Last Friday I viewed the most unexpectedly subversive film I’ve seen in a long time, which, much like the carnivorous Audrey II, came from the seemingly most innocent, and unlikely, of places.
You see that little fist in the pic up there? That fist is still pummeling not only bad guys, but MINDS. The movie is Kick-Ass, but the fist belongs to the tweenage barrel of controversy (and frankly, awesomeness) known as Hit-Girl.
If you’ve read Louis’ entry on Diary of a Wimpy kid, then you know how he feels actress Chloe Moretz steals that show, to the point he wishes it had been about her character instead. Well, here she is again, chewing the scenery with such gusto that she holds her own in scenes with Nicholas effing Cage, much less the rest of the cast.
There are a lot of blogs out there already detailing the controversial aspects of the Hit-Girl character: the cussing, the killing, the fact that the Chloe herself is so young. Chloe, meanwhile, seems to be quite level-headed about the whole thing, pointing out it’s just a character she played as an actress, in a type of badass role she specifically requested from her agents and publicists.
Kick-Ass is a movie that every major studio rejected when they were first shopping it around, precisely because of the Hit-Girl character. Take her out and we’ll do business, said they, but director Matthew Vaughn held his ground. He went and got the film made anyhow, and then when he actually showed it to those same execs, something funny happened: they loved the movie now because of Hit-Girl.
In fact, guilty twinges aside, this would seem to be the reaction of a great many of the moviegoers who have gone to see Kick-Ass. Somehow, the movie’s cinematography and direction and Moretz’ performance combine into a fantastic alchemy where we fully believe that a tiny little girl can kill an entire roomful of drug dealers without breaking a sweat. Hell, I even buy into the cinematic reality of it more than I have watching many of the examples of musclebound grown men doing the same. You can get seriously submerged in the sheer badassery on display, here, and the fact that at the heart of it is someone of a gender and age who by all rights is the exact opposite of someone we should buy into as an action hero? That’s fucking incredible. It’s that same weird sort of wizardry I noted from the beginning of WALL-E where in a handful of minutes they made a frickin’ cockroach cute and sympathetic to the point where when it seemed to get crushed a group of teenage girls down the row from me let out squeals of outrage and sadness.
Here’s also where mainstream Hollywood gets its ass kicked, because mainstream Hollywood has lots of little ingrained rules about what women are allowed to be and do in action movies. For instance, the Designated Girl Fight, or the importance of Chickification. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand the roots of this. Beyond arguments of entrenched patriarchy, there’s just a lot of societal baggage attached to the idea of women getting beaten up. People get squicked watching it, and have every right to when in a naturalistic genre (or one that purports to be); but in an over-the-top, fantastical environment like an action movie, why do we still feel the need to limit ourselves like this?
One of the most constant rebuttals is that no one (aside from a certain fringe element) would find a female being the head badass in an action movie role believable. Certainly it won’t sell tickets. Yes, this attitude persists, with no amount of Ripleys, Sarah Connors, Brides, or Lara Crofts seeming to make much of a dent. Actually I suppose I’m even going to have to disqualify Sarah Connor, since in the first Terminator she was 99% victim, and in the second she was definitely given second billing to Arnie. The studio conventional wisdom is: people went to see Terminator 2 because of Ahnuld, went to see Aliens because of Aliens and Marines, went to see Kill Bill because Tarantino directed it, and went to see Tomb Raider for Angelina Jolie’s boobs (although this last is arguably very much in keeping with the source material).
But what I keep hearing about Kick-Ass is: go see it for Hit-Girl. Hit-Girl is awesome. Hit-Girl makes this movie rock.
This film went right for the CW jugular, not only presenting a female as head badass, but having her be a child as well. And Hit-Girl not only dishes out the pain, she takes it; so hell, talk about taboos… even the MA-rated video games on the market can’t so much as muss the hair on the head of underaged pixels. Hit-Girl has a brutal hand to hand fight against the main villain, a martial-arts trained adult male twice her size, but instead of finding it uncomfortable or ridiculous I was rooting for her and feeling for her the same way I would have in any climactic action movie fight.
And that’s the key that makes the alchemy work. Hit-Girl is not presented as a woman or child hurting and getting hurt, she is presented as an action hero. Period. Any lumps she takes are purely a result of the perils of her trade, ones she is perfectly committed to dealing with, and because of this, she transcends the physical to tap into that pure core of the larger-than-life badass archetype; the one which we mere mortals have responded to with wonderment and awe for far longer than cinema has ever existed.
We are fucking rattled by this, and it’s fantastic. I’m not saying this is going to be the event that blows the glass ceiling out of the action genre (in a ludicrously huge explosion, naturally); more than likely, it won’t be, and the young girls that I remember playing superhero with when I was growing up will continue to have those fantasies of saving the day trampled into so much glittery dust. Is Hit-Girl truly so much worse of a role model than some of the party girl teen celebrities out there? Shit, at least she’s fictional. Yes, when you come right down to it Hit-Girl is a damaged goods psychopath… but so is Batman, and no one minds little boys looking up to Batman.
Chloe Moretz saved one of her Hit-Girl costumes to wear for Halloween, only to find out that due to a growth spurt it no longer fits her. But she’s keeping it safe in storage, because one day in the future she hopes to give it to one of her daughters to wear instead. Maybe by then a cultural shift will have occurred and our power fantasy entertainment will have allowed for a broader range of heroes of both genders taking on the bad guys in memorably awesome ways. I’m not saying I want to see a rash of copycat movies of 11-year old girls killing people, but I do like to hope that the extreme example set by Kick-Ass might have knocked at least some of our assumptions reeling, and when they recover, maybe they’ll have shifted a bit farther down the road.