Anyone possessed of a familiarity with either myself in general or EgoPoisoning in particular may have been surprised that I didn’t post a review for Kick-Ass immediately after it hit theaters. Please believe I saw it then, and spent much time engaged in acts of gushery thereafter. However, I suppose that I decided writing a review was unnecessary: it was the #1 movie in the nation, and outside of my immediate circle of friends (Or rather, a large concentric circle around the smaller data point that was the guy who went with me when I saw it) and their steadfast refusal to consume the awesome, it seemed as though everyone went and saw the movie. As my bubonic memeticism drives me to fill folks’ heads and ears with things they ought to be consuming, but aren’t yet, Kick-Ass seemed to be doing okay without my help. Sure, Ebert hated it, but he also thinks video games not only are not, but cannot be, art. Big Doughy E, “You inhabit a world I am so very not interested in.”
Then my younger brother caught the flick after a week of my urging, and his response afterward was a resounding meh. Given that I readily idolize my younger brother—this is a man who asked his special lady friend to be his special lady friend by having Colorado rapper Black Prez write, record, and e-mail him a song to that effect in the time it took her to shower--learning that he didn’t dig the movie distressed me deeply. I hit him with a rapid-fire interrogation: “So what you’re telling me is, when a twelve-year-old impales a man’s hands with a rope-tethered kunai, leaps over him while wrapping the rope around his wrists, and then tugs the rope in order to draw his gun against his chin and fire a bullet into his own head…that did nothing for you?” After a few more such questions, my brother ultimately said that, even after having seen the film, I made it sound better than he found it while watching it. I said he just needed to watch the movie with my eyes, which is probably true but not biologically possible.
However, I can watch movies with my eyes, and I just finished watching The Losers, a movie I had initially been pumped for based on the trailers, and then swerved away from when I realized it was only rated PG-13, and finally decided to see (12 minutes before the showing, at a theater across town) on the recommendation of the illustrious Wesley Johnson. So what I’m really sitting down to do is talk about The Losers, not Kick-Ass, except that from the position of the brain situated behind my eyes it’s impossible to talk about the former without the latter. But when I say this, I mean it for reasons other than the superficial similarity that both films are based on comic books (in the case of The Losers, the comic is actually based on another comic). If I were going to make a comparison between The Losers and something else on purely superficial, it would be The A-Team, or the Expendables, or Xuande’s crew in Romance of the Three Kindgoms. The Losers follows a group of elite government agents, each with particular specialties including piloting vehiclesand talking really fast while being a fetchingly bestubbled Caucasian male, led by a grizzled strategist in disgrace. They’re framed and betrayed by a sinister government agent (Portrayed by an actor with experience playing a nocturnal individual). For serious.
So taking the aerial view, it is vastly easier to compare The Losers to other movies; Three Kingdoms obviously lacks an overabundance of Caucasians, but a ragtag group of mercenary warriors follow their grizzled, framed leader Liu Bei while pursued by the shadowy and manipulative Cao Cao. That’s my masters education at work, people.
No, where The Losers and Kick-Ass are disturbingly similar is in tiny, specific things. There’s a slow-motion fight in the darkness, while flames lick around the edges of the scene. There’s a shocking betrayal. And bad things happen to tiny children.
I want to stress that I enjoyed the hell out of The Losers. It’s a great action movie, full of entertaining dialogue. The villainous Max is superlatively portrayed by Jason Patric, who manages to be every bit as sociopathic and unhinged as Gary Oldman’s Carnegie without ever going over the top. He doesn’t chew the scenery, he doesn’t fly off no frothing tangents; when he does reprimand his underling it’s always very subtle, understated, self-aware…and hilarious. All of the characters manage to be likeable and expressive, conveying a subtle (And not-so-subtle) badassery that feels comfortable and well-worn. The early fight between Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Zoe Saldana has a charming pre-combat stretch on both actors’ parts that leaves the audience with no doubt as to what’s about to go down.
What fascinated me in watching it, though, was how I kept thinking that I ought to buy a ticket for the 7pm showing of Kick-Ass afterward. Partially this was because of the combat; it’s great in The Losers, very technical and weighty, but that fired a hunger in me to watch Chloe Moretz flow gracefully through a crowd of armed guards. Partially it was the difference in scope and scale of the emotional connection I was able to form with the characters in each film. It’s made clear, reasonably subtly, that one of the characters in The Losers has a pregnant wife; Chris Evans’s Jensen is also adorably fixated on his niece’s soccer team, even from Boliva. However, beyond these simple statements and occasional references to them, The Losers isn’t really crafted to give you a deeper understanding of what drives and motivates the characters; beyond the two connections I just mentioned there’s essentially nothing for anyone else in the film. Of course, part of the purpose behind this fits the characters, whose truest and deepest connections appear to be with one another, a group of brothers forged in battle to function as a single effortless unit. Which is cool, and well done. But it feels like small beer in comparison with the utterly heart-wrenching family dynamic portrayed in Kick-Ass, where Chloe Moretz and Nic Cage form a parent-child bond that puts 7th Heaven to shame.
But truthfully, at its core, I think what put me in mind of Kick-Ass as I watched the Losers was something that happens at the very beginning of the film, and could be a spoiler if you’ve never seen an action movie before. The Losers give up their spot on an extraction helicopter after aborting their mission due to the presence of a number of children. As they put the children on the chopper, one of the little boys tries to give Clay (the Loser’s leader) his teddy bear; Clay pushes it back into his hands and says “No Gracias. You keep your bear safe.”
If you don’t see a missile coming at that point, movies must be full of surprises for you, and I’m genuinely a little envious. I watched the helicopter rising back into the sky, and I thought about something that had troubled B.D. Ebert in the review I linked above, but from the opposite angle. In Kick-Ass, Chloe Moretz does get kicked around, smacked around, at one point brutally, viciously beaten…all by adults who are right there in front of her diminutive frame. It’s horrifying, and gut-wrenching, and it leaves a profound impact…because it’s the point of every scene where it occurs. The impact of the images, of what they say about her conviction as a hero and the upbringing that led her to that life, is never hidden or obscured. We see her gasping on her back, blood caking her nostrils, and are struck by her fragility and her ferocity.
In The Losers, 25 kids are blown up in the first ten minutes. They’re never seen again, and while their death is at least part of the impetus for the film’s plot, their tiny lives have less repeated significance than the bobble-headed Chihuahua that Pooch the driver puts onto the dash of every vehicle he nabs, or the cowboy hat Couger the sniper wears. In many ways, Kick-Ass and The Losers are using the same tools to tell a story, including the very human reaction that seeing children threatened elicits. However, in this I think the point goes to Kick-Ass, because there’s not a moment in that film where you can forget that Hit-Girl isn’t old enough to see her own movie.