Remember Kung Fury? The comedy action trailer about a renegade cop hacking his way back in time to kill kung-fu Hitler? Well, the full movie’s out now, and it’s solid—but I don’t love it.
Don’t get me wrong: Kung Fury is exactly what was advertised (and then crowdfunded to the retro ‘80s future and back). It’s over-the-top martial arts action paired with ridiculous scenarios (there is a cop who is part triceratops and his name is Triceracop) and dumb jokes (there is a cop who is part triceratops and his name is Triceracop). Basically, it’s the infamous trailer multiplied by ten. Ten times the length, ten times the action, ten times the gags, ten times the “har-har, the ‘80s sure were ridiculous” references, and ten thousand times the number of dudes getting shot and/or punched in the nuts.
You can watch it here:
It is everything it set out to be. It just didn’t do it for me.
I have some thoughts about why this might be. For one, Kung Fury feels like it tries so hard. Distractingly hard. It is the movie that would hear me say that and make a joke about the word “hard.” You would expect it to be a dick joke, and—reliably, faithfully, like an old hound who will fucking fight you before learning any of your crummy new tricks—that is exactly what it does. It does this in excess. It does it so much that it stops being funny, then becomes funny again, then stops being funny again. That’s how Kung Fury’s brand of ridiculousness works. “I AM RIDICULOUS,” it shouts. “LOOK AT MY NEON COLORS AND GIANT PHONE AND LASER RAPTORS. I HAVE IT ALL AND I WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO FORGET FOR EVEN A FRACTION OF A SECOND HEY REMEMBER THE EIGHTIES OK COOL JUST CHECKING.”
I like over-the-top humor! My brain thrives on absurdity. But in Kung Fury it all feels so... targeted, made to be chopped up and passed around as a series of memes. I felt like I was watching the movie tick off a series of checkboxes, complete a scavenger hunt to be declared The Most Ridiculous Evar by 2014 Internet standards. ‘80s buddy cop jokes? Check. A silly hacking sequence with a Power Glove? Check. Dinosaurs? Check. A ninja? Check. Hitler? Check. Giant phones, skateboarding, more hacking jokes? Check, check, check. And so on. That’s not to say the movie didn’t make me laugh. It often made those things so ridiculous that I couldn’t not laugh, but it sometimes struck me as mechanical, perhaps even a bit cynical.
The other problem—at least, for me personally—is that I think I’m getting tired of “those zany, wacky ‘80s” being a punchline. I get it. I do. The ‘80s were kinda dumb. So were the ‘90s. So is every decade. Everything is stupid all the time, basically, and making fun of that is great! I just feel like harping on the ‘80s, specifically, is getting kinda played out. This is especially true when people are lazy about it, when the reference is the whole joke. Kung Fury, to its credit, usually backed its references with solid gags, but on the occasions it didn’t, I cringed a little.
I’m just gonna come out and say it: I think I liked the original trailer more. As a rapid-fire series of absurd vignettes, Kung Fury was silly, surprising, and perfectly paced. As a lengthier short film, Kung Fury is somehow less. I think that’s because, while Kung Fury is a series of gags, it’s really only one Joke. Its punchlines all end up in the same basic region. Brevity is the soul of wit blah blah blah whatever, but that kinda applies here. By the time Kung Fury: The Short Film ended, I felt like I’d more than gotten my fill.
I don’t mean to be a total killjoy about this. There were definitely parts I liked, parts that felt inspired and original. The movie has a great sense of when to slow down, when to build to a really great fight or gag (see: two nazis talking about their mustaches, the whole middle bit with machine-gun-toting viking ladies). I mean, look at this. With or without context, this is wonderful:
Despite my seemingly negative write-up, I recommend that you watch Kung Fury! For one, it’s totally free, but on top of that it’s well put-together and entertaining. Clearly, a lot of skill and hard work went into making this, and it is by most metrics quite good. It just left me feeling weirdly cold, and I think that says something—maybe about the movie, maybe about me, maybe about modern humor, maybe about all of the above. Regardless, I just felt like it needed to be said.