Review: Revisiting “Kickassia”

Rewind to 2010. The internet was a much different place. “Fred: The Movie” came out, just a year after Lucas Cruikshank fell as the most-subscribed YouTube channel, and one of the biggest names in movie reviews was Doug Walker’s Nostalgia Critic.

Walker was and still is the centerpiece of the media company, Channel Awesome, that employs similar-styled reviewers, and most impressively, survived for years outside of YouTube, first off of Channel Awesome’s website, ThatGuyWithTheGlasses.com (now ChannelAwesome.com), and then off of blip.tv.

For five years, starting in 2009 and ending in 2013, the website assembled all of the site’s critics for anniversary events, the end product of which were hour and a half to up to three and a half hour ultra-low budget short films using their characters. Channel Awesome’s format of reviews usually involve its creators review films, games, etc. as invented characters that often are exaggerated versions of themselves, rather than have their creators review films as themselves, though there are exceptions. This allowed these specials to have a lot of comedic potential, not only in terms of the number of gags and situations they could get their characters into, but they had the benefit of over 20 funny people coming together to work on a single project.

Before we get into the meat of “Kickassia,” and why it is notable, it is first necessary to explain a few conventions of the Channel Awesome specials, as well as briefly go over their history. Channel Awesome anniversary specials are super-low budget, which was perfectly fine for the internet in 2010. This was an era where poor video quality did not stop works like “Chocolate Rain” from going viral, and the push for high-quality video really only took effect between 2011 and 2013. In 2010 and before that, many places still did not have high-speed internet, and in the early days of online video, editing software wasn’t as available as it is now, so a project the likes of “Kickassia,” no matter who made it, is expected to have a lower production value than had it been made in 2018. In fact, in many ways, “Kickassia” is intended to have low production values; it’s goal is to be a funny and cheesy movie the likes these critics would poke fun at, involving characters followers of the site had either heard of or knew well.

It’s also a comedy, and as a comedy, it works. That does not excuse what many would call “cringe worthy” moments. Some jokes fall flat, and while Channel Awesome’s reviewers knew and had a big hand in shaping the format of online video reviews, that does not mean they knew how to direct an independent film, and that shines through in all aspect of it. The cinematography is amateur, as is the direction, but what the film gets right is its gags and performances, which are often intentionally over the top.

A film with the name “Kickassia” never poses to be high art, or any sort of higher comedy. It’s a film that intentionally takes the piss, and it is evident that everyone who was involved in it had fun with it, and that shines through in the finished product. Its premise is bizarre and funny on its own; The Critic and Channel Awesome Company attempt to overthrow the real-life micronation of Molossia in Nevada, which exists because of a legal loophole, and is only an acre of land large. “Kickassia” is intimately aware of its small budget, and uses it for comedic purposes (in the film, there is a gag in which the Critic tells everyone “I got you a hotel room,” the punchline of which he got a single hotel room for his 20 plus creators to share).

For some reason, after the fourth and fifth anniversary specials, “To Boldly Flee” and “The Uncanny Valley,” which I myself found hard to watch as a fan of Channel Awesome because they seemed strung together and forced in order to please fans, it has been commonplace to bash the other anniversary specials. Even Walker himself poked fun at them, as his Critic character called them “embarrassments” that were too long. But I think many people forget that at least the first three were legitimately funny, even if you had no context as to what they were (I’ve shown many friends these specials and they’ve loved them).

They’re also extremely ambitious for their time. They’re essentially feature-length YouTube Rewinds, but within the network of Channel Awesome, which works. Channel Awesome’s content is not censored, they’re not afraid to take the piss, their content is extremely self-aware (part of the joy of these specials is just watching their room full of critics criticize the plot of the film they’re in and watching everyone’s personalities work off of each other), and above all else, they’re funny, even if some might see their content by today’s standards as risqué.

There are problems with these films. They were originally edited to be watched in parts, which creates pacing problems with these specials. “Kickassia” is relatively tame, coming in around an hour and a half, but its sequel, “Surburban Knights,” is over two hours long and the one after that, “To Boldly Flee,” is over three hours long. I do regard “Kickassia” as the best of these anniversary specials, but even with that, it could have been edited down to around an hour. “Kickassia” also has the most concrete and well-executed concept, with “Surburban Knights” coming in second.

After 2013, Channel Awesome stopped doing specials like this, most likely because of fatigue and the diminishing returns these independent films were getting. Even though “Kickassia” is good for what it is, I do hesitate to call it a good overall film, unlike other YouTube creator films, like “The Cinema Snob Movie,” which, while also ultra-low budget, has a brilliant and insightful script that surprised me, as well as former Channel Awesome creator, Ashens’s film, “Ashens and the Game Child,” which has the production values of an actual film.

However, there are a lot of dynamite, unique elements to “Kickassia” that I would not see anywhere else, and I do hope that Channel Awesome tries again to make a similar crossover movie with its creators, but under the direction of a professional director, an experienced director of photography, an edited script created by all the creators on the site, and a competent film editor who will keep the film to a manageable runtime. Many of Channel Awesome’s stars have risen to prominence, and being a professional YouTuber has garnered more respect than it used to, thanks to the rise of streaming. The door is wide open.