The Ethics of Hit Girl and "Kick-Ass"

4/17/2010 Posted by Admin


The Ethics of Hit Girl and "Kick-Ass"

By our guest blogger, John Shannon

Let’s get this out of the way right up front: “Kick-Ass” is a foul, violent, hard-edged film. Once the lights go down and the projector starts up, the film bursts on screen like the Tasmanian Devil with enough energy to leave one exhausted by the end.

Exhausted, and exhilarated.

Since the movie tells the tale of a high school student who decides to entertain the foolish notion of becoming a vigilante, “Kick-Ass” is “Watchmen” for the Now Generation. With Twitter, YouTube, Netflix and the like, we want our entertainment quick, concise and easily digestible, and director Matthew Vaughn is happy to serve up an incredible experience catering just to those needs.

The Spider-Mans, Batmans and other heavy hitters of comic book lore already are out of the gate, and now filmmakers are turning to more obscure properties to turn into films. As “Kick-Ass” hits theaters, audiences can look forward to “Scott Pilgrim” and “Jonah Hex” coming later to balance out the mainstream “Iron Man” and “Thor.” The comic book film is no longer a fad but a legitimate (and profitable) genre, and “Kick-Ass” is one of the very best.

It also will be one of the most controversial. People die in this film. A lot of them. Most at the hands of an 11-year-old girl, the costumed vigilante known as Hit Girl. Played with wisdom beyond her years by Chloe Moretz, Hit Girl and her father Big Daddy join Kick-Ass in the fight against New York City’s crime scene, and the film unfolds as we see just how out of control the situation can get for both sides.

While she slices and dices her way through thugs, cursing up a storm, one is amazed at how far this film pushes the boundaries, soaking the scenery with blood and guts. It’s a miracle that the movie isn’t rated NC-17. And many will wish it were. Hit Girl already has aroused plenty of parent group ire, but when provided with context, the outrage is justified. The girl is a monster, irreparably damaged by a father who has brain washed her into this violent lifestyle. You’re supposed to be repelled. That’s the whole point.

But you also are captivated. This character just shouldn’t work. You can put an 11-year-old assassin in comics, or even in a screenplay, but on film, Hit Girl shouldn’t function nearly as well as she does. Chloe Moretz had a huge role in making this happen, and she is quite possibly the most confident onscreen adolescent since Jodie Foster. When she is onscreen, it’s all swagger and bravado. She isn't paranoid like her father, or insecure like Kick-Ass, she's a capable and fearless human who just happens to be pre-pubescent.

And a lot of this also comes from the disturbing yet touching father-daughter relationship. Hit Girl is motivated entirely by the love and encouragement of her adoring father. Some girls bond with their fathers through father-daughter dances or the softball team--Hit Girl gets to spend quality time with her dad as he teaches her how to wield a butterfly knife. From the moment we meet Big Daddy and Hit Girl, when she spryly gets up after being shot in the chest and talks him into taking her to the bowling alley, we see the amount of love and commitment between these two, even if what drives them is totally warped.

Parent groups are outraged by the violence and the language and how a once fun-filled genre has become so bleak and dystopian. And while one can argue that the film IS rated R--and that it is clearly not meant for today’s youth--one must also admit that there were several children at the screening attended this Friday afternoon. And when the movie was over, they could be overheard quoting Hit Girl or exclaiming how amazing the action was. And I was reminded of when I was 11 years old, and a friend and I snuck in to see a little film called “The Matrix.” We did the exact same thing. We watched it and loved it and quoted and re-enacted the hell out of it, and we grew up to be perfectly decent human beings. Parents tend to forget that while kids are enthusiastic and over the top, they can determine the difference between real and unreal, right and wrong.

When provided with proper context, the violence and language and Hit Girl’s antics are thematically justified, and while the kids leaving the screening chatted about how cool the action was, none of them claimed to want to go out and fight crime. They saw the damage it does. These kids were far more apt to go home and play Call of Duty then to rummage through their closet looking for a superhero costume. The bigger ideas at work here will stick with them far longer then how cool it was to see Big Daddy take out a warehouse full of drug dealers.

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  1. Edward29 said...

    I saw Kick-Ass Friday and loved it.
    I read the comic before the movie and liked most of the changes to the adapted screenplay.
    It may be hard to believe, but the comic was a lot darker compared to the movie.
    When I left the theater I saw some angry disappointed kids and a big brother who was on the phone.
    I overheard him talking and saying he can't get the boys into the movie because he wasn't 21 years old.
    I bet this scenario happened a lot across the country.
    The censored TV trailers made the film look like a Teen action romp.

    Anyway great movie, and also a great article.