In Defense of Hit Girl

So, I saw Kick-Ass yesterday, and I thought I might want to blog about it, but I wasn’t sure if A) I could articulate just what I liked about it — because I did like it — and B) I wanted to open that can of worms. Now, I’ve committed to B in my own mind, so we’ll see if A comes together as I go along.

I went to see it mostly for the same reason a whole lot of people — including Roger Ebert, with whom I agree about 95% of the time — hated it: One of the main characters, Hit Girl, is a stone cold killer who calls victims cunts and motherfuckers, traits that would be soporifically old hat if not for their belonging, in this case, to an 11-year-old girl. (Also, a lot of people — though Ebert’s not one of them — seem a hell of a lot more upset by her language than by watching her eviscerate other human beings or be brutalized herself, which got my “Wow, this culture is fucked up” antennae wiggling.)

I was not disappointed. I loved that character, far more than I expected to, even. But I loved her while also recognizing that her approach to life was essentially sociopathic — and worse, that she was not that way naturally, but had been trained/brainwashed by her father (portrayed here as a basically sympathetic figure, further complicating matters) to kill without a hint of remorse or disgust — so if I thought about it too hard, I’d be torn between crying and vomiting.

Now, regular readers know I am not one to shy away from overthinking things, and I am a big supporter of Moff’s Law. (Short version: “If you really think people should just enjoy the movie without thinking about it, then why the fuck did you 1. click on the post in the first place, and 2. bother to leave a comment? If it bugs you so much, GO WATCH A GODDAMN FUNNY CAT VIDEO.”) So I am by no means suggesting that one should avoid any deeper analysis of Hit Girl. In fact, I’m about to do just that. But it’s a lot more complicated, for me, than simply saying the whole concept of her is beyond fucked-up and therefore represents a failure of art and/or entertainment. Because the fact that she made me feel squirmy and confused and inarticulate is one of the things I liked about the movie.

Before I proceed, I want to make a few things clear.

1) There will be spoilers. Big ones. I’ll put the bulk of this post behind a cut, but for dog’s sake, if you don’t want to be spoiled, go away now.

2) I am not approaching this as a big fan of comics or superhero movies in general, or Mark Millar (whose name I just had to look up again) in particular. In fact, as for Millar, here is what I know about him: 1) His work has been criticized for egregious race and gender fail by people I respect very much. 2) He wrote the comic on which the 2008 movie Wanted was based. I saw Wanted. And I would say Wanted was the most unpleasant, misogynistic, gratuitously violent, pointless piece of shit I’ve watched in the last five years, except I also saw Crank. So any enthusiasm I had going into this movie was categorically not Millar-related.

3) I do see a lot of movies that technically belong to various distinct genres but can all be loosely gathered under the umbrella of “Shit blows up and a lot of people die” — hence having seen both Wanted and Crank — and I like many of these movies. So if you just can’t stand cinematic violence, I don’t blame you and will even stipulate that you are probably a much better person than I am — but I guarantee you will hate Kick-Ass, and I will now gently suggest that there is probably no reason for you to finish reading this post. (And if you can’t stomach mentions of specific acts of cinematic violence, please stop reading now.)

4) I went into Kick-Ass expecting a Shit Blows Up And A Lot Of People Die movie with a sense of humor, not a comedy with incidental violence, which I’m pretty sure makes a big difference. And I read just enough about it before seeing it to know some of the violence would be beyond what I could tolerate, so I did what I always do: Closed my eyes as soon as I could see it coming. Which, if you’ve seen enough of these movies, you always can. Perhaps you haven’t seen a movie in the last fifteen years, in which case, let me explain: There is no such thing as implied violence anymore. In 2010, if you see a man in danger of getting some fingers lopped off, for instance, you cannot trust the filmmakers to cut away before it’s done (much less to forgo following through on the threat). If you hear bad guys describe a microwave oven large enough to treat lumber while they’re planning to extract information from a recalcitrant foe, you cannot assume that a short time later you will learn through exposition of said foe’s death and enjoy a few inn0cent seconds before it fully sinks in that “Ohhhh… Oh MY GOD.” In 2010, if you see a pair of bolt cutters or hear the words “industrial-size microwave,” you need to either brace yourself or close your eyes and try to pretend you’re back in the good old days, when mainstream movies left at least the goriest details to our imagination. (If you choose the latter strategy, as I do, the time to open your eyes again is a few seconds after the rest of the audience goes, “GEEYAAAAAAH!”)

(Note: I really wish filmmakers would quit trying to one-up the shock factor of the last hideously graphic movie, and that “torture porn” would remain a discrete genre I can confidently avoid, along with the people who actively enjoy it, instead of sneaking its way into every fucking thing short of romantic comedies and movies about singing animals. And there is a reasonable argument to be made that if I don’t like extreme violence, I should really quit spending money on movies like this. But that argument is beyond the scope of this post, which is already too long, and I haven’t even gotten near the point yet.)

5) Finally, in case all of the above and the R rating haven’t tipped you off, let me make this explicit: Kick-Ass is not remotely a children’s movie. As Women and Hollywood’s Melissa Silverstein put it, “If your kid wants to see it, say no.” Say no and mean it. Since I don’t watch TV the old-fashioned way, I haven’t seen ads for it and don’t know what the marketing’s like. It’s entirely possible they’re trying to sell this as a comedy and pretend Hit Girl is all about girl power rather than blood lust — in which case, shame on them. But if you take your kid to see this, thinking it’s just a superhero movie about a nerdy boy and a plucky tween girl who fights crime with her dad, because you didn’t notice the R rating and couldn’t be bothered to read even one review — just one, any one, would tip you off to the volume of violence and gore — I basically have no patience for your outrage.

With all that out of the way, I really liked Kick-Ass, and I fucking loved Hit Girl. It’s not an uncomplicated love, but it’s love. Much of it has to do with the actress, Chloe Grace Moretz, whom even detractors acknowledge owned both the role and the film. She is fantastic. As for the handwringing about whether an 11-year-old should be allowed to portray a vicious killer, pretend to get beaten up herself or swear like a longshoreman (or a feminist blogger), even before seeing the movie, I would have said it depends entirely on the 11-year-old. And this one seems to have a terrific head on her shoulders (at least now, at 13) and an involved, thoughtful family, so A) it’s not my business to worry about her future therapy bills, but B) if it were, I wouldn’t. I am old enough to remember the same basic conversation surrounding Natalie Portman in The Professional — in which she was a bit older than Moretz, but then, that also brought barely-adolescent sexuality into the equation, which is refreshingly absent here — and it sure doesn’t seem to have ruined her life. (Meanwhile, Lindsay Lohan was only doing The Parent Trap at that age, and look how that turned out.) Granted, most tween girls, it’s safe to say, are not Natalie Portman. But as far as I can tell so far, most are not Chloe Moretz, either. (I did snort a bit at the part in that NYT article where Moretz demands to be referred to as a woman — but her brother/acting coach’s compromise in response is one of the things that makes me not worry about her.) We’ll have to wait 15 years or so to know for sure, but I’m optimistic about this one.

Anyway. That lack of sexualization might be the number one thing I enjoyed about watching the character of Hit Girl, and the sad truth is, I can’t imagine seeing a female assassin on film who’s not sexualized without her being pre-pubescent. (Or extremely aged, I suppose.) Even the thought of a sequel bums me out because already, Moretz is old enough that a lot of your garden variety squicky old motherfuckers — as opposed to actual pedophiles (and one teenaged boy in the movie) — would find her sexy while doing all of the same stuff, even if they had the decency to be ashamed of themselves for it. Once boobs are involved, it’s pretty much game over: You put even a nascent adult female body into this context, and suddenly, the Chicks Kicking Ass Are Hot switch is flipped, and it’s a whole different story. And for my money, the fact that this movie has a female character kicking ass without it being the slightest bit hot is a big part of what makes a lot of people so profoundly uncomfortable. It’s not that she’s too young to be so violent, it’s that she’s too young to have the sex appeal that’s supposed to make the violence not only palatable but titillating. So all you’re left to enjoy is a bunch of dead bodies and gore and danger, with a real, simultaneously vulnerable and vicious human character in the middle of it, and you’re like, “Wait, why am I supposed to find this entertaining again? Why do I dig it when it’s Angelina Jolie or Uma Thurman but recoil when it’s a kid young enough to be trendily named Chloe Grace?”

Being forced to ask myself such questions is the kind of thing I find entertaining, so that’s one reason why I liked it right there.

But I also found it entertaining on its surface, just a good ride as long as you don’t think too hard (or keep your eyes open the whole time).  Sure, I risk violating Moff’s Law by endorsing the “don’t think too hard” approach, but I don’t mean — obviously by now, I should hope — you’re better off if you just sit back, let it wash over you, and ignore any concerns it elicits. What I mean is, to get the most out of the viewing experience, you should let yourself think exactly as hard as you would about any other Shit Blows Up And A Lot Of People Die movie — which is not very — and then enjoy picking it all apart later. Ebert liked Wanted a hell of a lot more than I did, for instance, because he took exactly that approach. It is, he wrote, “lacking in two organs I always appreciate in a movie: a heart and a mind. It is mindless, heartless, preposterous.” Agreed! However, he adds, “The way to enjoy this film is to put your logic on hold, along with any higher sensitivities that might be vulnerable and immerse yourself as if in a video game.” Yeah, sorry, couldn’t do it. My higher sensitivities simply would not agree to nap through that one. But they do for some SBUAALOPD movies (which is why I keep watching them), and they did as necessary for Kick-Ass, so I’m with him on the general principle.

But the cool thing about Kick-Ass is, it wasn’t necessary in a lot of places where it ordinarily would be. Since the anti-hero wasn’t really tough — that was the whole point — and the anti-heroine A) wasn’t pornified and B) was far more capable of physically protecting herself than just about any other character, a great many of the SBUAALOPD tropes that usually prod my higher sensitivities until they’re grumpily awake were absent. For starters, there is not one damsel in distress in this movie. Kick-Ass gets a girlfriend*, but unbelievably, she’s never in peril; she waits for him and frets for his safety without also being kidnapped by the bad guys and roughed up and threatened with sexual violence, as that character in these movies almost inevitably is. Hit Girl has to be bailed out by a man with a gun twice, but both times, only after she’s killed so many fucking people so efficiently she has more than earned an assist — just like male heroes almost always get saved by a sidekick once or twice, without anyone questioning whether they remain extraordinarily, even absurdly, capable fighters. (You have to put the hero in a bit of real danger and give the tagalongs something to do, after all.) She does take a brutal beating before one of those assists comes along, and it’s horrible to watch for a lot of reasons, but if we look at her as the hero of a SBUAALOPD movie — which, title notwithstanding, she basically is — this is also perfectly standard. The asskicker-in-chief inevitably ends up bloodied but unbowed.

Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. In his review, Ebert has a challenge for those who would argue that the movie has to be appreciated in context:

A movie camera makes a record of whatever is placed in front of it, and in this case, it shows deadly carnage dished out by an 11-year-old girl, after which an adult man brutally hammers her to within an inch of her life. Blood everywhere. Now tell me all about the context.

He’s snarking specifically on people who would claim he doesn’t understand or appreciate the film because he doesn’t know the comic it’s based on or can’t appreciate satire or something. But I don’t know the comic, either (and strongly suspect, for numerous reasons, that I wouldn’t be into it), and since Ebert’s been a film critic for longer than I’ve been alive, and Kick-Ass hardly suffers for being excessively intellectual or opaque, I’m going to go ahead and assume he gets it on all levels on which it is meant to be got. The problem is not that he didn’t fucking get it, it’s that he didn’t fucking like it, which is fine. But personally, I found my enjoyment of it was dependent on looking at it within a certain context, so let me tell you all about the context.

