Have you heard? Come April 16, the superhero franchise will be dead thanks to Mark Millar, Matthew Vaughn, and Kick-Ass. It deconstructs everything you know or think about the genre, man. It's violent and edgy, and none of the characters have superpowers. They just wear costumes and act as vigilantes. They're teenagers. They have emotions, and they're not the pristine and pure types you find in Marvel and DC.
Once this movie comes out, everything will change. Everything will end. The Guardian says so: "[Kick-Ass] is a comic-book character so postmodern that he makes all those who came before look like relics of a bygone age. The dreams and visions of comic-book readers and cinemagoers in the 1930s – or 50s and 60s in the case of many of Marvel's characters – are not those of today's audiences, no more than the 60s version of James Bond, with his misogyny, preposterous gadgets and cheeky one-liners, is suitable for a spy thriller in the new millennium. Something fresh and new is required."
Graeme McMillan also predicted such a thing in February: "It'll also skew the superhero movies that follow, drawing attention to their more formulaic moments and poking fun at the lack of self-conscious humor whenever they're played straight (Iron Man 2, already approaching self-parody in its trailer, is probably safe from this, but what about Thor? Or Captain America?) and potentially robbing the suspension of disbelief necessary to believe a man can fly. After seeing a genre's weak points exposed, will audiences really be excited to watch capes and costumes save the world non-stop for summers to come?"
Ray DeRousse also believes in such a prophecy, though he's willing to extend the sell-by date to August and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. "Both Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim Versus The World are self-referential comics meant to exude a cool, in-the-know atmosphere. They both feature a contrived "wouldn't it be great if..." premise that blatantly throws its pulp nature back in the face of the audience ... But, unlike the great comic book adaptations of the past, who are these films for? Surely the fans of those comic books will come out to see the films, and both will likely also draw the curious and the special effects fetishists out there. Beyond that, though, who else will want to see either film? It's likely that these two films will do for comic book heroes what Shaun of the Dead did for zombie movies – in other words, make them a joke."
It seems like I've heard this before. In another spring, one that seems so far away now ... oh yes -- it was when Watchmen came out in March 2009. "We're killing the comic-book movie; we're ending it," Zack Snyder said to Hero Complex. "This movie is the last comic-book movie, for good or bad." Devin Faraci, in a review of the film that I will always agree with, echoed the sentiment. "Both films are generational epics that subvert expectations about genre pictures; The Godfather approaches mob movies from a completely new point of view while Watchmen turns all of your preconceptions about superheroes back on you." The sentiment was echoed right up until the film's release, after which it just became cool to hate on it. Of course, let's not forget the original Alan Moore epic was supposed to have killed off superhero comics forever, only they kept puttering along until the present day.
I don't mean to snark; quite the opposite as I admire everyone I've quoted here. I'm just amused. It's something I tried to get at late last year when I asked why people seemed to consider Kick-Ass and its marketing more original than anything to do with Moore, Snyder, or Watchmen. It was an uneven piece and rightfully dismissed, but the sentiment behind it is more true than ever. Is our collective consciousness that short? Do entertainment journalists, bloggers, and critics really not remember Watchmen and all the doom and gloom surrounding it? Probably not, since quite a few of them were bewildered by Watchmen at all. Remember, Anthony Lane at The New Yorker was confused because it wasn't funny like a Sunday comic strip. I'm pretty sure he wasn't alone.
As someone who struggles to churn out thought-provoking material every Tuesday, I understand the temptation that leads to the hyperbole. We're either singing about a genre renaissance or intoning about the End of Days. Go through the Geek Beat archives and I know you'll find plenty of examples of both from me. It's fun. It's cathartic to write, and you secretly hope your prediction will be the one that echoes through time. (Well, at least I do. But at 5am, I'm prone to all kinds of crazy dreams.)
But you know what? I think Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim (and the soon-to-be-on-DVD Defendor) are evidence against a prediction I once made of comic book movies creating such sterile worlds that they couldn't generate anything else. In Millar's Kick-Ass: Creating the Comic, Making the Movie, he mentions that the idea came about because of his own childish determination to become a professional superhero. "The story has always been in my head; what would have happened if we hadn't come to our senses and decided not to do this? Kick-Ass is that story -- what would happen if you put that costume on, went out, your first night on patrol?" If anything, Kick-Ass might just be what some of us called it all along -- a teenage Watchmen. Remember, Hollis Mason gets the idea to be Nite Owl from reading a Superman comic.
I don't think these are genre ending movies at all. I think it's what one astute commenter named Kate Fitzsimons said on The Beat: "Why does deconstruction necessarily have to mean you don't value the non-deconstructed version of a trope? One could argue that in order to do a really good deconstruction, you need to know the original inside and out – and who is more likely to know the source material well than the people who love it ... Isn't it possible for people to take their superhero toys out of the box and want to play with them in a different way just for fun and the sake of novelty?" Let's not forget that Moore himself has been doing that for years with all the stalwarts of English literature and classic sci-fi, and it's survived just fine. Zombies survived Shaun of the Dead, too. Disney survived Shrek and its mockery of the fairy tale. Westerns survived Unforgiven.
It doesn't matter what the toys are. Greek mythology, King Arthur, Beowulf, superheroes, mob movies, vampires, Star Trek, zombies -- it all supposedly kills itself in the viewer and reader's lifetime. There's always some definitive version, deconstruction, or flat out failure, we all proclaim it dead, only to see it arise again from the ashes with an entirely new vision. Funnier still is if they return to the classic storyline, which spurs on a dozen imitators and sequels before dying all over again. Hell, that's partly what's spurred on the obsession with "rebooting." (And I know how sick some of you are of that word. I'm sorry. Invent a new one!)
So, I don't think Kick-Ass will kill superhero movies. (The 9 film franchises may do that, though.) I don't think Scott Pilgrim will either. I think these films (as well as the material they're based on) take the things so many of us have grown up on -- superheroes, video games, comic books, movies -- and transformed them into new fantasies and franchises. They're playing with their toys, and I sincerely believe it will inspire viewers and readers to start creating their own stories. After all, what such deconstruction and recreation does is prove that nothing is sacred. And once you remove that shine, all bets are off, and people can exploit their mythology and pop culture in ways that will shock and surprise. After all, there were critics who thought Watchmen was supposed to be Sunday funnies material. There's clearly still a lot of barrier breaking to be done when it comes to the mainstream audiences, and a lot of genre fun to be had for the rest of us who are in on the joke.
That's my prediction. And I bet that one will echo through time to be remembered forever!