Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hit This

Kick-Ass came out last week here in Australia - this weekend in America - and I had a review ready to publish, but decided against it since it mirrored so many other voices out there that I kinda just didn't really care. I think Kick-Ass is a fun, entertaining movie that has flaws, none of which involve the character of Hit Girl - the controversial 11-year-old mass murdering superhero - but more so the weird gay subplot, the rough changes in tone and a general case of She's All That syndrome where if the main character would just get contacts instead of wearing his giant grandma glasses and gave himself a buzzcut he'd be the hottest guy in school.

So, no, I won't be reviewing Kick-Ass, but as you can tell I think the hyperbole on both sides of the radical fence is a bit out of hand. No, it's not the greatest movie of all time, nor is it a reprehensible and abhorrent movie that will corrupt society's youth and turn them all into murderous sociopaths.

Esteemed critic Roger Ebert has spent the majority of the last few days defending himself against critics of his one-star review. They have called him "old" and "out-of-touch" and that he "didn't get it". Mr Ebert is free to feel however he likes about the movie, but those people saying those silly things clearly haven't realised that film is subjective. However, the best defense that I have read for the film comes from Scott Mendelson, during which he addresses the three key charges being hurled at Kick-Ass, that it's morally wrong to feature a violent 11-year-old, that other 11-year-old girls are going to copy Hit Girl's MO and that the character and that the violence featured in the movie serves no greater purpose than to get yuk-yuks out of watching a pre-teen girl murder people.

It's made perfectly clear that she's been brainwashed from birth and a victim of what could only be called child abuse. Her father is training her to be a soldier in a war. Thus, she's been trained to view the mobsters in question as inhuman/sub-human, for whom killing of them has no real consequences. ... Sure, the movie didn't obsess on it or her possible PTSD stemming from the events of the film, but that's perfectly reasonable territory for a sequel to deal with.

The issue at hand is the double standard when it comes to female action heroes. Sure, we all say we want empowering female characters who can play in the action sandbox as effectively as the boys do. Yet we collectively cringe when said female heroes (and villains) receive the same kind of brutal violence that is commonly visited upon male action heroes and villains. ... Television may have made great strides in this realm (The Powerpuff Girls, Alias, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc), but the movies are still stuck defending the violence visited on female characters even when they are playing murderous cyborgs from the future sent to bring about Judgment Day.

We have no qualms about young boys idolizing murderous womanizers like James Bond or Tony Stark. We never bat an eye when an eight-year-old boy wants to dress up as that genocidal, galaxy-destroying, slaughterer-of-children known as Darth Vader. ... More than once, I dressed up for Halloween as an undead former child molester turned murderer of teens who sliced and diced innocent kids using a glove with knives for fingers. I turned out OK.

To take it to an extreme different angle, it's sort of like the cries of "misogyny" that routinely gets thrown at directors like Lars Von Trier. People want better roles for women in cinema and then when someone such as Von Trier does do it they cry foul because the women in his movie dare to be complex and not easily slotted into traditional gender slots of good and bad. That she is so young, however, is the bigger issue, and even then I think it's nowhere near as bad as some are claiming. As Scott says, it is quite obvious that Hit Girl is a victim of child abuse. Not the typical kind that you find in arthouse movies, but the kind of psychological abuse that warps somebody's mind into thinking they're less than they are. Hit Girl has been trained to believe she is a warrior instead of the regular, everyday, school-attending girl that she should be. Something I think is made clear when she starts to blubber like, ahem, "a little girl" late in the movie. Furthermore, if people are worried their daughters are going to start copying Hit Girl then perhaps they should be more vigilant about their children going to see movies that have been clearly and specifically rated so as to not allow them into the cinema without a parent or guardian. And, let's be honest, any parent who takes their child to a movie such as this deserves a bit of antisocial behaviour.