And that is: You do have to see Hit Girl as this movie’s asskicker-in-chief, as the Bruce Willis/Matt Damon/Nicolas Cage (who plays her dad here)/Bankable Tough Guy of Your Choosing in this particular SBUAALOPD movie. There are reasons not to see her that way — primary among those that it’s a movie with a titular hero who is not Hit Girl and, oh yeah, 11-year-old girl — but there’s a strong argument to be made that that’s exactly what she is. 1) She kills way more bad guys than anybody else. 2) She’s the only one with the training, ammo and experience to kill way more bad guys than anyone else, except for her dad. 3) Her dad — as the father figure to the hero usually does — mostly steps aside and lets her do the serious Tough Guy shit, is shown teaching her and bailing her out early on but starts treating her as more of an equal over the course of the film, and eventually dies and leaves her to avenge him by killing the head bad guy on her own. (Did I not warn you that there would be big spoilers?) 4) Well, not completely on her own, because that’s where the ostensible hero, unremarkable teenaged boy turned crimefighter “Kick-Ass,” comes in. But again, he’s really acting as the sidekick here, the guy who helps save the day but couldn’t have saved 15 minutes of it without the leadership of a much more highly trained and impressively armed hero. Who, in this case, is an 11-year-old girl.

So if you accept that this is, in fact, fundamentally a SBUAALOPD movie, and that the 11-year-old girl is the Big Action Hero, then all the horrific violence that happens to and because of her is par for the course. Sure, some of it’s more explicit and grotesquely imaginative than previous examples of the genre — though that, too, is now par for the course (see above about one-upmanship) — and the idea of an 11-year-old girl as Big Action Hero is totally fucking horrifying on about a hundred levels, all of which you can and should consider when you’re done watching. But if you are the kind of person who enjoys a good SBUAALOPD movie, you have to admit that in terms of what happens — as opposed to who’s at the center of it — this one is not particularly unusual.

And that’s what’s simultaneously disturbing and awesome about Hit Girl being the one at the center of it. Because if you’re too turned off by all this happening to/being caused by an 11-year-old girl to enjoy the movie, you kind of have to ask yourself why you enjoy watching the same basic shit happen to and around Bruce Willis or Matt Damon or Nicolas Cage or whomever. (And if you don’t enjoy that basic shit, you shouldn’t be there in the first place. One review, people!) Sure, we’re usually watching grown men who can take care of themselves, but Hit Girl is, if not so grown, at least shown to be every bit as capable of fighting off hordes of bad guys. She handles knives, swords and guns as smoothly and confidently (not to mention implausibly) as any adult male action hero, and strategizes just as cleverly.

And at least in theory, these are the qualities that make us want to see what the hero does next, that make us think he is so cool, that make us feel so sure he can handle whatever comes at him that we never feel more than a pleasant frisson of fear for him or a brief wince for the pain he endures and elicits along the way. The justification for all the brutality he dishes out is always starkly black and white — he is Good; his enemies are Evil — so we accept that and go along for the ride without counting the bodies or pausing to wonder if this dude feels even a little bit bad about being a fucking killing machine. And we know that one way or another, he will triumph in the end, so while we might cringe a bit as he takes his inevitable lumps, we don’t really dwell on what it would feel like, physically or emotionally, to be kicked in the head or thrown across a room or shot in the chest even with a bulletproof vest or get your teeth knocked out or an arm broken, and then get up and keep fighting until you win.

Those are the rules. If you can’t accept all that — the need for what amounts to a willing suspension of empathy — you are simply not going to be a fan of SBUAALOPD movies. And again, that means you are probably a better person than I am. But I do like those movies as a rule, and so do about a gazillion other people, so it’s probably safe to assume that liking them does not actually make you a bad person who struggles to be compassionate and non-violent in real life. It just means you can suspend your better nature for a short time in order to watch a lot of intense, terrifying shit happen to (and because of) a fictional character, provided you know that character has the intellectual, financial and physical resources to wind up safe and triumphant, and that the fictional people who get slaughtered along the way are all A) evil and B) trying to kill the hero first. Hit Girl is clearly shown to be such a character, fighting such characters. So if you can’t stomach this well-established formula with her at the center of it, the obvious question is, are you usually willing to suspend empathy because of the character’s resources and the good/evil thing and the knowledge that it is fiction, or because the hero usually has a dick and a deep voice?

But wait a minute, Kate, I can hear you saying. It’s not just that she’s female, it’s that she’s a fucking child! Perhaps you even like the same basic formula when an Angelina Jolie or Uma Thurman is the anti-/heroine, so it’s totally not just about the dudeliness of the lead? But honestly, I’m usually not so into SBUAALOPD movies with adult female asskickers-in-chief. They’ve never appealed to me much, probably because they tend to be sold on the fuckability of the heroine more than the relatability of her; the primary market is still young, straight and male, after all, so a female lead is drawn to evoke fantasies either of being dominated by such a badass or being such a badass yourself that you could rock her world, neither of which does much for me. And because it’s all aimed at the same young, straight, male market, this doesn’t really go both ways. While I certainly don’t mind looking at Matt Damon or Clive Owen or Jason Statham fighting bad guys, I am generally not thinking, “God, that was so totally badass, I want to fuck you right now.” (And I am definitely not thinking that while watching, say, Bruce Willis or even a young Arnold Schwarzenegger or the increasingly vile and crusty Mel Gibson). If I like the film enough that my higher sensitivities are napping comfortably, then I am thinking, much like the young, straight men in the audience,  “God, that was so badass, I want to be you right now” (“and also, I would like to fuck you some time just because you are extremely good-looking, but that’s incidental”).

The sexualization of violence against and executed by women is one of the things I usually hate about even the relatively good SBUAALOPD movies. If there are any women to speak of in the movie, then the focus is inevitably on how hot they are while kicking ass, how hot they are while getting their asses kicked, how hot they are while tied up and waiting to be assaulted by the bad guys/saved by the hero, etc. I do not happen to be sexually attracted to women, and I fucking hate that these are nearly always underdeveloped characters who exist only to further the hero’s story and whose most lovable demonstrated quality is, in fact, hotness, so I find it all incredibly tiresome and offensive, if basically inevitable, and to me, the mark of a really good SBUAALOPD movie is that there’s somewhat less of that than usual, either because the hot chick evinces a glimmer of personality or because the hero has some purpose other than rescuing her sweet ass. And even making a woman the hero doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a good SBUAALOPD movie, because I’m still supposed to moved by her hotness, and I’m just not, and I’m actually rather creeped out by the idea that the kind of extreme violence I’ve described above is supposed to come off as sexy when a lady does it (or has it done to her).

Which brings us back around to my first point, and why I really dug Kick-Ass. It’s got a female action hero whose body and violent acts are completely unsexualized. It’s the rare opportunity to watch a girl kick ass — fortunately or unfortunately, an actual girl — without the camera lingering on her tits or all the men underestimating her (nobody does, which is very cool) or the real hero shoving her aside or a bunch of flirtatious mid-fight dialogue and sexy winks. It is the first time I have ever seen a female character doing it all just like the men do it — with physical and mental toughness, cleverness, courage and a shitload of ordnance as her only resources, and exactly zero use of her sexuality to make an easily duped jackass do her bidding. And thanks to elements of our culture that have been well-covered here before, it would frankly be damn near impossible to pull off with anyone much older than 11, because once a female has secondary sex characteristics, Hollywood will never, ever ignore them long enough to tell a completely unrelated story. At least not in a SBUAALOPD movie, and generally not at all.

Is it disturbing to watch a child doing all of this, and having all this done to her? Yes, incredibly. But mostly because it should be disturbing to watch anyone doing all this, and having all this done to them; in reality, violence isn’t exciting or funny or sexy to watch whether it’s happening to a little girl or a grown man or a hot chick. Kick-Ass removes the veil that usually makes it so easy to willingly suspend empathy long enough to enjoy this kind of film, which is woven from a whole bunch of cultural bullshit about Tough Guys and individual heroes and good and evil and hotness that we damn well ought to think critically about more often, even if we are the kind of people who enjoy these movies in between protracted bouts of being compassionate, decent human beings. Especially if we are those kinds of people.

One last thing: Al didn’t like the movie much. There could be a lot of reasons for that, and he didn’t have the patience to try for anything more nuanced  than, “It was way too violent and kind of dumb.” (THIS FROM A MAN WHO LIKED CRANK!) But here’s one guess as to why we had such different reactions. Between the rampant sexism and increasing gore that requires eye-shielding, I am completely accustomed to being made uncomfortable by SBUAALOPD movies and judging them by whether I enjoyed myself despite the disturbing and offensive parts. Al, who’s somewhat better at telling his higher sensitivities to put a sock in it, is much more of the “just turn off your brain and go along for the ride” school, even to the extent of flagrantly violating Moff’s Law on occasion. (Like when I want to talk about the rape scene in Crank at a party.) So, for starters, I suppose I was kind of dazzled by the novelty of having all new disturbing and offensive shit to analyze instead of just the same old shit. There’s that. But also, I really like the fact that Hit Girl makes some people who are usually comfortable watching SBUAALOPD films incredibly uncomfortable. Because if you get past the sputtery “It’s a little girl! How could you?” response — which, granted, most people probably won’t — then it’s the kind of discomfort that leads to important questions about what we’ll tolerate watching, and why. I like that I walked out of there with a gut reaction of “That was awesome!” immediately followed by an intellectual reaction of, “Damn, it’s fucked up that I thought that was awesome.” That tells me I just saw something new, if nothing else. And on further reflection, the new thing for me was not a violent, remorseless, brutalized, potty-mouthed child but a female action hero with all the agency and skill of a man, whom the audience is not supposed to want to fuck. That is a pretty awesome thing, even if it is also frankly pretty fucked up that I thought that movie was awesome.

*This is achieved, unfortunately, through total Nice Guy behavior, but I am too tired to go into that right now. Maybe in comments.

108 thoughts on “In Defense of Hit Girl

  1. I so agree with you about “Crank.” Even though I’m not a huge action flick fan, I will watch them with my husband but we both hated “Crank” and even turned it off with 45 minutes. What a piece of shit.

    I think “Kick-Ass” sounds fantastic. I would have loved something like that as a kid, minus the violence.

  2. Your analysis is almost making me want to see this movie. If for nothing else but the novelty of Hit Girl. And the “shitload of ordnance” thing. I am totally good with explosions.

    It’s the gore that makes me say no. But, hey, I can enjoy the movie vicariously through your descriptions, and maybe Hollywood will get a clue* at some point and start incorporating characters that make you think into movies I will watch. With explosions.

    *Don’t, you know, hold your breath or anything…

  3. Saw Kick-Ass yesterday with hubby, who had to see it because he thought images from the trailer of Hit Girl were just too awesome. I agree she is a sociopath and I wondered what she would do if someone in school offended her in some way – what’s her “code,” (a la Dexter) for example? Does she have one? The movie never went into codes, but I thought it was good, for what it was. Some ability fails (as usual in these types of movies), and the girl thinks guy is gay trope is old (and I wonder if this actually does happen or if it’s a straight dude-bro fantasy). But I did appreciate that she was not oversexualized thru her attire and the way KickAss responded when she told him to leave. Maybe these teeny tiny tiny teeny steps in the right direction will help other films of this genre get it together.

