Kick-Ass: Which should have been called “Hit Girl”

I did not intend to see Kick-Ass, the film based on Mark Millar’s comic of the same name. I have never seen Wanted. I read the comic, which was written by Millar, and came to the conclusion that he is probably not the kind of person I would enjoy spending time with. That impression was further reinforced by reading some of his work on The Ultimates. Unfortunately, then I read the first volume of Wolverine: Enemy of the State without realizing it was Millar writing, and I was completely blown away by teh awesome. The man can tell a goddamn story.

Now I can’t decide what I would do if I ran into Millar at a cocktail party. Try to reason with him? Kick him in the shins? Try to get him talking so I can judge whether all the sexist, racist crap and horrible people doing horrible things in Wanted is really a statement against evil or just an excuse to put tons of stuff on the page that reflects what he really feels?

Or should I just stand quietly in a corner while I try to figure out how much of a pass artists get by saying “well those characters/behaviors are SUPPOSED to be bad?” It’s an extremely complicated relationship to have with a man who doesn’t even know I exist.

(See Crossing Lines in Mark Millar’s The Authority at Fantastic Fangirls for a similar line of inquiry. Also see the poorly titled Lame-Ass: Comics Scribe Mark Millar’s Work is Sexist and Racist. So How Come He’s So Famous? by Erin Polgreen, though I disagree with her that Millar’s work “borders on racist.” It is racist. Just like using the word “lame” doesn’t just “border on” being insulting to people with disabilities.)

So I meant to skip Kick-Ass, especially because of the publicity about all the cussing! And the gory violence! My husband watched the red band trailer and suggested I skip it, probably so he could go see it in peace without me grabbing his arm a hundred times and hissing “oh for the love of!”

Then I started to see women writing about this film. Committed: Kick-Ass and Why Violence is a Feminist Issue by Sonia Harris on Comic Book Resources stuck with me particularly. (Since I wasn’t intending to see the film, I didn’t bookmark anything else, so forgive me if you’ve posted about the film and I am not mentioning it here. Links are always welcome in the comments.) What I read was a lot of love for Hit Girl (played by Chloë Grace Moretz). That she might be worth slogging through the film, even if it was the worst of Millar. So I said good night to my two year old after storytime, got in the car, and drove myself (in the dark, which I hate) to a theater to see it alone.

Kick-Ass had all the problems I expected. Black and Italian people are bad, and not just bad, but bad in a way that exactly conforms to the worst stereotypes, except for that one good black guy who gets three lines (Omari Hardwick, who should get more film work IMHO, I quite liked him). The only woman of color I remember is hypersexualized, and she’s murdered while attempting to escape, by a main character we’re supposed to connect with. Other women of color are shown on a computer screen as sex objects. It’s supposed to be a joke at the main character’s expense, but it’s ugly and dehumanizing. The film is a Bechdel fail. The main character lies to his female love interest about his sexual orientation and as a result, ends up rubbing his hands all over her mostly naked body under false pretenses (read: no true consent). It’s just awful.

And then there’s Hit Girl. And her knives. And her guns. And her totally amazing skills. And this one scene in a hallway lined with bookshelves near the end which made me want to cry from happiness. An 11 year old girl who is taken 100% seriously as an opponent, by people who make their living being the scariest badass on the block. She even ends up with a male sidekick! While she doesn’t get the final win, it’s her plan that makes the final win happen, and it’s perfectly clear to everyone who is in charge. Hit Girl is the rightful heir to her father’s slightly unhinged quest for revenge against the criminal who destroyed his career and shattered his family, and you feel like her potential would have been wasted if something hadn’t happened to lead her to a life of ass-kicking.

But here’s the thing. In my fiction, I like to see people fighting crime. I like to see people fighting crime with violence. I even like to see violent personal vendettas being waged against criminals. When you show up at a Bad Guy’s place to bring some justice and people with weapons get in your way, there’s going to be bloody mayhem, no doubt, and since it’s a movie, I’m cool with that.

