fit the comic tone established in the first Kick-Ass.
Reports say that scene, as well as a similarly troubling rape scene in the comic, weren’t included in the movie adaptation, but perhaps Carrey doesn’t want to associate himself with a film associated with such a comic even if the movie doesn’t contain the same content. Maybe Carrey believes that movie violence is linked to real life violence, or maybe just wants to get out of the promotional circuit so he doesn’t have to discuss the issue with reporters, especially given he’s recently become a major gun control advocate. And maybe we shouldn’t really take the opinions of a guy who supported Jenny McCarthy for years that seriously.
Kick-Ass 2 has not screened yet and can’t be reviewed at the moment, but it will be interesting to see whether it lives up to Millar’s comparisons or if it will leave us all as troubled as Carrey. From Millar’s defense, it does seem that Kick-Ass 2 can’t be blamed for a lack of effort in trying to address violence, regardless of its success in that area. “The usual bloodless body-count of most big summer pictures” has struck me this year as particularly troubling.
So far I’ve seen three major action blockbusters with significant body counts: Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Man of Steel. Of these three, Iron Man 3 handles its violence the most responsibly and is the best movie of the three. Not that it didn’t hit some nerves. Manohla Dargis of the New York Times said it “at once invokes Sept. 11 and dodges it”, and seemed particularly annoyed with the movie in light of the Boston bombings. I’m not going to argue with her disturbed reaction to the movie’s terrorism scenes, which is completely valid, but I will argue against her claiming the movie avoids dealing with the serious issues it brings up. Iron Man is as directly shaped by contemporary politics as any superhero. Tony Stark is a weapons dealer who takes a turn towards redemption after suffering at the hands of Afghani terrorists who happened to be his customers. The most recent installment turns into a pointed and hilarious satire of racism, Islamophobia, and the need to point fingers after tragedies.
Star Trek Into Darkness started off seeming like it was going to deal seriously with issues of terrorism. The problems started when it became clear its approach was an offensive one, essentially a “Truther” allegory. At least that’s an idea–albeit a stupid one. In the final 15 minutes, it became clear the filmmakers had shut their brains off, resulting in one of the stupidest climaxes ever. It’s so bad I can forgive people for not realizing just how many layers of bad there are. You’re so distracted by the awful homages to Wrath of Kahn and the stupid deus ex machina that it might not even register than AN ENTIRE CITY GETS DESTROYED, and because of said deus ex machina helps save a single character, WE’RE SUPPOSED TO TAKE THIS AS A HAPPY ENDING. This is the exact sort of no-consequence violence that’s bad for storytelling.
Man of Steel‘s violence actually has been something of a conversation starter, probably because Superman’s status as America’s major mythology, perhaps only equaled by Star Wars, makes getting him wrong all the more egregious. While it has more than its fair share of defenders, I have to side with those upset with the movie. Like Star Trek Into Darkness, Man of Steel starts off promising. The Krypton opening is enjoyable sci-fi camp and the stretch of Clark Kent as a wanderer, saving people as he comes across them and reflecting on his childhood, is almost great. Once he’s in the suit, however, the movie becomes a big dumb action tentpole without the sense of humor, fun, or taste to make such a thing enjoyable. I’m not so bothered by the big moral choice Superman makes that’s caused so many objections (it did happen in the comics, after all) so much as I’m annoyed with the movie for not dealing with the consequences of his actions on his character and the world. If there’s going to be so much destruction, made even more horrifying than in Star Trek Into Darkness due to the reaction shots of people on the collapsing streets, it needs to be addressed dramatically. Superman needs to try to save people and be affected when he’s unable to. And what are all these people thinking? For a movie that keeps asking the question of how will mankind respond to Superman, we never get any time to look at the answer to that question. Considering how casually this Superman accepts the leveling of Metropolis, I can’t imagine the answers being very favorable.
Christopher Nolan, the producer of Man of Steel, seemingly had objections to the handling of the movie’s final act by writer David Goyer and director Zack Snyder (whose Watchmen adaptation, a far superior film to Man of Steel, did suffer some tonal problems from overly aestheticizing the violence the story was trying to criticize). Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, among the more violent of recent mainstream summer blockbusters and unfortunately associated with the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, also happened to be some of the best films handling discussions of violence and terrorism. A quote from Heath Ledger’s Joker sums it up quite nicely:
“Nobody panics when things go ‘according to plan.’ Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all ‘part of the plan’. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds! Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos.”
It’s a line that applies just to as much to violence in the real world as to reactions to media violence, where intelligent provocateurs like Tarantino are continual punching bags of campaigners against violence while thoughtless destruction by Michael Bay is accepted as fun for the family. Media violence certainly doesn’t make any sane person violent, and “introducing a little anarchy” into a story for drama or horror or humor can make for great cinematic art, but casually accepting the thoughtless violence of blockbusters like Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel just because it’s “part of the plan” is not something we need to do.