    But overall it’s not that progressive but I really liked that HG was not a soft squishy lover of rainbows underneath that crusty veneer. The movie is pretty immoral, but that’s pretty standard.

  4. I have to agree with Mmarie. Your description makes me interested in the movie, because it sounds like a refreshingly unique take on the action genre, especially in reference to female characters. However, the extensive violence makes me and my stomach think “NO!”. (Even the description of a human sized microwave gives me nausea. Literally)

  5. I saw Kick Ass this weekend and feel EXACTLY the way you do about Hit Girl. She made the movie. I was a bit shocked at the language, but was totally entertained for the entire 2 hours. That young actress OWNED that roll, and the movie, and I can’t wait to watch her in future films.

  6. Ditto Mmarie and Easybake: your analysis makes my violence-avoiding self really want to see this movie. Definitely something to consider.

  7. See, from what I’ve seen it is being marketed as a quirky superhero movie. I thought it was sort of Zombieland but with Superheroes, chiefly because I didn’t realize the original comic was by Mark Miller (only slightly ahead of Frank “Whores Whores Whores” Miller on the Miller Scale of FAIL. Incidentally he’s just below Arthur Miller.) Had I known I would have figured it out right-quick before the first reviews RE: Hit Girl started coming out.

    Your review makes me want to watch it, though I do have a question: Would you say the violence was worse than Watchmen? That’s the only movie I’ve had the displeasure of leaving to throw up.

  8. I’m really glad for this review because I totally loved Hit Girl. Not because I love excessive violence–my boyfriend had to drag me along to see this movie because I heard it was very graphic, and, well, not at all my kind of movie. But I liked it, and Hit Girl was pretty much the reason I did. And as much as I avoid the C-word like I avoid Glenn Beck’s television programs, when she shows up to save Kick-Ass the first time, I just could not stop laughing.

    One thing her role DOES do is make absurd all of the adult, male superheroes. It wouldn’t be nearly as funny otherwise.

    As for the Nice Guy TM stuff, that totally freaked me out, and was probably my least favorite part of the movie (besides the finger-lopping and microwaving, the two scenes I watched with fingers in front of my eyes). You do not lie about your sexuality to get into someone’s pants. You do not use someone’s trust to do fake tanning. You do not sneak into someone’s home uninvited. And if someone does these things to you, you almost never repond by letting them stay, making out with them, and allowing them to get to second base.

  9. I’m not going to see the movie, I think — your analysis, Kate, was much more entertaining than the movie would be for me. (I’m one of those for whom closing the eyes even isn’t quite safe enough. I’m still having a bad reaction about that microwave thing you mentioned.)

    But I really did enjoy this. Even if after reading it, I got into a nasty fight with my partner over the concept of female protagonists being sexualized. (Him: “But the heroine in Kill Bill wasn’t sexualized at all!”)

  10. Kate, wonderful wonderful stuff. Esp. including this:

    Is it disturbing to watch a child doing all of this, and having all this done to her? Yes, incredibly. But mostly because it should be disturbing to watch anyone doing all this, and having all this done to them; in reality, violence isn’t exciting or funny or sexy to watch whether it’s happening to a little girl or a grown man or a hot chick

    Right.

    Between the rampant sexism and increasing gore that requires eye-shielding, I am completely accustomed to being made uncomfortable by SBUAALOPD movies and judging them by whether I enjoyed myself despite the disturbing and offensive parts.

    Yup.

    “a female action hero with all the agency and skill of a man, whom the audience is not supposed to want to fuck.”

    This to me sounds awesome. I look forward to more of these action films that perhaps aren’t totally nihilistic and torture/gore porn.

    The only film I can think of offhand that had the action hero being a female who wasn’t predicated on being fuckable AND was the star of the show was 1995’s Cutthroat Island, a pirate-action film that didn’t score so hot in the box office. Geena Davis might have been hot, but she wasn’t made-up “sexy”, and she was totally the action hero with agency, motive, and revenge-exacted -on-douchebag-badguy and Matthew Modine her romantic interest and sidekick.

  11. The only film I can think of offhand that had the action hero being a female who wasn’t predicated on being fuckable AND was the star of the show

    Another is Sanaa Lathan in Terminator vs. Predator. I also liked Descent, which was pretty much an all female cast. I wish there were more movies like these, because I actually do like scary monster flicks and super hero flicks but women are usually written as pointless and annoying or just love interests in them.

  12. Oh wait, action/thriller with good female lead: 28 Days Later, Naomie Harris? Was the main action hero, was awesome, never got nude or partially-nude and sexy. In fact the only nudity is male nudity, twice, not sexualized either. And… * spoilers! * Harris’ character did end up kind of a Girlfriend but that was at the end.

  13. I thought Crank was one of Jason Stratham’s best movies, which probably says more about his lack of movie picking skills than his lack of acting skills. I keep hoping he will be in a really good movie, but know that is probably not going to happen.

    There is something about the way people react to “bad females,” which I find paternalistic, but it seems to come equally from people who embrace the feminism and want to imagine all women should be redeemed and from people who deny the feminism and imagine all women should be angels in the home. So, it seems kind of revolutionary for a movie to feature a female character who is unapologetic and in many ways unpleasant.

    I was always disappointed in how Natalie Portman’s character was treated at the end of the Professional. She had put in all of this time training and perfecting a skill and because Danny Aiello can’t see her immense value, she is supposed to be able to go back to school and forget. That seemed like a weak, pat ending which allowed the director to deny responsibility for what his character has gone through.

  14. I did not see Crank in full – a roommate at the time was watching it and I came downstairs to get a glass of water, and caught sight of Statham’s character having very loud sex with his girlfriend (?) on top of a car with a horde of people cheering him on in broad daylight. That right there put the movie on my HELL NO list.

    Of course, Alien was the first movie I ever saw with a female action lead.

  15. Also: I really liked the female lead in Book Of Eli though she doesn’t really meet the ‘no sexualization’ standard. At least she and the main character had NO sexual tension and her character arc was really interesting.

    Yes, I know I’m one of three people on the internet who liked that movie.

  16. Dang, I really want to see this movie now.

    But mostly because it should be disturbing to watch anyone doing all this, and having all this done to them; in reality, violence isn’t exciting or funny or sexy to watch whether it’s happening to a little girl or a grown man or a hot chick.

    THIS.

    I like action adventure stories, but the treatment of women (whether they are the “hero” or not) has turned me mostly off on this genre.

    I can’t imagine seeing a female assassin on film who’s not sexualized without her being pre-pubescent. (Or extremely aged, I suppose.)

    Well, depending what you mean by “extremely aged” Helen Mirren played an assassin at age 60 in the movie Shadowboxer, and you watch her have sex with her stepson. (Yes, it is as disturbing as it sounds.) While 60 is not necessarily old, it’s not the usual age for a female action star. (Gibson, Rourke, Eastwood, Willis, etc – we’re ok with men over fifty in action pack rolls.)

    And the way society sexualize youth, I’m actually impressed they didn’t do it in this case too.

  17. In reverse order…

    I thought Crank was one of Jason Stratham’s best movies, which probably says more about his lack of movie picking skills than his lack of acting skills. I keep hoping he will be in a really good movie, but know that is probably not going to happen.

    Ha, agreed! I think I did like The Bank Job, but I don’t really recall much about it. I just know I love heist movies, I have a mad crush on Stephen Campbell Moore, and I don’t remember walking out of it like “OMGWTF WHY DO MOVIES KEEP SUCKING?” so I probably liked it.

    Would you say the violence was worse than Watchmen?

    Speaking of movies I didn’t hate but don’t recall clearly anymore… I think my answer would be no. There are a few extremely disturbing moments in Kick-Ass besides the ones I’ve mentioned — mostly a lot of close-ups of knives and swords going into bodies. But for as much as I remember Watchmen at this point, I remember thinking that it was kind of defined by graphic violence and overall darkness in a way that, despite everything I’ve said here, Kick-Ass isn’t. There’s a lot of story and a lot of humor breaking up the stomach-churning and morally reprehensible parts.

    And I’m not even kidding or exaggerating about the closing my eyes thing. I really do just shut ‘em and keep ‘em shut until the worst is over — and I can only think of two instances where something happened suddenly that I would have chosen to close my eyes for if I’d had some warning. (And only one of those was something that really made me like, “FUCK, I did not want to see that,” and it was over very, very quickly.) YMMV, of course — I can tell you conclusively that Watchmen did not actually make me barf, so obviously, I must have at least a slightly higher threshold for graphic violence. But I think that overall Kick-Ass is easier to get through, especially if you make liberal use of your eyelids.

    You do not use someone’s trust to do fake tanning. You do not sneak into someone’s home uninvited. And if someone does these things to you, you almost never repond by letting them stay, making out with them, and allowing them to get to second base.

    God, yes. Also, as hsofia said, the “guy pretends to be gay to get in girl’s pants” thing is pretty well played out. Here’s one area where the comic intrigues me, because I’ve read that that is NOT how it goes in the original; instead, the girl is totally pissed off that he lied to her and violated her trust. Which I would have been really, really happy to see here. I mean, on the one hand, it sort of worked in context, the same way rom coms sort of work when they do the whole Nice Guy stalker scenario in a thousand different ways — if you’re rooting for the guy and know he’s not really a creep deep down, part of you wants to see him happy even when you think he should probably be in jail for the way he went about “wooing” the woman. But I hated the storyline and really hated that she didn’t even take a whole day to be pissed before she was all, “I forgive you, let’s make out!”

  18. Hmm, having read your review and Roger Ebert’s I still am not moved to see this movie. Thanks for the in-depth analysis since its good to get differing POV’s. I like violence when its called for by the story, but Kick Ass sounds like a 2 hour gore-porn fest that would sicken me.

    Granted, I’m not a shy woman when it comes to violent movies and I’ve made it through some rough films but once I read about the sociopathic character of Hit Girl I was immediately turned off of the film.

    I thought it was going to be a cutesy film about wanna be teen-heroes that save the day but an 11 year old girl seems to kill just to kill and has no remorse? No thanks.

  19. @lilpocketninja – it’s Mark Millar, not Miller.

    @kateharding – if the film had gone the route of her rejecting him outright that would have been AWESOME. I was hoping it would, but then she said, “Wait,” or whatever, and that was disappointing.

  20. I came downstairs to get a glass of water, and caught sight of Statham’s character having very loud sex with his girlfriend (?) on top of a car with a horde of people cheering him on in broad daylight. That right there put the movie on my HELL NO list.

    Oh, so you missed the part right before that, where SHE SAYS NO ABOUT A DOZEN TIMES, and then he just KNOCKS HER DOWN AND STARTS FUCKING HER. You must have just come along for the part where, after saying no about a dozen times and physically trying to fight him off, she suddenly gets COMPLETELY INTO IT? Like all good women would if they would just stop trying to control their own bodies? (ETA: I am being completely sincere in my assumption that you missed that, but upon rereading, I realize my anger at the filmmakers might come across as snarking on you.)

    Yeeeeeeah, that was the rape scene I was talking about. Except, you’re not supposed to call it a rape scene because A) duh, she got completely into it, and B) YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND HE WOULD HAVE DIED IF HE DIDN’T HAVE SEX AND IF SHE’D KNOWN THAT SHE NEVER WOULD HAVE SAID NO, so we certainly shouldn’t dwell on the fact that she DID say no repeatedly!

