I am so sorry for being a buzzkill.
Or not. Back when I first saw the trailer to Kung Fury that was part of a Kickstarter campaign to get the full movie funded, I had exactly the same reaction I had to the finished half-hour product: It’s trying too hard. But that reaction doesn’t really inform the reader of that statement about how or why it’s trying too hard and what exactly it attempts to accomplish. These are all valid points that need to be addressed in order to qualify the statement about something “trying too hard”.
In the case of Kung Fury, I thought to myself that this tries too hard to be a Grindhouse-style movie for people who are nostalgic for the 80’s neon infused action movies whom also make up a big part of early gamers, hence all the references to old video game systems. From arcade cabinets to power gloves, from Amiga to ZX Spectrum, you’ll find it all in there somewhere. But it goes beyond that. It also tries to cram in as much geeky nerd-fodder as possible, to reach maximum irony saturation. It sends the hero back in time to the viking age, though for some reason they all (and by all I mean two women and literally nobody else besides Thor) have automatic weaponry and ride both giant wolves and dinosaurs. It has Adolf Hitler as a kung fu master in there. Hell it even has David Hasselhoff, the most fitting relic of that bygone age in it, both as the voice of Kung Fury’s car (in a none-too-subtle wink to Knight Rider) as well as a new song of his that just seems more like a cheap wannabe attempt at making 80’s synthpop and as a result lacks the inherent goofiness of something like “Looking For Freedom”.
What all this adds up to is basically one of those unfunny internet comedy movies that gets put out by internet celebrities. If you’re unfamiliar with those, one example that springs to mind is Channel Awesome (previously called That Guy With The Glasses), a website that features a bunch of reviewers of all things terrible because they desperately want to be Mystery Science Theater 3000, who produced a bunch of ultra-low budget (and by that I mean no money for equipment, locations, sets, costumes, staff or even writing) comedy movies as a yearly celebration of their work. You might find those things amusing and I won’t be judging you because of that. But I found them horrendous. Mostly because they attempted to be ironic pieces filled with references to both other movies and each reviewers individual personality and series. But the biggest irony about them was that here we had critics, self-appointed defenders of quality producing something that lacked the very thing they always demand. They produce terrible movies interspersed with comedy bits that attempted to be genuinely funny but fell flat each and every single time. It’s not so much a spoof of anything as it is simply a collection of references and bad jokes.
But why am I telling you this? Well, because Kung Fury is basically the exact same thing, with the difference that these guys actually had a budget and the final product at least looks stylistically holistic. And I guess my damning of this movie is a bit harsh. Mainly because I didn’t find Kung Fury all that offensive. It is actually mildly amusing and certain jokes did make me laugh. But these moments were too rare in this piece for me to consider it any good.
Another thing that clearly holds this production back is the running time. The creators wanted to cram in so many things into this movie that almost everything gets cut short. The entire diversion into the viking age barely lasts five minutes before we have to move on. There’s no challenge in this bit, nothing to gain or overcome, it just happens and then we move on to the Nazi bit. And the sad thing about this is that the movie wastes precious time at the start with the fight between Kung Fury and a sentient arcade machine that never factors into the plot.
And it’s not like I can’t appreciate this type of homage. I loved the Grindhouse-movies, as well as Hobo With A Shotgun and Black Dynamite. But what they all had in common was that they aren’t just full of references to other movies. First and foremost, they work as movies in their own right. That’s why they’re good. Everything else is simply window dressing. Having Richard Nixon be a kung fu fighting president in Black Dynamite is both funnier and makes more sense than having Adolf Hitler do the same in Kung Fury, because it acknowledges who Nixon was and builds upon that. It’s not just a silly fight in there because they needed a silly fight at the end of a movie. It’s filled with plot relevant dialogue and a bunch of slapstick elements that elevate this scene from tired reference to a memorable scene. These movies are true homages to terrible movies from decades past. The same way The Godfather and Star Wars were homages to gangster movies and science fiction serials from the 40’s and 50’s. But they were elevated by bringing their own qualities and ambitions to the table.
Kung Fury lacks all of this. And this is why I simply cannot be in the camp that considers this the most awesome thing since sliced bread. It’s an amusing diversion that’s bound to be forgotten very fast because it has nothing to it that will stick with the viewer. It’s not a terrible movie, it proves that the people working on it have some working knowledge about making movies, but for all the supposed creativity that this piece showcases, it really just isn’t creative. It’s simply a collection of catch-phrases, references and popular mash-up targets. And it only exists for the hell of it, not because of some kind of underlying ambition. And it’s simply trying too hard to make people cheer it on in ironic appreciation of what it is. And I don’t appreciate things ironically. I either like them or don’t, for any reason whatsoever. But I don’t celebrate mediocrity and lack of ambition.