I am sure that if Kick-Ass was as blindly rah-rah about its violence as people like Roger Ebert are saying then it would have easily received funding from a major studio and had its marketing slathered all over the country instead of having to be independently financed. Part of what made Kick-Ass so much better than any other countless ultra-violent movies though is that you have to use your mind to really consider and apprehend what is going on with the character of Hit Girl. No, 11-year-old girls don't generally go out on missions to kill drug dealers and their henchmen, so how did she get there? I think writer/director Matthew Vaughn and his co-writer Jane Goldman do put enough in there for audiences to mull over. It's all a matter of whether the audience member wants to mull it over or not. Sure, there could have been more - I said the film was flawed, did I not? - but, as Scott says, there's always the sequel.


Joe Reid said...

Hmm. Well, I'm with you in that the idea that Kick-Ass is reprehensible or irresponsible is pretty unfounded. I mean...little girls will start going on murderous rampages like Hit Girl? Really?

But I also don't think the film supports this Hit-Girl-as-child-abuse-victim idea so much as defenders of the movie do. It feels like the movie tries to have its cake and eat it too, reveling in the shock value of Hit-Girl's violence and bad language and yet later trying to play on our sympathies in seeing a little girl beat up. But it feels like there's nothing in between the two that deals with that underlying fuck-uppedness in anything more in a cursory way.

Just one of my issues with the movie. I do love your "She's All That" analogy, though, because: seriously. Not that I was complaining at all. And no buzz cuts! The curly hair works fine.

The Slightly Illuminated Knight said...

My thoughts on Hit Girl (for me, the movie's biggest misstep, but it has nothing to do with morality) as posted on Devin Faraci's defence of KICK-ASS over at Chud:

"I didn't think Hit Girl was 2010's Hans Landa at all and, if she is, that's just sad. I haven't read the book, so I can't comment upon what Vaughn inherited, but I think the movie mishandles her. She's the film's saddest, most tragic character- brainswashed & forged into a killing machine by a clearly insane-with-grief father- until the movie takes a third act turn that says, "fuck all that, lookie at all the cool-ass stuff she can DO!" and devolves into ridiculous violence (as do most superhero comic books, this may be a comment in itself, but doesn't make for a satisfying movie). The tragedy of what Hit Girl really is & represents needed a touch of the ultra-skilled, tough-as-nails but ultimately tragic/doomed lead characters of LEON or MAN ON FIRE. Even KILL BILL honours the tragedy of The Bride's situation. It doesn't just wallow in (frankly, progressively tedious) endless minutes of CGI gunplay and Jet Li wirework. KICK-ASS tries to eat its cake ("you owe that girl a childhood", showing what's been done to HG) & eat it too (yeah but look how AWESOME she is so it's really okay to do this to someone), and that rubbed me the wrong way. My two cents, sir."

Paul Martin said...

I think people are reading way too much into this movie. While it has a supposed level of reality or normality, that's just a ruse. The film is cartoon material. The characterisations of everyone are cartoonish, even Kick-Ass. Hit Girl is a hit. No Hans Lander, but she's got spunk, she's got attitude and she's damn funny.

A victim? Oh per-lease, her character is a non-stop gag. It plays on our expectations of what we expect an 11 year old go to do, how to behave, what she says. She says "cunt" once, and that's a deliberate push of people's buttons and expectations. She kills and maims with relish, she snarls - all pure comic book construct.

I noted that Ebert gave it one star and I think Tom Ryan gave it 1/2. I don't have a problem with either of those scores and I can understand how some can find the film sadistic and cruel, without any morals whatsoever. It could have had that effect on me, but it didn't. I went with the ride and had a blast. And for me, Hit Girl is what made the film so good - it wouldn't have been the same with any other actress.

Scott Mendelson said...

Thanks for the props, Glenn, always nice to get positive feedback from those whose work I respect. And I do agree with you on the whole 'She's All That' issue with the lead. In the moments where he's in the costume, sans glasses and with messed up hair, he actually is kinda handsome. But, in the film's defense, it's pretty obvious that his unattractiveness is at least partially due to his awkward and shy personality.

Simon said...

Excellent points, he makes...but then, their are a lot of untouched bits of child abuse in lots of lesser films.