    Nor should we dwell on the fact that the reason he would have died is that he needed to keep his heart rate above a certain level, which he spends the entire movie doing in different ways, so sex is clearly not the only option, and perhaps if you’re on a crowded street and your girlfriend is screaming no and begging you to let her go, you would be better off DOING SOME FUCKING JUMPING JACKS to raise your heartrate than raping her? Just a thought?

    Have I mentioned I hated that movie? Because OMG I HAAAAAAAATED THAT MOVIE. (And that scene is the whole reason why. I don’t actually remember much else about it — though I know Al liked a lot of stuff that wasn’t that scene, and I actually thought the goofy premise was kind of awesome going in — but that one scene burned itself into my brain and ruined everything.)

  21. Just a suggestion? You may want to put a warning at the top that you’re going to mention graphically violent things (past mainstream shoot-em-up stuff). I’m referring to the microwaving as torture reference. Call me a wimp, but I may not sleep tonight now with that image on the brain.

  22. Jenya, I’m sorry that happened, but I actually did say, “So if you just can’t stand cinematic violence, I don’t blame you and will even stipulate that you are probably a much better person than I am — but I guarantee you will hate Kick-Ass, and I will now gently suggest that there is probably no reason for you to finish reading this post.”

    I suppose I need to state explicitly that I will also be discussing the violence.

  23. Warning: I haven’t seen the movie or read the comic, my understanding is based solely on reviews and tvtropes and stuff.

    It seems like the comic had a message, and the movie chucked the message out in favor of stuff blowing up and happy hollywood endings. Par for the course for Hollywood but still pretty annoying and makes me eye the creator warily. Did you actually MEAN your message? If so, why did you let this happen to it?

    Because as I understand it, the comic is much more clear that this whole situation is fucked up. Big Daddy’s story about his background is a complete and total lie, and he’s just an average guy (an accountant!) who decided to build his daughter into a hero because he was bored with his life. (Creepy much?)

    And Kick-Ass does NOT get the girl – when he tells her the truth, she’s pissed off at him (And then has her boyfriend beat the stuffing out of him.) She’s not really played sympathetically either. Most of these people aren’t.

    They aren’t heroes, they’re losers and deeply screwed up people doing horrifically dangerous things. As I understand it, the point of the comic is what a monstrously bad idea this whole superhero business is – but the movie comes out more in favor of kicking ass and taking names.

    As I understand it anyway.

  24. Kate, no worries. I was just thinking of the other sensitive souls! I did read your caveat but took it to mean, “you probably won’t be interested,” rather than, “you might read something horrifying.” I’ve seen Wanted and it didn’t bother me, so I wasn’t terribly concerned about the content of your post. I’m not sure why one form of terrible violence is easier to handle than another. Maybe that’s desensitization at work.

  25. I’m not sure why one form of terrible violence is easier to handle than another. Maybe that’s desensitization at work.

    Yeah, that’s the essence of why I found my reaction to this film interesting enough to spend hours wanking about it, basically. :) Glad you aren’t too traumatized, and I did update the post.

    ETA: As horrid as even hearing about the microwave thing is, I was actually glad I read reviews that mentioned it in advance, because then there was no question about when I needed to close my eyes. I am very happy that I did not have to see that.

  26. Oh, and ohands, I don’t count 60 as “extremely aged,” even though it certainly is by Hollywood standards, precisely because there’s still some room, culturally speaking, for women that age to be sexed up, even if they usually aren’t. I don’t even know how old is old enough in this hypothetical, really.

  27. @Emmy – Hmm. I felt like the movie had whiffs of that (creepy Big Daddy, everything about this situation is pretty effed); maybe one of these days I’ll read the comic because it does sound like it was more of what I’d have wanted to see in the film.

    @KateHarding – WOW. You are totally right that I missed all that stuff before and am really glad I did, otherwise I might have completely lost it on my roommate (who thought the movie was HIGH-larious and guffawed through the whole thing – including that rape scene.) I thought it was distasteful before, now I am truly disgusted.

    And to whomever mentioned The Bank Job: I agree it is probably the best movie Statham has been in (aside from hellooo, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), but unfortunately, that movie really bugged me with its depiction of nasty lecherous lying sneaky murdering black men.

  28. @Emmy: As someone who hadn’t read the comic I went into it expecting a comedy with incidental violence. I got through most of the movie feeling *really* disturbed, and really relieved when I realized that that’s what they were going for. I thought that walking the line between feeling sympathy and disgust for the characters was pretty effective. But then again, the ending was irritatingly sweet, and the only “protagonist” I really thought was a douche was Big Daddy. So yeah, I guess movies without any sympathetic characters don’t fare well at the box office.

    One thing I did notice was that during the Hit Girl Killing Rasul’s Gang scene, was that the only part they *did* cut away was when Hit Girl killed the female junkie– they just showed bloody knives going through the door. I thought it was interesting that they were okay with letting a little girl be a potty-mouthed bloodthirsty killer, but stopped at showing women getting killed. Of course they might have been going for that too– when I found myself relieved that they cut away, when the violence against men was disturbing to me but not nearly as much so, it gave me pause.

  29. @ hsophia well then he’s an honorary member xD The man wrote Civil War, he deserves all the negativity I can think of.

    @KateHarding: Thank you for the answer! I try the close-your-eyes thing but for me the sounds without images are much worse.

  30. You guys saw the roundup of reviews on Jezebel in which some male critics are actually reading this character as sexualised, right? I find that far more disturbing than I could ever find bad guys being cooked in the microwave,

    (Um, I loved Audition and Oldboy. I’m not exactly violence-avoidant, so keep that in mind. Though Audition and Gozu are the only Miike movies that don’t make me want to punch him in the balls, due to the issues with sexualising violence Kate mentioned.)

  31. I had to skip the post after the spoiler warning, it’s not a case of TL:DR, I want to remain unspoiled for a while.

    I’d want to see this except for a few things:

    1. I hate Mark Millar. Hate him. I don’t say this often about authors even when they’re crappy human beings. I’d rather send my cat’s feces to the man’s house than have him get a dime of my money.

    2. Almost all comic book to screen adaptations have been deeply disappointing. Even Watchmen, which should have blown my doors off due to it’s faithful frame by frame recreation of the graphic novel. (Except the ending, wtf was that?!)

    3. Alan Moore has said pretty much all I want to hear on the subject for a while. At least until I can find some women poking holes in super hero vigilantism.

    The premise behind Hit Girl’s character sounds a bit derivative to me. It could be that I hang out in crappy B movie trading spaces and I’ve run across the theme about a half dozen times in Korean and Japanese action films. Not that I’ve had an opportunity to see most of the films that get discussed (*cough*ratio rules*cough*), it just sounds a wee bit too familiar. I don’t mind derivation too much, but I’m more likely to watch a low budget foreign action movie before I trust my money to Hollywood.

  32. I have no idea why Civil War makes Mark Millar despicable, as I’ve not read it and never heard of it. I’ll check to see if my library has it.

  33. John Rogers, whom I adore and respect forever for making Blue Beetle a 16 year old Mexican-American kid (Is my comic nerdery showing?) Twittered: “Wow, pull the racism, misogyny and nihilism out of a Mark Millar story, you get a fun movie. Vaughn directed the hell out of it.”

  34. @hsophia: Unless you’re a fan of the mainstream Marvel universe, I would advise against it.

    …actually I would advise against it in any case. But I was mostly joking.

  35. “Wow, pull the racism, misogyny and nihilism out of a Mark Millar story, you get a fun movie. Vaughn directed the hell out of it.”

    Ha! And yeah, though I’m not familiar with his actual work, like I said, that’s a lot of what I’ve heard.

    Pulling out the nihilism brings us back to what Emmy was saying. Although there are things that sound better to me about the original story (e.g., girlfriend getting pissed about the lie), I actually liked that the characters were simultaneously likeable and basically sociopathic in the movie. I am actually a pretty big sucker for happy endings and likeable characters and love and hope, so I liked that Big Daddy came off as sort of noble — even though you really can’t think too hard about his actions without wanting to barf — and that his relationship with Hit Girl seemed really loving, albeit profoundly fucked up. I liked that the girlfriend wasn’t nasty (even if I wish she’d had more backbone) and that once they got together, the relationship was fairly uncomplicated (in addition to her not ending up in peril, there was no angst about her being ashamed of dating a nerd everyone thought was gay, for instance). I also liked Kick-Ass/Dave’s dad, who was an unexpectedly sweet character. There was a lot of sweetness in the movie, actually, and I’m the kind of person who needs that to balance all the hideous shit; unrelenting bleakness is not my bag. So I probably would not like the comic, just as I suspected.

    But at the same time, making fundamentally sociopathic characters read sweet is something Hollywood does all the time, and it’s really incredibly disturbing if you think about it — so as I said in the post, I loved that this movie DID make me think about it, and never let me forget that these people, however sweet-seeming, are almost all seriously fucked up and wrong. I mean, it’s not even just SBUAALPD movies, or movies about killers. I will watch anything about con artists, for instance. Can’t get enough. But of course, in real life, con artists are sociopaths — to be any good at it, you need to be able to lie through your teeth without ever breaking a sweat and fuck people over without feeling a twinge of remorse. They’re charming because they have to be, but there is basically no such thing as a kindhearted, loveable, misunderstood con artist outside of fiction. And still, the fictional ones are like my favorite thing ever — in large part because I am a shitty liar and utterly unslick, so I wish I could be like that… except for all the robbing and cheating and generally being a terrible person, you know?

    See also romantic comedy stalkers. These characters usually have consciences, at least, but still, the audience gets sucked into seeing terrible behavior — ranging from mildly unsettling to totally fucking scary/illegal — as romantic, as being about loyalty and devotion and love instead of a total lack of respect for another person’s wishes or boundaries.

    So it’s good to occasionally get a movie that makes you think, “Wow, it’s actually really fucked up to like these characters.” Because it is. But then, fiction basically exists to create order and meaning where there is none in real life, so it’s often still fun to watch. And if you can give me something fun to watch while also giving me a lot to chew on about why I find horrible things fun to watch, you’ve got me. Fiction that’s just about how the world sucks and people are fucked up doesn’t do it for me, because I already have to live in the world, so you’re not giving me anything new here.

  36. So it’s good to occasionally get a movie that makes you think, “Wow, it’s actually really fucked up to like these characters.”

    I thought perhaps Kick-Ass would end the film without getting involved in all the killing, but nope … he was no longer an innocent by the end of the film. And he didn’t seem upset about it, either. Another little thing about the movie that I thought was interesting was how D’Amico was not depicted as a raging lunatic, which is often par for the course for movie villains. He was frighteningly efficient. All he cared about was his bottom line, his money. And I appreciated that. I appreciated that his brutality was depicted as the natural consequence of his greed for money and power. There were no wandering steps or rationalizations between the two points.

  37. (Disturbing content warning!!!!)
    @ Godless Heathen –
    Yes! So much connection with Japanese creepy-culture – the microwave big enough to cook someone was actually used by the Aum Shinrikyo cult to, um… silence one of their opponents back in the ’90’s. And I can’t even think about the character of Hit Girl without remembering the eleven-year-old Japanese girl who used a box-cutter to slit her best friend’s throat… Because they’d had a quarrel, because the murderer had been watching Battle Royale an ultra-violent teen-killing-teen movie, repeatedly, alone, because… well, probably because she didn’t really understand that dead is forever, that things don’t turn out like in the movies where you can just kill people and walk away in the end.

    I guess that’s what creeps me out about even the description of Hit Girl – that she’ll be seen as inspiration, that there may be girls out there who will want to be just like her – because it has happened, and the results were horrifying.

