As you might’ve heard by now, two ultra-cool comic book movies with seemingly everything going for them – Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World - crashed & burned in theaters. But why, Screencrave? Good question. There are many reasons already elaborated on by critics as to why the two movies failed, but perhaps most of it boils down to bad timing and crazy cultural shennanigans.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Scott Pilgrim the comic book character is a humble, good-natured slacker twenty-something who plays in a band and as no job. He’s kind of a loser, but a loveable loser. Ask ten random people who they think would be perfect for that role, and seven of them would say Michael Cera. Unfortunately for the producers of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, they caught Cera in mild career downturn that might reflect a growing irritation with the public about his ongoing characterization in movies, namely that he plays the same awkward, loveable wallflower in every one of them.
Cera is impossible not to like, so you might not call it a backlash as much as an implicit gesture by audiences to change his game up a bit. Casting decisions for movies are made way in advance of the actual release, so it’s very difficult for producers to anticipate the fickleness of the moviegoing public. Again, Cera’s a nice guy and a decent actor, but maybe if this latest project’s pitiful opening is any indication, we’re all just clamoring for him to be bad, or different, or something (Youth In Revolt doesn’t count).
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World has an 81% rating on rottentomatoes.com, the famous online review aggregator that collects professional critical opinions. 81%. The movie can’t be that bad, right? If a bunch of uptight, suit-wearing conformists can gravitate to such a gloriously audacious post-modern mash-up of hipster tableaux, then why not everybody else?
Cera’s a convenient and unfortunate scapegoat, but perhaps it reflects a more broader disenchantment with not only hipster tableaux, but movies based on comic books, also. Quick question – who among you had actually heard of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World before you saw it as an advertisement somewhere? Nobody? One advantage of releasing a comic book movie is that fact that it already has a built in fan base, except now that franchises like Spider-man, Superman, and The Hulk have been done, producers keep green-lighting more obscure publications with equally obscure fanbases. As people are starting to find out, the well of good comic book adaptation possibilities is far from bottomless.
Kick-Ass’ failure at the box office has already been thoroughly chronicled by the LA Times, so we’ll only focus on how the lead actors were all wrong from the get go. Writer Steven Zeitchik claims that one misconception Kick-Ass’ failure revealed to be false was the idea that people were ready, more than ever, to embrace a new shocking kind of youth violence Kick-Ass was ready to offer. He was only partially right.
Anybody that’s seen Kick-Ass knows that the only real ‘shocking’ violence comes in the form of Chloe Moretz. She plays Hit Girl—the one with the purple wig and the twin Leonardo swords. The difference between poster-preview Hit Girl and screen-time Hit Girl, however, is vast…bloody. Poster-preview Hit Girl is cute. Screen-time Hit Girl chops up bad guys and splatters entrails like the last airbender wish he had the balls. She’s equal parts adorable, and holy-shit! remorseless. America may have been ready for Aaron Johnson and McLovin to fight crime with gory prejudice, just not Hannah Montana.
But maybe another problem is that before they got a chance to see the movie, America couldn’t help but lump in Aaron Johnson and McLovin as being a part of the same hipster subculture Cera lords over. And maybe they’re right. What’s more ironic than a comic book superhero movie where the hero’s aren’t super, and get supremely upstaged by a girl who’s not in high school yet? Backing up even further, who is Aaron Johnson? Wouldn’t it be safer to cast a well-known actor instead of an unknown one to put a face on a franchise very few people have heard about outside of the comic-con realm?
Now, bear with me on this, because it’s about to get a little weird. Imagine that instead of Donatello, you had Cecil Turtle as the lamest member of the teenage mutant ninja turtles.
Now imagine that the turtles are doing their thing eating pizza, living in a sewer, fantasizing about going beastiality on April O’Neil and whatnot until Shredder shows up. Except when the times comes to thwart Shredder, and kindly old Cecil and the rest of the turtles get ready to lay down some bloodless, family-friendly, finely-honed karate, kindly old Cecil grabs Leo’s swords, chops Shredder’s head off and sticks it on a pike on top of the Empire State Building.
In a darker, Roman Polanski-er universe, you could deal with Leo or Ralph finally going amoral and getting some good use out of their weapons. But Cecil? Now that would shocking. Not only that, but he would make the rest of the turtles look like total pussies. That’s Moretz’s basic effect on everything in Kick-Ass – she’s almost too damned adorable to function the way she does, and antithetical to what America wants from her. Or maybe she’s just a particular brand of bad-ass the world isn’t quite ready for.
If the year was 2005 instead of 2010, maybe Scott Pilgrim vs. The World would’ve killed. And maybe Kick-Ass would’ve actually kicked ass if Matthew Vaughn had played it a little safer with Moretz. But it isn’t. And he didn’t. Cultural trends are as easy to chart and predict as the weather. The producers of both movies looked to cash in on what they thought they knew certain demographics wanted, and misfired because of bad timing and bad judgement.
If you have a different theory, or perhaps a weirder analogy (doubtful) to clarify either of these two movies falling hard, be generous and leave a comment.