Righteous Vengeance Demands Righteous Violence
I’ve been meaning to see this film for weeks but it’s just stayed elusive for some silly reasons. Well, I’ve watched it now and I’m a satisfied customer thank you very much.
What’s Good About It
There are many things good about this film, but if there is one thing that deserves to be singled out as particularly good, it is the remorseless manner in which extreme violence is meted out by a 11 year old girl in a mask. I know there are critics out there who are appalled by Hit Girl, but she is the best thing in this film.
It’s also so extreme, it is pissing off people it sets out to piss off, and there is something delightful about that too. With each punch and stab and kick and shot to the head, you feel the wowser critics are copping it to the part of their brains that just can’t handle this spectacle. In that way, it’s very punk.
I loved the opening titles which was a straight lift from the 1978 ‘Superman’. The opening scene where a deranged guy in a costume plunges to his death thinking he can fly is such a sly comment about one of the urban myths about George Reeves’s deaths – that he was on LSD and thought he could fly and leapt out a window. The film is full of pop culture and comic book references that leave you in stitches. I was shedding tears as I laughed so much.
What’s Bad About It
It’s not terribly thematically deep – and it’s not meant to be – but considering how ‘Defendor’ worked this material, it comes off second best by a long shot. Nevertheless the good thing is that such a fault is not really a blemish. The film is damn fine entertainment and asking for thematic depth is like asking for a Tetsuyas dish at McDonalds. Or nuance from a newspaper review. It has one theme – comic books – and works it beautifully.
I guess it’s not much of a complaint, really. More like a casual observation. It’s actually nice to see a film with not too much ethical consideration and minimal moral depth that is exciting, fun and bone-crunchingly intense.
What’s Interesting About It
The controversy over Mindy McCready and her foul-mouthed crime-fighting ways, is actually a little curious. Have a read of this line for instance:
But Australian movie critic Andrew L. Urban said publicity material and the film trailer could give parents the reasonable expectation Kick-Ass was a frivolous teenage comedy.
Instead it ”failed to recognise the line between black humour and sadism”, with scenes of carnage and massacre played for laughs, and had no moral framework.
”If I was a parent of a 12-year-old who took them to see this film I would be incredibly annoyed and upset,” he said.
Got that? No moral framework. Did he just watch the film we saw? Last I looked, the film was pretty solidly normative in its ‘moral’ outlook. Goody guys (and little girls) are allowed to exact vengeance upon the evil in any which manner they see fit.
Here’s another line, this time from Sandra Hall.
Once again, the action is beyond belief. The heavy artillery includes a bazooka and the choreography reaches such a level of violence that it would be anatomically impossible for anybody to get out alive if the laws of the real world were in play. It’s ridiculous and the fact there’s an 11-year-old behind Hit Girl’s mask is supposed to make it even more ridiculous. But in me it produced a weird sense of disorientation. I felt as I did when Jack Bauer and his good guys were licensed to use torture in the early episodes of the TV series 24. On the surface, there’s no comparison between Bauer and Hit Girl but they do have a couple of things in common. Both are signalling a shift in the moral compass by which mainstream pop culture sets its course and both make me feel very queasy.
I simply doubt there’s any such shift in the moral compass by the mainstream pop culture. Likening it to Jack Bauer and ’24’ is simply an attempt to hang the pro-violence politics of ’24’ on to ‘Kick Ass’ when ‘Kick Ass’ is so obviously ironic (from title down to character concept and costumes), is disingenuous and an underhanded attempt to link it to something that actually is morally questionable. It’s Sandra Hall’s own business getting queasy with both but they are by and far not the same thing.
I don’t really have much sympathy for people who are put off by strong art. If you’re likely to be put off by strong art, then don’t hang around places that might have it. I like my art strong, and this creation of Mindy McCready/Hit Girl is terrifyingly powerful. In years to come I imagine Chloe Moretz won’t be living this down any more than Jodie Foster or Gary Coleman. Who knows what it will do to her, but this creation is something immortal. 20 years on, we will be talking about Hit Girl the way we talk about Batman.
What is probably more immediately disturbing about the film is Nick Cage’s character Damon McCready who hothouses this girl into being an assassin. Vengeance is one of the most powerful story engines for violent tracts, and inculcating a character with such repressed fury as Damon McCready does with his daughter is at once hilarious and scary. Not many of the critics of the film seem to be picking up on this angle, possibly because they’re the sorts of people who would be hothouse parents themselves. For there to be a Chloe Moretz to play Mindy, there must have been a stage-mom hot-housing the young actress – and nobody seems to mention the parallels between that and the story.
I’m not saying Hot-house parenting is wrong. It depends on which way you develop your kids. You see some amazing musical talent on YouTube where 4 year olds are playing Mozart sonatas and 9 year olds are playing live with Ozzy Osbourne. Yet it seems at least half appropriate that if people are going to complain about a Mindy McCready, they at least look at the issue of Hot-house parenting.
In turn, a fictional character like Mindy McCready really isn’t a problem in the world when compared to the recent incident where a Tasmanian mother sent out her 12 year old daughter to be a prostitute. That’s a deplorable story and I can guarantee you that it didn’t happen because the mother was into edgy fiction.
Vengeance And Retributive Violence
As important as vengeance and retribution might be in fiction, this film is actually quite ironic and light-hearted about the notion. It is also very hip about the rhetoric surrounding power and violence, especially when one of this film’s fine quips is “With no strength comes no responsibility”. The line exposes the fact that one’s strength and power actually is not tethered to social responsibility except by the character’s free choice.
This idea is repeated several times at the beginning where David explicitly explains that he himself has no vengeance and retribution text to propel him into the world of masked crime-fighting. Even the very macabre opening where some disturbed Armenian dressed as a superhero plunges to death in his costume serves to show the gap between appearance and reality. In a sense they do away with the moral polemics of hero action early on. Thank you for playing Mr. Shakespeare, and so much for Hamlet-like consideration. This film is firmly in Fortinbras’ corner. Don your Nikes and just go for it, boys and girls.
The film also goes to illustrate the point that it is not the Law that keeps society in the shape that it has, but because of the power structures within the society. The Law is simply a byproduct of the power structure. Retributive violence therefore is a byproduct of the injustices the exercise of power brings. For a film that likes to just zip along and tell a yarn, it actually has a Macchiavellian view of the city. In that sense, it’s realpolitik at least is intellectually honest.
You’d think they were selling The Prince to little children.
There Goes Mark Strong Again!
He plays such great baddies. Just once I’d love to see him play a goodie. Like a particularly hard-nosed detective or an embittered spy doing the one noble thing. He’s got such a great screen presence playing bad guys in ‘Rock’n’Rolla’ ‘Sherlock Holmes’, ‘Robin Hood’ and ‘Kick Ass’ but I sort of want him to do something different now. Or perhaps a comedy where he’s Stanley Tucci’s brother.