  38. @kimberley – how sad is it that I knew who you meant and remembered her by the “cool” nickname the internet gave her when it turned her into a meme, which I’m not using here?

    She apparently collected all sorts of spooky/gory/horror shows, games, etc, not just one thing… (The method was supposedly inspired by a regular murder mystery/drama show, though, and it would be incredibly hard to remove all dramas based around murders from television even if we wanted to. Solving murder mysteries is a pretty common plot.)

  39. I wish to give you a very enthusiastic high-five for a really thoughtful analysis, while still liking the film. I, too, like SBUAALOPD movies, and sometimes have to take a very hard baseball bat to my sensibilities to like them (I liked Death Race, Lord help me, but mostly because I adore Joan Allen and Ian McShane, no matter how crappy their characters are in a movie).

    I particularly like your thoughts about the lack of sexualization – I am very, very tired of being told I need to like a female action hero when all the focus is on how hot she is (Angelina Jolie in any action movie, even though, again, I adore AJ) instead of her heroic qualities, and of course, they always make her somehow “vulnerable” so the SWMs in the audience can feel superior. Even my beloved Ripley in Alien got into underwear at the end, though she was awesome in <Aliens, and I even liked the last two Alien movies and AVP – but not AVP:Requiem!!!! – , I’m that much of a nerd. So, if it makes the guys uncomfortable because of the raw, unfuckable power of a girl who is really dangerous, then I’m for it.

    And co-sign on the reviewers who are shocked by the language most of all – WTF?

  40. Re: Increasing violence in each movie (might contain upsetting mentions of violence)

    I think this is actually a good thing in several cases. If you get the right director with it, it’s all a social statement and tends more to the “you want gore, I’ll give it to you, but you ARE NOT going to like it.” Hostel and Hostel II are good examples of this. There’s a scene when Paxton is handcuffed to the chair and the customer starts up a chainsaw and he vomits that has never left me. That idea of he was so fucking scared he vomited still has the power to make me ill, and that takes a lot of the fun and games away. This movie does not sound like that though (I am however totally going to watch it) so I’ll assume it’s more a gross out teenage boys factor than a social statement.

    Also, how has no one mentioned The Transporter or Snatch in this thread. Those are some awesome Jason Statham movies! And no rapes that I can think of in either! (How sad is it when you get excited because a movie didn’t have a long drawn out rape scene?)

  41. Oh, also thought I’d mention that I too think that Mark Millar is a worthless piece of shit. I happened to like “Wanted,” I totally didn’t analyze it apparently, and now never will because I will never watch it again. Why, if I liked it? Because I went and bought the comic, because I am a huge graphic novel nerd and thought I would like it. WRONG! No redeeming qualities at all, not one, not even a tiny one. Within like 10 pages the main character (who is in a vastly different situation than the one in the movie) brags about how he raped an “A-list star” and it never even made the news. I took that piece of shit back, but quick.

  42. Kate, I’m kind of in the weak-stomach camp, so I’m in the “meh” camp on the whole thing, but I just want to say this post is why the internet was invented – smart feminist writing about popular culture that raises the intellegence bar while being completely fun to read. If being away from the daily-lady blogging gives you more time for other, longer writing, I’ll be first in line to buy it. (Paying for writing! Go figure! So old fashioned!)

  43. “(Also, a lot of people — though Ebert’s not one of them — seem a hell of a lot more upset by her language than by watching her eviscerate other human beings or be brutalized herself, which got my “Wow, this culture is fucked up” antennae wiggling) ”

    This. I had a student who asked to review another movie than the one we watched in class . When I explained that her assignment would include a brief but intense scene of violence her response was ‘I don’t have a problem with violence. I just don’t like to watch movies with bad language and sex.’

    That is some fucked up shit.

    But, of course, you’re talking to a woman who walked out of Wanted and snuck in to see Kit Kitredge instead. A delightful movie!

  44. I listened to an interview with Mark Strong on BBC Five Live, and he talked about his fight scenes with Chloe Moretz. What caught me was he said there was a bit in the penultimate fight scene (I think) where she’s lying on the floor in front of him for a moment and the fight choreography called for him to stomp on her head. He refused to do it, and he went on to say the article that reported it implied he refused because it was a bridge too far, but that wasn’t the reason. He refused because he didn’t find it realistic, saying if a grown man stomped on the head of an eleven-year-old girl, she’d be dead. It literally made me sit back in my chair and think, “Huh,” and also, “he’s probably right.” And it also made me think he had a point, that having already spent hours and maybe days filming scenes where he’s beating the crap out of this little girl, it made no sense to refuse to do this one more thing because it was somehow worse than hitting her to begin with.

    Which is to say, even the bad guys agree with you. It’s not that he’s hitting an eleven-year-old girl, it’s that he’s hitting anyone.

  45. I’m surprised nobody has brought up the part where Kick-Ass’s friend is watching Hit Girl on TV and says he wants to be with her and he’ll wait for her. Hello, sexualizing.

  46. Kate, I sincerely hope that you have seen White Collar, because it has the most adorably charming con artist with a heart of gold. Who also looks awesome in a Devore suit.

  47. And apparently I forgot the rest of my comment, which was supposed to be something like “Thank you for this post; it has given me more to think about while I decide whether or not I’m going to see Kick-Ass, and it was definitely worth reading in its own right.”

  48. Kate, I sincerely hope that you have seen White Collar, because it has the most adorably charming con artist with a heart of gold. Who also looks awesome in a Devore suit.

    Oh, I was all over that the minute it hit Hulu. I sometimes wish the writing could be a bit tighter (among other things), but I really like both the leads (and of course love all the con stuff). And yeah, Matt Bomer is totally fucking dreamy, which doesn’t hurt.

  49. Bravo, Kate. On our post-movie trek homeward, I rattled off the list of uncomfortable things from this movie to my boyfriend, then had to backtrack and reassure him that I liked it. Because it was problematic. Needless to say, you articulate this way better than I did.

    I’ll quibble with you on one point, though: I *do* think HitGirl was sexualized. A lot of the accoutrements of her character (the lip gloss, the cussing, the snarly face, the pleather) have a high coincidence with sexy behavior. They’re sexy signifiers. And when she shows up at the gangster HQ rocking pigtails, pleats, and knee socks, I could have SWORN she was going to fake “child-prostitute” rather than “lost child” until she started talking.*

    But yes, she was sexualIZED. But her behavior wasn’t sexuAL. Which is what we expect from our brutally-murderous asskicking cinematic ladies, so it would surprise me. And give me another opportunity to realize “holy SHIT, she’s ELEVEN, that’s SO EFFED UP.”

    *I’m sure HitGirl’s dad taught her about sex work, pedophilia, etc., so it wouldn’t be out of character for her to choose that tactic. But it’d be a damn risky move for that movie, I think.

  50. Kate:
    I love this post. I really, really do. I agree with you basically entirely on this.

    See, the movie (regardless of the faithfulness to the comic book, which I cannot bring myself to care about even vaguely, because, just like Watchmen, I’d probably completely hate the comic) to me was just SO GOOD. I loved the whole thing. I’m pretty icked by excessive gore, although I find it easier to watch when it comes to comic-book-ridiculous-style.

    I liked Kick-Ass as a character, because I do identify with the invisible-to-everyone kind of vague-geek. I liked Red Mist, even though I was so, so angry at the end of the film (spoilers: where he becomes the bad guy. I know, the movie needed a villain and an option for a sequel by Hollywood rules, but I was so sad, because I really was hoping for redemption). I did not like Kick-Ass’ girlfriend, for so many reasons I can’t even begin to detail.

    I found Hit Girl awesome for so many reasons. First of all, she was a better character AND a better fighter AND mostly smarter than all of the guys AND other girls in the film. Gosh, I was so excited about that. She just one-upped them the entire time. She was sweet, but strong and ruthless at times, and she was talented and relentless and cared about her father and about what she believed was right. She was so mature for her age, but still had the kind of child-like innocence that she should have. Hit Girl is who I wanted to be at ages 10-13. I wanted to be that kind of awesome, ridiculous death machine. Fucked up, I know, but I did (this was BEFORE I read comics, even, and when my television was still restricted. I had an active imagination).

    What really pissed me off before and during the movie was this:
    When the trailers were first released, my ex-friends were all very distressed by the fact that a young girl was in the movie. They said it was pedophilic. I was like… um, she’s not sexualized. What’s wrong with a young female heroine? They referenced some strange Japanese show (I think) where the main stage act is someone who looks like Hit Girl, which I have no idea about, but it made me so angry. She’s just a kid – a real genuine kid with no real sexuality defined FOR her. Why is that so hard to believe?
    Then, during the movie, I experienced some incredible rage. At the scene where she’s leaving Kick-Ass’ room, she blows a kiss. A cute, young girl thing – something I did, something I think goes with the ideal character she was trying to put forth (a lot of the Hit Girl scenes felt to me like the character was playing a character, which was awesome and so appropriate because of how Big Daddy said he made it a game).
    During that scene, anyway, some people behind me were saying this:
    “That is SO wrong”
    “Ugh, gross”

    Why? Why is it wrong for a preteen to be a preteen? At her age, it’s expected and reasonable to do that sort of thing. I just didn’t GET IT, I guess.

    I also, admittedly, really liked the portrayal of the relationship between Hit Girl and Big Daddy. Yes, he brainwashed her and he was absolutely crazy, but he did love her, and she loved him very much. It’s such a fucked up relationship, it really is, but man, I felt like some of the scenes – especially Big Daddy’s final scene – were just so beautiful because of that.

  51. Oooh, I’ve been wanting and not wanting to wade into discussions about Kick-Ass. I’ve got so much to saaaaaay, but the Ebert review has left me hesitant to express too terribly much. (He’s Ebert! He generally knows what’s goin’ on!) I, too, had the “That was awesome! …and I’m kinda messed up for thinking so” reaction.

    Fiiiirst off, I watched the movie and didn’t view “Big Daddy” as any kind of sympathetic and likeable figure. He was a messed up and highly creepy dude. He was a man with PROBLEMS. Big all-caps type problems. It’s old hat to trot out the deconstruction of the superhero as “A Person With Some Issues”, but maaaaaaan. Issues. ISSUES. And that he would essentially brainwash his daughter into cheerfully becoming Hit-Girl is the neon lighting outlining the magazine rack that holds this dude’s issues.

    Hell, the whole movie comes down to “a bunch of messed-up dorks in costumes”, and it doesn’t surprise me that a bunch of dorks in costumes would boil down to this kind of thing. Dorks are not some protected and coddled class of folk, better than the mundanes. No sir, no no. (My rant about “Dorks, Nerds, and The Stupid Shit They Do” shall be saved for another time.)

    And Mark Millar sucks and is rotten and I can’t staaaaand to read anything he has written. It gives me a pain in the eyeball. A huge one. The boyfriend went and picked up the Kick-Ass graphic novel, and I could not read it. I could skim it, at arm’s length, with one eye squinching shut from the twitchy-pain that it tended to induce. If the movies these days need to learn how to tell a little more and show a little less, then Mark Millar needs to do the same thing. All racefail and genderfail aside, the guy needs to stop splattering his work with as much blood and profanity as possible. (The way the “comes out as not gay and girl reacts” plays out in the comic? Sure, it’s more realistic for her to be pissed off and kick him the hell out and not make with the sexytimes. It goes into WOO IT’S MARK MILLAR-LAND when the text follows it up with “so yeah she has 13 of her friends harassing me and some guy beat me up and she just sent me a picture of her sucking some guy’s dick”. Which is to say that neither way paints women in a great light.)

