It seems a little wrong for us to evaluate the disappointing $19.8-million take of "Kick-Ass" this weekend when we (and many others) were, prior to its release, touting a possible runaway success. But quarterbacks wake up on Monday too, and so it seems only right to take a look at what went wrong with Matthew Vaughn's stylishly bloody kid-superhero picture, based on Mark Millar's equally stylish and smart graphic novel.
Here are a number of misconceptions held by us (and others) that were disproved this weekend.
* Many young people in this country are ready to embrace the shocking.
Tolerance for violence in youth-oriented movies has been growing for years, and even movies aimed at young people that land an R rating can become hits ("Borat" comes to mind). So apart from the 16-and-under crowd that couldn't (officially) get in, the envelope-pushing of "Kick-Ass" wasn't going to deter any film-goers. But it turns out that large swaths of the country may not crave the shock-worthy, at least not the overt kind.
* The mainstream is tired of the straight superhero story and wants something that subverts the form.
No matter how some try to categorize it, "Kick-Ass" isn't really a movie about superheroes. The character has as many powers as a house rabbit. The person who saves everyone is an 11-year-old in a purple wig. The characters in the film are, for one of the first times in movie history, just as slyly knowing of the tropes and conventions of superhero films as those watching it. "Kick-Ass" isn't so much a superhero movie as it is a post-superhero movie.
* Controversy will sell tickets.
That's true - but only if the right people object. They didn't here. Parents groups weren't debating "Kick-Ass" before the film was released - critics were. And if critics matter less at the box office when recommending a movie, they matter less when objecting to it.
* Internet buzz means robust ticket sales.
Actually, this one we believe. On fan sites and on Twitter, the Internet masses sincerely embraced "Kick-Ass." It's just that those masses were large enough to sell only a certain amount of tickets.
* An abstract marketing campaign is almost foolproof.
If "Paranormal Activity" and other films can become mega-hits with marketers carefully withholding information about a movie's content, this film will too. But you have to give people a reason to care about what you're not telling them. And the studio didn't sufficiently do that.
Finally, after saying all this, we're not convinced that "Kick-Ass" is indeed a failure. There's a success story lurking beneath "Kick-Ass." This is a film that no studio wanted to make, one that Vaughn produced, financed and even promoted, at a time when it's harder than ever to do those things on your own.