The guy sitting next to me hated Kick Ass. He made sure everyone around him knew how much he hated it. By the time the movie ended, I wanted to throw my drink at him. I get it, dude. You don’t like the movie. But I do, so shut the fuck up and let me enjoy it.
Kick Ass created that sort of polarity in audiences, though. Though the reviews were generally positive, there was vocal protest over the profanity and violence in the film. Mostly this was due to Hit Girl (played by thirteen-year-old (500) Days of Summer actress Chloe Grace Moretz), an eleven-year-old superhero/assassin who spews foul words and bullets with wild abandon. One minute pig-tailed and princess-shirted, the next getting shot by her father Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage, in a rare energized performance) so she can learn to take a bullet, Hit Girl is a little discomfiting, but then, she’s supposed to be. Hit Girl sacrifices her childhood to seek revenge against the drug dealer who ruined her family. And you know what? That’s every kid’s fantasy. Maybe not the ninja-assassin/drug dealer part, but to have the power to control your world and dish out justice to those who wrong you. Why do you think comic books and fantasy stories are so popular with kids? Because it’s all about having the power to take care of yourself, and when you’re a child subject to the whims of every adult around you, all you want to do is blast apart any adult who tells you “no” with lightning bolts from your fingertips.
Kick Ass was not targeted to kids, though. It was rated R, and nothing about the ad campaign said, “Fun for the whole family!” In fact, Lionsgate centered their entire media plan around a “look how wrong this movie is” tactic. And when I went to see it in prime Saturday night movie-going hours, the theater was packed full, but I didn’t see any children. There were some high school kids, probably 17-18 years old, but no one younger than that. So no, I didn’t see this movie ruining our nation’s youth. Yes, it was violent. Blood splattered everywhere, not unlike a video game or the comic book upon which the movie was based. And sure, there was some bad language (while there was profanity, it wasn’t nearly as rampant as you would see in, say, a Martin Scorsese film). The majority of the rude language and violence is generated by Hit Girl, and that’s the problem. People are still wigged out by girls occupying the sort of roles generally reserved for male characters. If it were Hit Boy and the character was a rampaging tween boy, people would say, “Superbad but for comic book movies!”
The titular character Kick Ass is the alter ego of Dave (newbie Brit Aaron Johnson), a mopey high-schooler who is largely invisible to his peers, and the object of his affections mistakenly thinks he’s gay. Dave spends his free time in a comic book/coffee shop, wondering aloud why no one has ever tried to be a superhero. “Because you would get killed immediately,” is the answer his friends give back. But Dave tries anyway, ordering a wet suit off the internet and dressing up to fight crime. As Kick Ass, Dave is a pretty poor superhero. He gets stabbed, hit by a car, and the one time he does fend off some muggers, he gets his own ass kicked pretty hard. Hit Girl and Big Daddy have to bail Kick Ass out of a jam pretty much every time he goes outside. Dave/Kick Ass kinda gets his superhero act together toward the end, but only because Hit Girl and Big Daddy have concocted a solid plan and equip Kick Ass with the biggest guns in the room. The major body count belongs to Hit Girl, though. She does most of the damage, and if anyone needs rescuing, she’s swooping in with an array of weaponry and her ninja fighting skillz. The movie paints Hit Girl as an active participant in her own psychotic behavior. She smiles and giggles as she kills, exhorting the bad guys (literally, except for one character, Hit Girl kills men across the board) to bring it. Moretz plays Hit Girl as having real enjoyment in her actions. Where Kick Ass can’t run away from a fight fast enough, Hit Girl throws herself into the fray with glee.
As I looked around me Saturday night, the people enjoying the hell out of Kick Ass were people like me—casual comic book fans well-read enough to get the in jokes and self-reflexive references, and superhero movie lovers who recognized riffs on the recent Spiderman and Batman franchises. If you laughed during Kick Ass, you’re probably someone who has played Grand Theft Auto, run up your kill tally, then gone out only to realize you’re driving like a complete asshole because you’re still in GTA mode, and laughed about it. Kick Ass is my generation’s movie. It answers the ultimate question we have all asked ourselves, “Wait…why couldn’t I be a superhero?”
And Kick Ass, despite its gleeful violence and hipster witticisms, gives a pretty solid answer. Because in order to be a superhero, you have to give up everything worth having in life. Hit Girl is a fucking awesome superhero. But she has nothing. She doesn’t go to school, she has no friends, and she’s been indoctrinated to want a balisong knife for her birthday instead of a puppy. The only thing she has is her father, Big Daddy, who of course becomes a victim in the superhero/villain violence cycle. To the movie’s credit, they build up the Hit Girl/Big Daddy relationship so well that when Big Daddy does die, you really feel it. I was sad. It mattered to the audience that he died. In the midst of the blood and the brain matter and the C-word, Kick Ass has a big heart. And Hit Girl is a pretty cool…well not “role model” but perhaps an archetype of a new kind of female hero. She’s a strong girl unafraid of being different who stands up for herself. That’s a pretty good message for girls these days. Would I want my daughter cursing like Hit Girl does? No. Would I want my daughter to be brave and strong enough to stand up to bullies? Of course. And if I had to choose between spoon-feeding my daughter that Jennifer Aniston, “must have a man or I can’t be happy” crap or Hit Girl’s “I may be rough around the edges but I can take care of myself” message, I’ll go with Hit Girl every time.
No, Kick Ass isn’t for everyone. But it was for me. And I loved every motherfucking second of it.