    …deeeeeep breath here, I’m coming back ’round to the issue at hand… Hit-Girl? I went into the movie planning on despising her character and her concept and the way she played out… and I like her. A lot. You hit the nail on the head, she isn’t sexualized, and her age is like some sort of anti-sexualization-ward. She’s just pure unadulterated ass-whuppery. She is the Asskicker-In-Chief. WOOT. (There is a part of me so starved for genuine female asskickery that I’m willing to suspend my analysis right there. Which is why you’re SO AWESOME for keeping right on going, Kate.)

  52. I *do* think HitGirl was sexualized. A lot of the accoutrements of her character (the lip gloss, the cussing, the snarly face, the pleather) have a high coincidence with sexy behavior. They’re sexy signifiers.

    I’ll quibble back. :) Of those accoutrements, only one (lip gloss) is intrinsically tied to female sexuality, I think, and it happens to be something a lot of girls much younger than 11 are allowed/encouraged to experiment with even when they’re not allowed near grown-up make-up. If she had on smoky eyeshadow and deep red lipstick, it would read much differently to me, but except for a bit of shine on the lips, her face looks pretty much naked. As for the pleather, it’s a jacket big enough to cover a bullet proof vest and zipped up to her neck, so there’s nothing that says “sexy” except arguably the material, and I mean, my couch is pleather. And it’s a superhero costume, so breathable natural fibers are not really the order of the day. And with it she wears flat boots and a skirt that’s not too short (even if it is also meant to evoke schoolgirl, which, more on that in a mo). I was actually really pleased with the costume, because for me, it hit all the right superhero notes without any overtly sexy notes.

    As for the snarl, well, that brings us back to how much violence is sexualized in this culture. Because if you’re (and I mean collective you, not you-you) reading this as sexy, that is ALL about what you’re projecting onto it, not what’s actually happening. You could make an argument, and I’d be interested in it, that violence (especially as it relates to women) is SO relentlessly sexualized that we’re all basically too brainwashed to separate the two anymore, which means that even a pre-pubescent girl snarling while she punches someone in the face is going to read “hot,” like it or not. But absent that argument, I’d take issue with characterizing a contemptuous snarl as intrinsically sexy.

    And when she shows up at the gangster HQ rocking pigtails, pleats, and knee socks, I could have SWORN she was going to fake “child-prostitute” rather than “lost child” until she started talking.*

    Again, I think that’s about how the culture has turned something totally non-sexual into a sexy signifier, not what was actually on screen. (And yes, one needs to be aware of those signifiers and how they’ll affect what you want to get across, but bear with me.) I actually liked her outfit there because it was so NOT sexy schoolgirl, in addition to the fact that no one ought to be looking at her as sexy, regardless of her outfit. To me, it was actually a subversion of the “sexy schoolgirl” trope because A) ACTUAL SCHOOLGIRL and B) the skirt wasn’t too short, the shirt wasn’t tight, the pigtails were a mess, and she looked totally miserable. So it’s the kind of thing where yes, cultural bullshit might give you a moment of thinking you’re supposed to find that sexy, but unless you are way more deeply fucked up than we all are just by living in this culture, you should then immediately think, “Wait, no, not sexy at all, and what the hell? Why did that even cross my mind? Am I really so brainwashed that the presence of a fucking kilt is enough to make me project adult female sexuality onto a disheveled child?”

    Maybe I have too much faith in the filmmakers, but I felt like that was one more conscious decision to challenge the audience to really look at what was there instead of just riding a wave of familiar symbols and having all the expected reactions. I mean, they could have put her in jeans and a T-shirt like a normal kid, but the fact is, a schoolgirl uniform is not only a cultural signifier of sexy, but of little girl. (Which is exactly why the sexy thing is so fucked up.) And I really loved what she did say in that scene, because it was right after her dad died, and she walks in with tears in her eyes and says, “I lost my mom and dad” — which, yes, it’s a ploy for sympathy, but also, she really has just been orphaned. And after watching her kick a hundred kinds of ass in costume, we shift to her looking as little girlish and vulnerable as possible, and even though we know it’s all an act and she’s on her way to lay waste to a bunch more bad guys, it’s a moment where you really have to confront the reality of what you’re watching. She just watched her father die, she’s alone in the world, she’s crying, and she is a child. It’s one of the many moments that made me go, “Wait, what the fuck am I watching FOR FUN here?” Which, as I said at length in the post, is a large part of why I liked it.

    So um, yeah, I read all that differently. :)

  53. This,

    “Fiction that’s just about how the world sucks and people are fucked up doesn’t do it for me, because I already have to live in the world, so you’re not giving me anything new here.”

    really articulates why I was so impatient with a lot of the books the public school system shoved down my throat growing up, and why I refuse to read/watch things that don’t leave me feeling at least somewhat uplifted. It’s something I’ve been trying to find words for for a long time (since I was so angry at the ending of That Was Then, This Is Now in 5th grade that I refused to read anything else by SE Hinton) so thank you for that.

    I’m probably going to see this movie this weekend, and am really looking foreward to hit girl in all her glory.

  54. Kate, my only objection to your response is your last line! I think we read it the same way, but I wasn’t expressing myself effectively. Yes yes yes, HitGirl’s sexual signifiers, such as they are, are meant to subvert a whole host of tropes, the most broad of which is the Lady Badass you discuss above.

    Reading back, it seems that I didn’t emphasize enough that I *liked* having my “holy crap, that’s fucked up” reaction. I like that the movie brings us face to face with the issues of age and sexuality and the sexualization of violence. And that it makes us wriggle uncomfortably in our seats. Society is messy and dark, y’all.

    (I think I’ve been reading long enough to have forgotten to introduce myself. Apologies. Hello!)

  55. Wow, I’ve read most of the comments and so far, no force on heaven or earth could convince me to see any of the movies mentioned here. I already thought Crank looked scummy, but a RAPE SCENE?! And it’s played off as a joke?! Holy shit!

  56. Kate, my only objection to your response is your last line! I think we read it the same way, but I wasn’t expressing myself effectively.

    Oh, ha, then I guess I just read you wrong! Hooray for agreement! And welcome to the comments.

  57. And now I’m all anxious about getting my ideas out. One more stab:

    What was I doing at 11? I was in 6th grade. In my head, I was VERY mature, and starting to maybe figure out what this whole sex thing was about (and awkward as all get-out, but that’s another story). I totally reject the idea that one day, boom, you hit an arbitrary age of sexual maturity and then you are allowed to be sexual. It’s a gradual set of realizations and discoveries (or, it ought to be).

    Bottom line? In no way am I suggesting that HitGirl was portrayed inappropriately, or inappropriately for someone her age. I’m saying it’s a razz to the audience, to the mainstream, super-protective-of-our-children’s-virginal-ears folks, that HitGirl is subversive as she is, and that she makes us uncomfortable and ask difficult questions.

    Thanks for the welcome. And boy, have I got a small-adorable-mammal video for you, the next time the discussion warrants it.

  58. If there are any women to speak of in the movie, then the focus is inevitably on how hot they are while kicking ass, how hot they are while getting their asses kicked, how hot they are while tied up and waiting to be assaulted by the bad guys/saved by the hero, etc. I do not happen to be sexually attracted to women, and I fucking hate that these are nearly always underdeveloped characters who exist only to further the hero’s story and whose most lovable demonstrated quality is, in fact, hotness, so I find it all incredibly tiresome and offensive, if basically inevitable, and to me, the mark of a really good SBUAALOPD movie is that there’s somewhat less of that than usual, either because the hot chick evinces a glimmer of personality or because the hero has some purpose other than rescuing her sweet ass.

    I wish this was shorter so I could put it on a t-shirt. I am sexually attracted to women, and it does not make this any less stabby making.

  59. I loved it. The movie, the review. I can honestly say that it’s not at all what I expected. However, I expected to go in and see some comedy similar to Super Bad, etc. When I got there, I didn’t get anything light and funny, I got cut off legs and serious ass kicking intensity!!! It was awesome. I will say that when she dropped the word cunts and motherfucker I was a bit surprised, and by her excessive violence. But I think it made the movie wonderful! Anyway, I can say that the only part I didn’t like, and it was a single line in the whole movie, was when the lead bad man, Frank D’Amico, said he wished he had a son like her, which to me implied that even though she’s totally badass, she’s not as valuable as a son would be based upon her gender. Which then makes me wonder if the writer thinks along those lines or if I’m assuming to much. But as a whole, I loved it. Perhaps I’m in love with it.

  60. Wow, you got that down right. i’ve seen the movie twice, and both times when hit-girl is getting ht shit kicked out of her, i had to do a double take, i mean she is a child but at the same time i’m sitting there thinking “she is a fucking killing machine, hell if she was after me i’d try to kick the shit out of her too.” so yeah, i completely agree with all of the above, great review!

  61. I wish I could find the damn interview, but this reminds me so much of an interview I read with Craig McCracken, creator of The Powerpuff Girls. It was back when the movie was coming out, and there was a lot of other ass-kicking women in pop culture at the time.

    And so he was asked something about how he thought The Powerpuff Girls fit in with Buffy and Alias and Lara Croft and the Charlie’s Angels reboot, and he pointed out that while yes, the Powerpuff Girls also featured female heroes, he didn’t see them as quite the same, seeing as how all those other heroines were also pretty heavily sexualized, and the Powerpuff Girls were not.

    It sounds like Hit Girl is in a similar vein, though obviously less cutesy and more stabby, so I’m a lot more inclined to give it a chance than I was. Thanks for helping me hop off the fence on whether to go see it!

  62. I also find it interesting that the new Karate Kid movie is coming in a couple months, featuring Jaden Smith (currently 11 years old), and while I am absolutely certain the level of violence will be a lot lower, based on both the current advertising and the original Karate Kid series, I’m sure it will be a heartwarming rite-of-passage movie.

    It’s an imperfect comparison, for sure, but I still find it interesting: 11yo boy learning how to kick butt = rite of passage = good. 11yo girl knowing how to kick ass and doing so = troubling and bad? I don’t have any fully formed thoughts on that, but… it’s something that I think bears further looking into.

  63. Apologies again to commenters who were stuck in the mod queue for a while.

    I’m surprised nobody has brought up the part where Kick-Ass’s friend is watching Hit Girl on TV and says he wants to be with her and he’ll wait for her. Hello, sexualizing.

    I did acknowledge that in the post, actually, but what I didn’t say is that I liked how they handled that, too. Because the kid is like, “Whoa, hot!” but the other kid is immediately like, “DUDE, SHE’S LIKE 11.” To me, that just highlighted the absurdity of the automatic “chicks kicking ass are hot” response.

  64. did acknowledge that in the post, actually, but what I didn’t say is that I liked how they handled that, too. Because the kid is like, “Whoa, hot!” but the other kid is immediately like, “DUDE, SHE’S LIKE 11.” To me, that just highlighted the absurdity of the automatic “chicks kicking ass are hot” response.

    This scene for me really highlighted how difficult it can be for men (of any age) to see a woman doing something they think is incredible/awesome and just ADMIRE her, instead of thinking about how to have sex with her.

  65. Frank D’Amico, said he wished he had a son like her, which to me implied that even though she’s totally badass, she’s not as valuable as a son would be based upon her gender.

    I read that less as a gender thing and more as Frank saying that his own son was a disappointment to him. (Which, now that I think about it, is rather telling, as Red Mist – I forget his real name – was pretty much the only person in the organization with any visible shred of empathy.)

  66. I read that less as a gender thing and more as Frank saying that his own son was a disappointment to him.

    That’s how I read it, too.

