Hit Girl, and why film reviewers should stick to what they know

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Last week, I had a bit of a night out with a bunch of friends. All male, all film-makers, all nerds (and I mean that as a compliment). A few beers, a bite to eat and a movie. There was only one choice of film with that crowd, really. It had to be Kick-Ass.

Now, I will admit to a slight feeling of unease going into the Vue West End for this one. I’m not the biggest fan of Mark Millar. I find his work simplistic and derivative. And Matthew Vaughn made a bit of a hash of Stardust, dazzled by a big budget and Hollywood starfuckerage. But I’d had a couple of beers, and I was feeling accommodating.

I had a really good time. It was fun, silly, gory, sweary no-brakes nonsense, and I laughed more in the cinema than I have since subjecting myself to Emmerich’s godawful 2012. The comics references were spot on, the fight scenes just on the right side of wire-fu overload, and Nicolas Cage was a delight as he channeled Adam West’s 1960’s Batman.

But the absolute star of the piece is Chloe Moretz as Hitgirl. She oozes confident nonchalance throughout, curling her lip with aplomb at every curseword. She still comes across as a kid, but not one that has been damaged in any way by the manner in which her dad has brought her up. Frankly, seeing an 11 year old girl on the screen that isn’t interested in Barbies or makeup makes a refreshing change.

Of course, certain members of the press have glommed onto the fact that Hitgirl dresses up in a short skirt and throws c-words around like shiruken, and began shrieking that the end times have come. Christopher Tooky in the Daily Fail loses the plot completely, throwing teenage pregnancy stats into the mix, before stating

The film-makers are sure to argue that there’s nothing wrong with breaking down taboos of taste – but there are often good reasons for taboos.

Do we really want to live, for instance, in a culture when the torture and killing of a James Bulger or Damilola Taylor is re-enacted by child actors for laughs?

…which is, of course a typical Mail tactic. Take an argument and then immediately present the worst possible scenario as the next logical step.

It’s telling that the Mail website has closed the comment thread on Tookey’s review. As the Bleeding Cool forum notes, every single comment blasted the critic for his over-reaction. Kinda cheering, considering that it was pretty obvious that the Mail would have it in for the movie – or rather it’s writer, Jane Goldman, wife of Mail bete noir Johnathon Ross.

Meanwhile, over at the New York Times, Manohla Dargis also manages to find the wrong end of the stick with both hands. Calling Mark Strong’s mob boss a “supervillain” is a bit of a head-desker, but I can let that go. However, she can’t resist the icky angle either, claiming

Tucked inside this flick is a relationship as kinky and potentially resonant as that between Lolita and Humbert Humbert…

*wince* Well… no. Not unless she was watching a whole different cut to the one I saw. While Manohla has at least sussed that Kick-Ass is at heart a satire of superhero movies, she hasn’t cottoned on to the fact that Hitgirl is the latest in a looong line of kid sidekicks. Robin is the obvious example, and notably in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight incarnation, the cape and pixie boots were worn by a girl.

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Sidekicks are typically wounded characters, and will frequently suffer at the expense of the main character. Green Arrow’s ward Speedy famously ended up on drugs (the clue was kinda in the name he chose) and the Jason Todd incarnation of Robin was killed off by popular demand. Rick Veitch’s Brat Pack goes even further, making a group of sidekicks both stooges and over-worked helpmeets to their headliners, and the victims of a superpowered serial killer. 9B5AE7E2-4DC2-4803-9305-30C800D73E56.jpg

Hitgirl’s character path tightly knits into the rites of passage that every sidekick undergoes. The tragic loss of a family. The extensive training, interspersed with the fatherly urging of the superhero in charge that she’ll never quite be good enough, that she keeps making schoolgirl errors. By having her break free from this towards the end, by having a (kinda) normal life with a new family, she breaks the dysfunctional chain that would always see characters like Dick Grayson unable to forsake the cape.

It’s the fact that she can rise above that training, use what’s appropriate and discard the unhealthy bits that makes Hitgirl such a powerful character. She’s no role model, but no-one’s claiming that she should be.

The last word, though, should come from Hitgirl herself… or rather, Chloe. In an interview with MTV, she comes across as likeable, grounded and totally cool about the whole situation – unlike the critics, who don’t seem to be able to see past the fight scenes and swearing. Swearing that, as Chloe herself points out, would have her grounded until she was twenty if she dared to try.

Chloe, the commentators of Mail Online and just about every other person with at least two brain cells to bang together should be able to see that Kick-Ass is broad satire with a few wry points to make about the state of the comics, and indeed the comics movie scene. Claiming it as a symptom of some greater malaise is not so much missing the point as running past it blindfolded while whooping and waving your arms about. Apart from an uptick in purple wig and mask sales, I can’t see the Hitgirl phenomenon hitting the streets in any major form.

Although if it helps to drop the instances of playground bullying – I’m all for it.

Oh, Chloe’s on Twitter as well. @ChloeGMoretz. Keep an eye on this kid. She’s gonna be something.

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Published by

Rob

Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

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