TCW - Culture, Dining & Nightlife

The Context of Hit Girl

Over the past one hundred and fifteen years, we have watched little girls be tortured, manipulated, raped, murdered, victimized, kidnapped, and sexualized for our own benefit. There's no easier way to arouse sympathy than to hurt a child, especially a girl child, and filmmakers constantly prey on that emotional panic button. Though women have made enormous strides towards equality since cinema began, the representation of feminine youth on screen is still stuck in the stone ages. For every positive character like Jeliza-Rose (Tideland) and Violet (Pretty Baby) we encounter, we're counteracted with dozens of simpering, whiny victims who would rather scream for help than fight back.

It's about time someone changed that.

 
(Warning: This is a red band trailer, which means it contains graphic violence, cursing, and awesomeness)

In Kick-Ass, which truthfully is a rather problematic film chockfull of homophobia, bad writing, and idiotic characters, a little girl named Mindy Macready (Chloe Moretz) established herself as the DIY super hero known as Hit Girl. Mindy, alongside her super father a.k.a. Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), fight crime together with a bloody passion and sense of professionalism that would make Beatrix Kiddo (Kill Bill series) or any of Michael Mann's law pushers jealous. However, with no Hanzo sword or Tommy gun at her disposal, Hit Girl relies on a variety of nifty weapons like handguns, butterfly knives, and even bayonets to carry out her mission. With no hesitancy whatsoever, Hit Girl kills, maims, and destroys her opponents with a youthful zest, great action movie one-liners, and a cute pink utility belt. In my eyes, she's one of the first powerful female characters we've seen on screen in many years and I'm delighted to see her quickly developing into an icon.

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However, not everyone is as happy about her arrival as I am. Certain critics (mostly of the older white male variety) and audience members (ditto) disapprove of this eleven year old crime fighter because of her foul mouth, professional approach to slaying the bad guys, and you know, because she's a little girl and little girls are supposed to be victims, not victors. While I don't necessarily want to tell those people to go to hell, I do want to pose some questions for them: Would you be upset if Hit Girl was Hit Boy? Do you really think the violence Hit Girl inflicts is any worse than what you'll see in an average Jason Statham, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Sylvester Stallone vehicle? I don't think so. I think people are upset because  she out-heroes our go-to guys.

While I understand that screenwriters generally need to make characters well-rounded by giving them problems, conflicts, personality quirks, and whatever else for narrative purposes, this is usually the area they screw up in the most for women on screen. Forgive me for this simplification, but when mainstream filmmakers decide what is most important in a female character's life, they usually assume it's her family or her desire for a spouse or something of that nature. She's rarely depicted as a full fledged confident person because that's, apparently, not very interesting storytelling. One of the biggest reasons people love watching action movies is because it usually involves a hero, perhaps a reluctant one, who consistently triumphs and overcomes every obstacle. They're also smart, self-assured, often funny, and always have a love interest waiting on the sidelines. It's very attractive to watch someone who excels at what they do. The sad truth is women are rarely allowed to be experts in anything on screen unless it involves domestic duties. If she is great at what she does outside the home, she's often cited as a workaholic bitch in need of a good man or, at the very least, a good lay. You just need to watch the films of Katherine Heigl or see The Proposal and The Devil Wears Prada to see that for yourself.

Through its vast irresponsibility, Kick-Ass has somehow managed to cut through all of that BS for its central leading lady. As an eleven year old, Hit Girl isn't expected to be performing domestic duties yet and the filmmakers have gone to great lengths to make sure she isn't blatantly sexualized. With all of that out of the way, Hit Girl is just allowed to be herself - a well-trained bad ass who practically glows with authority. I know it's not realistic, but her lack of hesitancy and heck, even a real conscience, is completely refreshing after enduring nearly ten years of bumbling, awkward super hero geeks who don't fit into society and just want to impress that special girl. I know people like to identify with narratives and central characters and all that, but I'd rather watch a professional work than realize I've been broken up with in the same way as Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City.

Watching Hit Girl perform is like watching an all star athlete or a great chef in the kitchen; you might not normally appreciate what they're doing, but actually watching a master perform their art is a unique experience that you can't help but be invested in. Hit Girl's talent for killing bad guys makes her not only an expert in her field, but also one of cinema's few female characters who is meant to be admired for being stronger, braver, and more heroic than the male characters around her.  

I'll be honest in saying that cinematic violence really doesn't bother me at all. In fact, I love it. I love horror movies, action movies, and watching a gun battle and/or things explode is delightful. If violence bothers you, then you probably shouldn't watch Kick-Ass despite its truly awesome female character. What does bother me is the rest of Kick-Ass. The actual central character, Kick-Ass himself, is the epitome of that certain bumbling geek and hearing about his jerk off sessions and watching him pretend to be gay is intolerable. It's amazing how progressive the movie is when Hit Girl is on screen and how regressive it is when she's not. As terrible as the rest of the movie is, the film's gravest mistake was making him the lead instead of a supporting character. I know it's based on a comic book about him, but Hit Girl clearly owns the movie. She owns it so much, in fact, that the filmmakers obviously took serious measures to try and make him more appealing by crosscutting their fight scenes (perhaps hoping that some of her awesome would rub off on him?) and seriously compromising Hit Girl's reputation by unbelievably making her a damsel in distress at the climax of the movie. It's not fair or realistic, but what can you expect from a movie as feckless as Kick-Ass? Then again, if a different, perhaps better filmmaker had directed it, we might not have the same Hit Girl we have now. For as vile as it is, Kick-Ass' problematic plot has delivered one of the most daring, unique female roles of the twenty-first century and I'm just happy to have her around.


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2 Comments

Nagle said:

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Hit Girl is no damsel in distress. She plans for backup in a fight and has it ready when needed. "Kick-Ass" is there when she needs him because she told him to be: "So shut up and pick your weapon". She's the boss. He's the sidekick.

Sara Freeman said:

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*Spoiler alert*

Hit Girl is clearly not a damsel in distress throughout the majority of the movie, but I'm talking about the very end of the movie where D'Amico has somehow managed to beat her up even though he's just a mafia boss who studied martial arts. She's laying there defenseless (which I don't think she would have really done, but whatever) and Kick-Ass steals her glory moment by blowing him up. He didn't even know the gravity of the situation between D'Amico and the Macready's and it's not fair that the filmmakers felt he should have the final hurrah to make up for his stupidity. It's his fault that everything bad happened because he lacks the super hero professionalism, discipline, and honor.

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