  67. I would like to have a coherent comment here, but the whole time I was watching it I was too distracted by the fact that the movie theatre the boys are leaving in one scene was the exact same theatre that I was sitting in, watching the movie. WHAT. Also Red Mist is totally the hottest person ever…the actor is my age IRL so I feel like that’s not creepy.

  68. It’s one of those movies I want to see, because I love a good critique, but I don’t think I can.

    I find watching movies about the destruction of childhood, or where that purposefully or accidentally makes up a central theme, to be too difficult. This is also why, from people’s descriptions of the film, I think I’d find it impossible to view her father as a bit noble, rather than horrific.

    I think we often have movies where themes are too triggering for suspension of disbelief to be able to be in play.

    But I’m glad to have read articles like this because not only is it and the resulting discussion interesting, but I am adequately forewarned.

  69. I love the conversation happening here. Just my tip for dealing with the violence, I find plugging my ears – since the music often is as much a part of as the visuals – and eyes (like I did with Kill Bill Vol I & II) tends to make things far more tolerable. I like seeing these flicks with my dad. He’s really great about telling me when squint and plug since he’s read every comic book in the world.

  70. Absolutely with plugging/shutting the ears and the eyes for me too. There have been many movies (usually those I wished in retrospect I hadn’t seen) where I’ve found the sound more disturbing than the visual.

  71. Awesome review! I’m SO with you on the idea that “wow, our culture is so effed up” (I paraphrase you, forgive me). It becomes clearer and clearer that there is no limit to the blood, gore and violence that we as a society will accept in movies and TV and whatever … But oh the humanity! when sex or (gasp) curse words are present/uttered, especially by females. Gag me.

  72. I always plug my ears – that’s what I did for the microwave scene and the finger lopping scene. You gotta do what you gotta do!

  73. “I did acknowledge that in the post, actually, but what I didn’t say is that I liked how they handled that, too. Because the kid is like, “Whoa, hot!” but the other kid is immediately like, “DUDE, SHE’S LIKE 11.” To me, that just highlighted the absurdity of the automatic “chicks kicking ass are hot” response.”

    Oops, sorry! I must have missed that part! I did like that, but the “I’ll wait for her” still reeked of Mary Kate and Ashley countdown-til-they’re-18 websites.

    “This scene for me really highlighted how difficult it can be for men (of any age) to see a woman doing something they think is incredible/awesome and just ADMIRE her, instead of thinking about how to have sex with her.”

    That is a fantastic way of putting it.

  74. The ever-awesome John Rogers has been mentioned upthread, and a character of his is who I thought of when I read this post.

    Ever watch Leverage?

    One of the characters is a leggy blonde named Parker.

    I have never seen a less sexualized character on a show, ever. In fact, it’s a part of her character. If in the course of a job she has to “play sexy” (the cast are an organization that runs short cons in order to get money for wronged parties), she sucks at it. She can’t do it.

    While the actress, Beth Riesgraf, is gorgeous, the character she plays simply doesn’t know how (or seemingly care) to be sexual.

    It’s really interesting to see on a mainstream television show.

  75. I agree with most of your points except one, Hit Girl was sexualized. When she wasn’t in costume, she did not display it, but once in costume, different story. Her voice got huskier, her attitude changed, there was a scene where she haughtily blows a kiss to another character. You might not have noticed it as such, but as a male, my spidey sense was tingling. It’s telling that a character in the film mentions that he thinks he loves her, and his buddy retorts that she looks 11. Many other guys I spoke to feel the same way, and I truly doubt the director was ignorant of the vibes he sent out with her character.

    There are two ways that I can interpret this. One, is that the director is somewhat of a sleazeball and sexualized her character for the same reason most directors sexualize female characters. Cheap titillation, even if it is an 11 year old girl. Maybe he didn’t even realize he was doing it, maybe its just standard. The second interpretation is that the director wanted Hit Girl to act how an 11 year old girl thought an ass kicking female superhero should act. How does the generic modern age female superheroes act, well, sexualized would be an understatement. If thats the case, if Hit Girl was Mindy Macready’s idea of what a superhero is, tough, sexy, sassy, thats pretty genius. If not, then the character was creepy and lame.

  76. Great review and great points made, which has me seriously thinking about seeing the movie. Sometimes I can handle cinematic violence; sometimes I can’t. I made it through Watchmen (largely because I read the graphic novel in college), so if I can handle that, I can probably handle this.

    As far as films featuring violence with young female heroines/anti-heroines, I thought I’d mention Peter Jackson’s 1994 film, Heavenly Creatures, starring a very young Kate Winslet and New Zealand actor Melanie Lynskey (currently on the general public’s radar as the character Rose on TV’s Two & a Half Men). The movie tells the true story of Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, two 14-year-old New Zealand school girls who met in the 1950s. They became close friends and developed their own fantasy worlds which they wrote about and acted out. Eventually both girls’ parents worried that their friendship was becoming unhealthy and there’s a suggestion that the relationship is possibly homosexual, which was considered a ‘mental illness’ in New Zealand in the ’50s. The parents decide to separate the girls and end their friendship, at which point Pauline hatches a plan to kill her mother and convinces Juliet to help her. Pauline’s anger comes from the fact that she believes her mother is keeping her away from Juliet and thinks their relationship is sexual, when Pauline sees it as only innocent.

    It’s been years since I’ve seen the movie, but from what I remember of it, neither girl is presented in a highly sexualized way, even at age 14. The hints of homosexuality are extremely veiled and unsexualized, since we’re mostly seeing the girls’ interactions through their eyes. Their time together is portrayed at very innocent, if obsessive in their desire to maintain contact with one another and not be apart. Admittedly, it’s not an action flick, but it *is* a movie with two teenage anti-heroines (of sorts) who are generally portrayed as highly sensitive, dreamy 14 year old girls and not much else. Admittedly, they become unhealthily obsessive about their non-sexualized friendship. But aside from the obsessive part, they’re generally typical young girls in the 1950s.

  77. Hey Kate, y’all. New to the blog. Fantastic to find a discussion at this level. This comment thread has hit me as hard as the film itself — really great thought-provoking stuff here.

    So I’m a straight male, and some of those Hit Girl moments did push the sexual response button for me. When the friend proclaims his love for her after watching her amazingly violent video, I felt it. (But not as strongly as I felt the other friend’s “dude, she’s like 11″ response of course — I do have a soul.)

    There’s a weird dynamic around tough females. We are hardly ever shown a tough female character without, at minimum, having a token “moment of feminine weakness” shoved down our throats in the same breath. Ever so slowly, we see portrayals that are at least more nuanced and better contextualized (from Red Sonja to Buffy to The Bride from Kill Bill), but the pattern of carefully displaying the contrasting uniquely-feminine weakness remains. I usually read this as a coded apology — specifically the filmmaker apologizing to the straight rich white men who fund their projects: “Sorry, Sir. The audience feedback clearly indicated they wanted her to show strength, but we did what we could to avoid presenting her as a real threat to your entrenched power.”

    I guess I should mention another thing about me. I spend a lot of my time thinking about power and about its exercise. Specifically I work with the youth organization in my church, giving adolescents a chance to wield power in their own lives and in church politics. And in the same church I teach a comprehensive sexuality education class to give young folks power in their own emerging sex lives.

    Sometimes this lets me facilitate and observe special moments, whose specialness revolves around the exercise of power. A 13-year-old girl learning to throw a worthwhile punch. A 16-year-old boy coming out as trans through slam poetry. A 19-year-old woman telling me that she stood up for someone weaker than her at a college party gone bad, inspired by a time I stood up for her. These are all about the exercise of power.

    And for good or ill, however effed up her situation and motivation, Hit Girl wields power, unflinchingly and effectively. And she does it in a credible way. Not that the outcomes she achieves are credible — yeah, she’d have been taken down somewhere in there, if only by a stray bullet. But the decision to act, and the confidence that she can make a difference by doing so, is a trait I wish were cultivated in every preteen girl.

    I guess that’s one point complete. I’ll stop this novel now.

  78. Here’s a link to the five-paragraph Wikipedia entry on the comic version of the narrative: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kick-Ass_%28comics%29#Synopsis

    In the comics, Hit Girl doesn’t get saved by Kick-Ass at the last second, she kills the crime boss herself.

    Big Daddy’s portrayal in the comics is that of a man twisted by his fantasies who abusively sculpts his young daughter into a monster, and repeatedly endangers her in order to fulfill these dark desires. He isn’t a man wronged who has empowered his daughter to defend herself against criminals, he’s a sick, violent version of Bronco Billy. Hit Girl is a symbol for the patriarchal abuse of innocent girls in the name of a twisted masculine fascination with extreme violence and bloodied glory.

    Kate, why did you choose not to read the five paragraph Wikipedia entry before proudly writing that you aren’t interested in the comic? Doesn’t the comic seem like it both portrays Hit Girl as a more physically empowered character, as well as a complex symbol of the destructive influence of stereotypical action-film masculinity?

    Ebert’s dislike of the film can be summed up pretty succinctly: he found the themes to be contradictory, leading to meaningless portrayals of extreme violence. If you understand the comic’s themes, and relate them to the movie adaptation’s themes, it becomes readily apparent that Ebert’s dissatisfaction is borne of the movie adaptation’s muddled representation of the origonal themes. I understand that there’s a lot of shitty reviewers out there decrying the violence by/toward minors in Kick-Ass for the sake of said violence alone, but such a refusal to engage the material needs not be dignified with a response.

  79. Oh, thirties girl, I *loved* that film – I saw it shortly after it came out, when I was just coming out of adolescence myself, and the intensity of that friendship so brought home what it was like at that age to have only one person who you felt ‘got’ you and could ever ‘get’ you, when you have no power over your life and the one thing you care about is being taken away – and you could understand why they’d do something desperate to protect it.

    I identified so strongly with those girls, and it made me realize, wow, in every other movie I’m in the position of identifying with the victim, which is usually kind of a passive thing, rather than the violence making you think about your own capacity for it in the right circumstances, and how much of that was being young and female, etc. In other words, the good kind of disturbing Kate takes about in the post, albeit in a very, very different context.

  80. There are a couple of pretty heavily sexual moments in Heavenly Creatures, but they are completely separate from the violence.

  81. Ever watch Leverage?

    Oh my, yes. (See above about my love for con artists.) And you’re right, I LOVE Parker in large part because of that. I also love that they made her character bad at performing femininity without giving her a bunch of stereotypically masculine traits to explain it — it would have been so easy to make her a cliche tomboy tough chick, but instead she’s just kind of socially awkward and intensely focused on what she does well.

    And hell, I just love the fact that she exists, because the easy/typical thing to do would have been to make it about a bunch of men with different personalities/roles and one woman whose primary asset is her sexuality. (I’m looking at you, “Hustle.” I love you anyway, but I’m looking.) “Leverage” has the female character who makes liberal use of her sexuality in cons, but also has ANOTHER female character with an entirely different skill set. Two women at the same time! With distinct personalities! And the cherry on top is that the younger, gorgeous blonde is the non-sexual one, while both actresses who’ve played the Hot Chick are over 40 (and no less gorgeous, natch, just less obvious choices) — which also means I don’t have to barf at their sexual tension with Timothy Hutton! (Granted, I’m 15 years younger than he is and have had a huge crush on him since I was about 13, but I still rejoice whenever I see a roughly age-appropriate pairing.) Man, I can’t wait for that show to come back.

