So I just saw Kick-Ass for the first time. It didn’t.
Specifically, I loved the idea but hated the execution.
Before you many Kick-Ass fans reserve a slug with my name on it, understand that I realize that I’m not the target audience. I’m a 31-year-old man (?) who as a child watched a lot of superhero movies, consumed lots of comics and even created a few characters of my own (such as Camperman and Mr. Macho Man). Those remain grandfathered in to some degree. Over time, though, I’ve come to find the whole thing silly and too unrealistic even given suspension of disbelief. These days, the only superhero I truly like is Superman.
Superman is cool to me because he’s a good guy. And I don’t mean that in the sense that he’s a jingostic action hero living in a black-and-white world (though he’s certainly been that way at times). What I mean is, Superman is a regular guy with a good heart who happens to be living on a planet where he can harness superhuman powers. Hell, he even has a workaday life as a journalist. He’s what I suspect most of us would be if we found ourselves on a planet where native humans couldn’t walk or lift more than 15 pounds.
Unlike Batman and many other superheroes, Superman isn’t a vigilante traumatized by a past event. He uses his powers to help people and to prevent destruction, not to settle past scores. Also, insofar as a character in a fantastic universe can be relatable, Clark Kent is relatable. I wanted to be him when I grew up. I pretty much am, though I’m 5 percent less awkward and it isn’t (usually) on purpose. Millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne? Not so much.
This is probably why I don’t care for most superhero movies after Tim Burton left the Batman franchise (I’m not a huge Batman fan, but I thought Burton struck the balance between camp and dark perfectly). I don’t go for dark, gritty reboots. The neocon and Randian leanings of The Dark Knight and Iron Man 2, respectively, don’t draw me either. (I did like Megamind, though.)
So when I first heard about Kick-Ass, I thought the idea was pretty neat. It addresses a complaint I’ve had about the superhero universe for awhile — namely, that someone aiming to curb violent crimes in a silly costume isn’t likely to last in the real world. The titular character (a typical dork who arbitrarily decides one day to buy a suit and be a superhero) finds this out pretty fast, when he’s stabbed and beaten in his first fight. He’s so self-conscious about going to the ER in his costume that he begs the paramedic to tell everyone that he was nude at the time of the attack. I really liked the movie up to that point, because it seemed like it could exist in a real universe. I prefer that in any movie or work of fiction, because I like seeing how the story resolves fanciful conflicts within the real laws of the universe.
But if a movie decides to exist in its own universe, it should at least be consistent. Kick-Ass fluctuates between the real and the surreal whenever convenient, which is annoying. Either it’s a satirical movie about regular people being superheroes or it’s a fanciful flight in a world not bound by our laws. This tries to be both, to its detriment.
Hit Girl bugged me especially. Yeah, I know, she’s a comic book character and the reason everyone who loves Kick-Ass loves it. And that she’s a product of Nicolas Cage’s hyper-survivalist upbringing. And I’m not offended by foul-mouthed kids. I won’t be joining the chorus of family groups who claimed she was going to inspire a wave of profane tweenage Bill-killers, because that’s stupid.
But there was something I hated about her almost immediately. Viscerally, not intellectually. I think it may have to do with the brutal death and dismemberment that she dishes in her first action scene. Yes, she’s rescuing a typically inept Kick-Ass, but come on. She kills everyone in the apartment! Also, where no one else in the film thus far has done anything unrealistic, she suddenly defies physics and the one-sided fight is set to rah-rah music. What is this, Scott Pilgrim all of a sudden?
Few things in movies alienate me faster than some scene that everyone enjoys but I immediately think, “I hate this person. I know I’m not supposed to, but I do.” I imagine that Hit Girl is a riot in a comic book. But seeing her in a (relatively) real-world setting only makes me think, “Will they even let her out when she’s 18?” Because for all of her heroics, such as they are, and the beatings she takes from grown men (which also don’t work on screen), she still is responsible for the murder of several people, many of whom weren’t attacking her at the time.
I guess if you’re into that sort of thing, no one’s done it better. I’m not one of those people. For me, the excessive uses of “fuck” and blood aren’t substitutes for clever writing and action.
A lot of critics of Hit Girl have received lashings online, as you might expect. We’re accused of sexism because we’d have no problem with a little boy inflicting the same carnage. Because no one had any problem with Hob, the murderous 12-year-old drug boss in Robocop 2. I had the same reaction to him when I first saw that movie, and I was 10 years old then (and a huge Robocop fan).
The problem I have with Hit Girl has nothing to do with the second half of her name. It has to do with the nearly unexplored notion that she’s been raised to be a soulless killing machine. It takes her father dying at the hands of thugs for her to show any emotion for a couple of minutes.
And don’t even get me started on the idea that Hit Girl is a feminist icon. Gender equity isn’t about girls adopting the darkest revenge fantasies of fanboys. She’s a model of empowerment in the Sarah Palin mold — she’s there to scream, “Hey, look at me! A woman! Doing guy stuff!” To turn the tables on the fanboy argument, you wouldn’t be praising this if she were a guy.
Hit Girl’s character had a lot of potential, as did the rest of Kick-Ass. The acting is terrific overall, and Chloe Moretz gives Hit Girl her all. If I rewrote the movie, I wouldn’t have done much different. Actually, pretty much all I’d do is revise Hit Girl’s character a bit so that she lives up to her billing as the best thing in the film, and retains some human decency (and maybe even be a little rebellious toward her dad, which had all kinds of explosive potential). And she’d perhaps chop off fewer legs as a first resort.
But I guess then you’d have a movie I like, which would defeat the whole point. I’ll go back to being 31 now.