But crushing a man who is disarmed and handcuffed? No. Stabbing a pothead who’s just trying to escape and/or defend himself while you’re slicing and dicing the guys who are actually trying to kill someone? No. In my personal spectrum of acceptable fictional violence, this crosses the line from vigilante justice to murder, plain and simple. I didn’t see any critique, any soul-searching. Any distress felt by the characters about the escalating violence is more about their own personal safety or a general sense of things being out of control rather than any inquiry into what’s right, what’s wrong, and where’s the line that heroes need to avoid crossing to avoid being the same as the people they are trying to stop.

When I walk out of a movie theater after seeing a film where the heroine kicks ass, I have to admit I walk differently. I feel stronger. I feel energized. And I have to admit, Kick-Ass gave me that feeling, and it was 100% due to Hit Girl. I’m glad I saw it. But it was tragically flawed. I can deal with moral ambiguity, I don’t need everything to be neatly categorized into boxes. But I didn’t feel like the filmmakers were trying to give me moral ambiguity. I feel like they were trying to give me a box labeled “cool” and inside it was good and bad, all smashed together. And if they’re going to make it my job to sort them out, then I’m going to do so, and my sorting says that as much as I loved Hit Girl’s potential, I can’t fully embrace her. I want a heroine I can love 100%. I want her on the side of right.

(I also wouldn’t mind some decent female villains, but that’s another post entirely.)

Add to that the level of racist and misogynist garbage you have to wade through, and I can’t feel as good about this movie as I wish I could.

So close. Two stars.

This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.

4 thoughts on “Kick-Ass: Which should have been called “Hit Girl”

  1. Sigrid

    I am SO GLAD you saw this!

    I, too, had mixed feelings about it. Though I loved Hit Girl to pieces. Did you read Anika’s review at FF?

    Anyway, I know what you mean about Millar. But, damn, the man can PLOT. He plots hella better than a lot of writers I like a lot more. It’s sort of unfair . . .

    Oh, and don’t read Old Man Logan, for the love of god.

  2. Patrick

    From the “Lame-Ass” link, here’s a spoiler for the comic:

    “Of course it’s not all golden for Dave. After pretending to be gay to get closer to his crush Katie, Dave comes clean and bares his heart. Instead of getting romantic, Katie calls Dave a creep, then texts him a picture of her blowing her black boyfriend. For all his costumed prowess and good intention, Dave can’t get laid because women are just bitches who want a big dick. And all we learn about Katie’s boyfriend, Carl is that he’s black and can kick Dave’s ass.”

    I was actually surprised that the film managed to treat women worse than Mark Millar’s comic does: Dave gets the girl – she jumps him two seconds after he comes clean. The girl, who in the comic doesn’t get a lot of space, is first a perfect princess (volunteers at needle exchange, reads comics, has black gangbanger boyfriend – heh) and then likes to “f*** Kick-Ass’s brains out” among the garbage.

    And Hit Girl gets saved twive by Dave, who also gets to kill the bad guy.

    Also, I disagree that Millar can tell a good story. I think he just has an eye for great moments, but I just read “Civil War”, and those moments weren’t earned and the comic, while starting great, ended up pretty disappointing (including a scene where Storm and Invisible Woman get to watch while a man defeats their foe).

  3. Grace

    Wow. I definitely have to see this now. Not just for Hit Girl, though I am really excited by an honest to God teenage (or pre-teenage) action heroine, but to see if I agree with you about the ambiguity and ultimate no-goodness of the violence.

  4. Orbin Wholesale

    “I was actually surprised that the film managed to treat women worse than Mark Millar’s comic does: Dave gets the girl – she jumps him two seconds after he comes clean. The girl, who in the comic doesn’t get a lot of space, is first a perfect princess (volunteers at needle exchange, reads comics, has black gangbanger boyfriend – heh) and then likes to “f*** Kick-Ass’s brains out” among the garbage.”

    Well, first he comes clean, and she yells “FUCK!” – It takes an apology from him, and her own initiative, before he comes back to her.

    I agree that the garbage dump wasn’t the best setting for a love scene, though.

    And notice she’s STILL volunteering at the needle exchange after the lovemaking scene.

    Patrick says: “And Hit Girl gets saved twive by Dave, who also gets to kill the bad guy.” – After she saved him twice. The filmmakers felt that Kick-Ass needed to get some glory at the end. In the comics Dave saved Hit Girl once by shooting John Genovese in the balls.

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