    Um, anyway…

    ETA: Upon further reflection, I would add that I think Parker/Riesgraf is still sexualized in some fairly typical ways — when she is forced into a tiny bandage dress, or when she’s doing her cat burglar thing, the viewer is definitely invited to gawk at her body. But because the character isn’t written as The Hot Chick, they’re constantly undermining her hotness, which is still pretty awesome.

  82. how difficult it can be for men (of any age) to see a woman doing something they think is incredible/awesome and just ADMIRE her, instead of thinking about how to have sex with her.

    OMG YES. This is an absolutely infuriating feature of our culture. The whole “I’d do her” as not only a compliment, but as so obviously and self-evidently a compliment that nobody understands why it’s even a big deal that a woman’s accomplishments are being negated through such a comment. Hell, nobody even understands WHY IT IS NOT ON TOPIC to “compliment” a woman in this way.

    Thanks for this post, Kate. I am actually leaning less toward seeing the movie now (I feel like I have a clearer picture of it and it’s just not something I really need to see), but very much enjoying the analysis and comments.

    Regarding not-sexualized strong female characters: I have a couple to throw out there. 1) Chloe O’Brian on 24. 2) Janice on FlashForward. Now, neither portrayal is without problems (for example, Janice is a lesbian so you could say there are elements of stereotype in how she is portrayed… I think they do a good job of giving her a sexual and private emotional life as well as somehow managing to give her a fight scene with another woman IN A FOUNTAIN that to my eye was not sexualized/male-gaze directed at all) but I kind of think both are characters who are not asexual but whose sexuality or lack thereof is not the point of the portrayal. I mean, I’m sure there are men out there who find both of them attractive, but that is not because they are being spoonfed a character who reads “sexy” IMO.

  83. I liked the Kill Bill movies because the women were ass kicking, but not massively sexualised. Yes, maybe men felt they were sexy, but it was basically incidental and not too played on. Daryl Hannah’s finest hour too in my opinion.

  84. On the violence:

    Just so everyone understands my point of view, when I was but a wee child, my favorite shows to watch on Saturday morning were behind the scenes special effects shows. Which for the most part desensitized me to movie violence. I just think, “oh, that’s a squib,” “the icky sound of [insert violent act here] is a vegetable being chopped, stabbed, or broken,” and so on. Not saying there aren’t movies that still manage to make me queasy, but it takes a lot (Hostel for example…and anything dealing with eyeballs).

    I actually liked how the violence was handled overall. When the violence was being done by the bad guys it was either more gruesome (any time it was towards the heroes) or in a drawn out scene with a lot of suspense about what you were going to see, giving you time to sympathize with the victim. For those that covered their eyes, they cut to a wide shot from behind, with an agonizing scream, and a gross sound (probably made by celery) for the finger cutting, and the microwave/car crusher scenes were actually done fairly artfully for modern film, using splashes of fake blood to obscure, rather than showing it in excruciating detail.

    Now when the heroes where slaughtering villains, they reverted to quick cuts, moderate fake blood, and far less detail. With the addition of the background music in Hit Girl’s scenes, it often came off as comedic, or just plain awesome (“Bad Reputation” leads to automatic awesome in my book) making the good guys seem good while effectively causing more carnage than the bad guys. Which, to me, means that the violence was effective and well done.

  85. I’m very mixed on violent films. Sometimes I’m completely ok with it and can see it as even funny, but then at other times, my inner Lama comes out and I find myself concerned – not for the effect it has on me, but for the effect that it has on people less exposed to more positive elements to balance things out. I saw “Law Abiding Citizen” recently, and for me that was mainly a sicko fest, dressed up as a “Moral Tale.” Absolutely cobblers to call it anything other than an excuse to saw various bits off basically….in my opinion.

  86. @DaniFae When it comes to violent movies, I am the wimpiest wimp who ever wimped. I work in theater and I have whipped up a great deal of fake blood in my time, but I *still* can’t deal. I spend most fight scenes huddled into the crook of my own arm.

    Even live shows! I saw a play recently in which two men were drunkenly threatening each other with guns. “Oh god,” I thought, “they are going to blow each other’s heads off.” Nevermind that they *couldn’t* achieve that kind of gore live onstage, with the kind of equipment they were using — I was bracing myself to cover my eyes at the first gunshot. I am a dream audience member, I guess? My disbelief is painfully easy to suspend.

  87. correction to something I wrote a few days ago:
    Another is Sanaa Lathan in Terminator vs. Predator.
    That should have read: Alien vs. Predator.

  88. Kate and all the commenters, this is a great thread. Really fascinating stuff. I don’t go to movies, but I do love reading about them. I don’t go partly for a reason touched on by this post… not the violence, but the friggin constant disconnect between the people who make the movies and the folks that write the ad copy. Do these people ever even talk to one another? Have the people who write the ads even seen the movies? If the marketing department thought that making Kick-ass another SuperBad would be a big seller, then why, for fuck’s sake, didn’t the studio make that movie? And if they thought that Watchmen style violence was what would make a great movie, then why don’t they advertise that?

    Obviously, as Kate suggests reading reviews is the best way to know what you’re in for, but for me it takes a lot of the fun out of watching a movie. I like the first viewing of a movie to be between me and the people that made it. I really prefer not to have someone else’s take on the film in my head at that point (though I love love love reading them after the fact and then watching again with the new perspective in mind). Sadly, that quirk coupled with a deep hatred of the Hollywood bait and switch made my movie going experiences so annoying that I just stopped going to theaters at all about 25 years ago. Oh well. At least I can still read about movies even if I won’t see them for ages.

  89. Oh my, yes. (See above about my love for con artists.) And you’re right, I LOVE Parker in large part because of that. I also love that they made her character bad at performing femininity without giving her a bunch of stereotypically masculine traits to explain it — it would have been so easy to make her a cliche tomboy tough chick, but instead she’s just kind of socially awkward and intensely focused on what she does well.

    Ha. Most of my female friends are cut of the Parker cloth. I love that character too!

  90. I love Leverage! And oh my gosh, I love Parker SFM. I love the way she just comes at everything sideways and the way the gang has pretty much given up gawking at her because she’s Parker and that’s the way she is. And — I apologize — I think it’s darling that Hardison has kind of a thing for her, even though I know we were just talking about how she’s not sexualized. I might be wrong about this, though, but I keep getting the feeling he likes her because she’s Parker, and not because she’s blonde and skinny. I mean, he thinks she’s beautiful, but he thinks she’s beautiful regardless of whether she’s managing to “do” femininity. It’s what I loved about Willow and Oz from Buffy: Oz liked Willow because she was Willow, despite the fact that she was nerdy and, to quote Cordy, shopped “the softer side of Sears.” He may have even liked her because she was nerdy.

    It’s funny, but I never realize how desperately I crave to see relationships like this until I see them and realize how rare they are.

  91. You know, it was kind of disappointing to read this article and realize that a lot of the females I like from action movies ARE hyper-sexualized, in spite of their coolness. However, there are some who aren’t so bad in sci-fi TV shows; I’m thinking, in particular, of Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica. She’s tough without being “masculine” and doesn’t get stuck with too many gratuitous cleavage shots. There’s one scene that I can think of where she fights a more traditionally hot woman, but instead of falling into the obvious “catfight lol” trope, the fighting looks cold and deadly–action movie guy stuff. I don’t know if this is a fluke, or maybe a ray of hope for adult women in the Stuff Explodes genre…?

  92. I feel embarrassed. I have never seen Leverage despite the fact that my dad has been on it several times (in background scenes). It’s filmed in my town. I will have to Netflix it.

  93. @hsophia, that’s so cool! I’ve always wondered how all those folks in the background end up getting there. In a period piece, it’s clear they are hired and costumed extras, but when the scene is a city street circa 2000-ish, I always wonder who they are and how they ended up on that piece of film.

  94. @Cassi – I don’t know if they always hire extras for the exterior scenes, but he’s been in several scenes on sets that were created specifically for the show. My favorite of his anecdotes about working is when he mentioned – about a year after the fact – that he’d been in a scene in Into the Wild. And I excitedly asked him if he saw Sean Penn (one of my favorite actors), and all he had to say was, “Yeah. Real little guy. Real little.” Dads!

  95. Oh man, I loved Kick Ass SO MUCH, mainly because Hit Girl is SO FREAKING AWESOME. A couple of thoughts:

    re: the pretending to be gay trope. I mostly agree that her reaction sucked, BUT I felt it seemed to make sense for two reasons: 1) she was presented as having pretty poor taste in men – her ex was a violent drug dealer, right? so for all the going-along-with-her-thinking-he-was-gay, Dave was kind of a vast improvement on that and 2)when I was her age I had a lot of crushes on gay friends, if any of them had told me he was actually pretending because I was so awesome and he wanted to get close to me I would have reacted exactly the same way (I might’ve been angry later, once I’d thought about the lying bastard element). Teenagers: often not so smart.

    Also, re: Dave’s friend’s reaction to Hit Girl – I think it’s worth pointing out that his reaction was not OMG HOT/SEXY but “I think I love her!” which, to me, meant “OMG SHE IS SO AWESOME!!!” and, well, he’s right. Frankly, I walked out of that film in a very heroine-worshippy frame of mind. It didn’t read as sexualised to me at all (which I thought was reinforced by the whole “I’ll wait” thing, myself – if he was reacting to some nascent hotness then I don’t think he’d have been talking in terms of starcrossed lovers type thing).

  96. Dave was kind of a vast improvement on that [forgot to finish my thought] as he is basically a decent sort of chap, but at the same time she’s not suddenly Redeemed And Into Good Guys, she’s still essentially handwaving some fairly messed up stuff, i.e. the lying and abuse of trust things. I’m not saying it was a good choice, but it made sense in the context of her character.

  97. Wow, now *that* was a movie review! You gave me an awful lot to wrap my head around. I saw the movie last night, and its appeal to me was not that it was a SBUAALOPD movie, but rather the whole angle of the disastrous collision between comic-book fantasy and harsh, gritty real life on the streets. I agree that Hit Girl was the real action hero, but Kick Ass (Dave) was a necessary foil for her as the vulnerable everyguy unremarkable teenage boy exactly because Hit Girl was so disturbing and implausible. And yeah, I thought he was damn cute (I’m a homosexual man, so I hope that cuts me some slack with regard to being a hopelessly shallow git).

    Off-topic: Am I the only one who noticed that Red Mist (Chris) seemed to have developed something of a dude-crush (my self-inaugurated word for a straight-up, old-fashioned “I want to jump your bones” crush disguising itself as a socially-acceptable “man-crush”) on Dave? Well, I don’t blame him. It’s a good thing that Chris’s father’s goons didn’t succeed in burning Kick Ass alive because watching that probably would have left Chris waaay more fucked up than he already was, which being the son of a brutal, ruthless mobster was already waaay too much!

  98. A dude-crush (my self-inaugurated word for a straight-up, old-fashioned “I want to jump your bones” crush disguising itself as a socially-acceptable “man-crush”).

    We must popularise this word. I like it.

    TRiG.

  99. Hmmmm. I find your defense of her being rescued twice at the end intriguing. She was also rescued by her dad in Razuls apartment as well. Personally I found the fact that she had to be assisted or rescued twice by kick ass who was a useless twat in terms of fighting throughout the movie to be frustrating. She was the superior combatant and had a fucking armada of weapons at her disposal, yet for the two biggest fights kick ass the twerp saves her ass. I meh’ed but was interested to read your defense of why not to be meh about it.

    Interesting review.

    <3

  100. I love this post and am printing it so I can hold a copy in my hands and read it all the time.

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