MovieBob - Intermission
What's the Problem With Hit-Girl?

Bob "MovieBob" Chipman | 23 Apr 2010 16:00
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Oh, and she also swears. A lot. It's as though someone started designing the character by compiling a checklist of "stuff involving young girls that will make people freak out" and going on from there. (Given that she owes her inception to superhero-shock specialist Mark Millar, that actually wouldn't surprise me.)

In Millar's original comic series, Hit-Girl is essentially a tragic figure: In that version, Big Daddy's vengeance-seeking fallen cop origin is ultimately revealed (hey, I warned you right at the start) to be a lie - he's just a comic-obsessed middle-aged loser who kidnapped his own daughter and fabricated their mission against the mob because he thought superheroism would be better than a boring normal life for her (the comic is essentially a mean-spirited satire of comic fandom, with the "real-life superheroes" as caricatures of various ages and levels of overly-devoted fandom.) "Rescuing" her - in a roundabout way - from that life is Kick-Ass's sole act of real heroism.

In the film, Big Daddy's heroic origin is for real - though his obvious psychotic derangement still comes through loud and clear - and so Hit-Girl and the rest of the film take on a slightly different tone. Though much less cynical, from a certain perspective it could easily be seen as much more subversive and morally complicated. Millar's comic revels in exaggerated tableaus of "grim 'n' gritty" superhero gore while unsubtly reprimanding the audience for enjoying such things. Matthew Vaughn's movie, on the other hand, serves up the slaughter but dials back the self-aware release. Where the comic excuses itself from uncomfortable questions about what sort of mind invents Hit-Girl in the first place with a wagging finger, the movie nudges us to admit the troubling truth that even though we know she's creepy and wrong, she's also pretty damn cool.

Amusingly, her innate coolness probably springs from the same set of protective instincts as the natural revulsion of seeing her hurting enemies and being hurt herself. We don't like seeing the helpless in peril, but we love seeing the underdog triumph. What throws our reactions a bit out of whack, however, might be that - until the finale, anyway - Hit-Girl is never helpless. She's a one-girl army, and her approach to crimefighting looks objectively less like the work of a Teen Titan than it does the work of Jason Vorhees. Far from adhering to strict self defense, she caps off her introductory battle by skewering a drug dealer's girlfriend with katanas and tortures a mob informant in an industrial car crusher.

Maybe that's what really bothers some of the film's angrier detractors - though perhaps not in a way that is immediately apparent to them. Hit-Girl might just be a little too strong. Few things have traditionally provoked as knee-jerk a reaction in Western popular culture than the notion of a woman - of any age - stepping outside her traditional subservient role (like I said at the beginning, Dietrich set the 30s ablaze by wearing slacks). Hit-Girl, at least in the movie, is many things up to and including a homicidal sociopath, but the one thing she isn't is a victim. (In the comic, of course, she's very much a victim - namely of the fraudulent Big Daddy's psychological abuse.)

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