When Dave Lizewski first donned his green ninja PJs and began playing with sticks, he could've dubbed his crime-fighting alter ego anything he wanted: "The Jade Halcyon." "The Masked Thwacker." "Burt." Anything.
Alas, out of the 250,000-plus words in the English language, Dave chose to christen his alter ego with a profanity—which you'd think would make obligatory appearances at, say, the local church potluck or elementary school assembly awkward.
But it's clear that Dave didn't think through this whole superhero thing. He has no superpower, for one thing. His athletic ability is suspect. Sure, he doesn't feel pain as much as the next guy … but that's only because he got hit by a car—putting the kibosh on his nerve endings and supplying him with a partially metal skeleton.
Indeed, the only qualification he seems to have for the job is … the suit. And even that's not very good.
Nevertheless, Dave's determined to kick some criminal can and make a name for himself. And eventually he does so, fending off a trio of thugs as a bystander records the whole thing with his cell phone. Before Dave can think of a snappy catchphrase, he's an Internet sensation.
But Dave's emerald creation isn't the only superhero in town. While chatting with a known ne'er-do-well and his posse of prattling pathogens—a chat rapidly deteriorating into a painful and terminal conclusion for our young superhero—Dave is saved by a precocious, blade-wielding 11-year-old named Hit-Girl and her black-cowled, gun-toting paterfamilias Big Daddy. These two have no desire to show up on YouTube. Frankly, celebrity would hinder their crime-fighting goals which are to kill crime boss Frank D'Amico and all of his goons. Forget naive do-gooding. These two are out for blood in large quantities—punctuated, ideally, with the horrified screams of their victims.
Ugh. Where's Superman when you need him?
If you could cut this two-hour film down to, oh, 15 seconds worth of dialogue, it might qualify as one of the best superhero films ever made. But since you can't actually see those 15 seconds in isolation—and because you wouldn't want to plunk down $10 for the privilege even if you could—here they are:
1-5) "Yeah, I'd rather die. Bring it on."
Dave says this after a thug—one of three assaulting an unarmed man—asks him if he's crazy, if he's willing to die for a total stranger. Dave says, in effect, We live in a world where three men pound the daylights out of one while people loiter and watch, and I'm the one who's crazy!? Clearly, Dave has gotten himself into the superhero business for the best of reasons. He's tired of people—himself included—standing around while evil's afoot instead of doing something about it.
6-10) "Good job."
Big Daddy tells Hit-Girl this as he slowly, painfully dies. Burned and broken, his final thoughts are of his daughter—how wonderful and brave she is, how much she made him proud. He's proud for fairly horrific reasons—he's turned his daughter into a waist-high Cuisinart of killing—but that doesn't completely nullify the beauty and poignancy of their final scene together. For a moment, we simply see the love of a father, the love of a daughter, and how it eclipses pain and loss. "Love you," he tells her, slipping away. "Love you too, Daddy," she answers, crying, putting her hand on his face. "Sleep tight."
11-15) "With no power comes no responsibility. Except that wasn't true."
Dave's riff on Peter Parker's memorable line from Spider-Man strikes me as very nearly profound. Dave understands that even though he's not blessed with superpowers he has a responsibility to suck it up and help his fellow man (or fellow superhero). Again, this manifests itself in the wrong way, but the sentiment is absolutely right. Truth is, we all sometimes feel unworthy of the challenges we face—but we're called to take them on anyway.
We hear a rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" during a particularly brutal slaughter.
Before he picks up superheroing as a hobby, Dave spends most of his spare time masturbating (we're told). He fanaticizes about his English teacher fondling her own breasts (with her bra on). He eyes National Geographic-style nudity (which we see) and goes to pornographic websites (which we don't see). The camera captures him beginning to slip off his pants and, later, throwing away tissues.
Another woman also grabs her own breasts through a tight dress. There's talk of sexual assault. And of Dave being gay. Katie, taking him on as her "gay BFF," has him rub lotion on her back while she covers her breasts with her hands. And we hear that the two have had "sleepovers." When she learns he's not gay, she invites him to be her lover. We see them engaged in (mostly clothed) coital relations in an alley.
Dave and his friends make obscene, sexually charged physical jokes involving a piece of bread. Several characters make vulgar references to body parts.
If Quentin Tarantino had directed Superbad, this film might have been the result. We're not talking bloodless superhero violence here. We're talking gory, body-exploding violence—so much so that careful observers may be able to discern a victim's blood type on sight after the first hour is up.
A would-be superhero plunges off a high building to his death. (We see him hit a taxi.) A goon blows up in what is essentially a huge microwave oven. (We see blood splash on the window.) Another gets crushed in a car compactor. (We see blood splash on the window.) Characters are hit, kicked, pummeled with sticks, bludgeoned with bats and pounded in particularly sensitive areas. They're skewered, stabbed, chopped and hacked with a variety of blades. They're shot, shocked, burned, blown up, bazooka'd and struck by cars.
Keep in mind that one of the film's biggest perpetrators and victims is also its youngest—an 11-year-old girl. Her father shoots her in the chest with a handgun. (She's wearing a bullet-proof vest, and Daddy promises they can go out for ice cream if she submits to the ordeal two more times.) And she has the stuffing beaten out of her by a prime evildoer. Movie or not, satire or not, it's hard to watch a little girl get punched in the face and thrown into a coffee table.
Hit-Girl snuffs out lives with freakish glee. In the film's ethos, it's meant to be jarringly cute ("Aww, look … that little girl plays with butterfly knives instead of Barbies. And instead of cutting hair she cuts throats!"). But throw Hit-Girl into any other narrative structure and she'd be a flat-out psychopath.
We're told (and shown via hand-drawn images) that Hit-Girl's mother committed suicide while pregnant with her.
Crude or Profane Language
"If I ever uttered one word that I said in [the film], I would be grounded for years!" actress Chloe Moretz, who plays Hit-Girl, told MTV News. "I'd be stuck in my room until I was 20! I would never in a million years say that."
Among the words she says is the c-word. Director Matthew Vaughn says he initially didn't have it in the script, but because it was used in a memorable line from the accompanying graphic novels, he bowed to pressure, talked with Moretz's mother and received permission to try the scene using one of the most offensive words ever conceived.
Vaughn's argument feels a little disingenuous, as the script and novels were written around the same time. Neither does it speak to the fact that Moretz unleashes other words nearly as obscene. Indeed, the f-word is used nearly 100 times (by her and others) and the s-word nearly 40. "A‑‑," naturally, is used innumerable times, along with "h‑‑‑," "b‑‑ch" and other crude exclamations. God's name is misused a half-dozen times (twice with "d‑‑n"), and Jesus' name is abused three or four times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
We see characters smoke, drink, use cocaine and marijuana, and fiddle with a bong. Katie works as a volunteer at a needle exchange outlet.
Other Negative Elements
A superhero betrays his would-be friends.
For a publication like Plugged In, films like these are hard to watch, easy to review. The title alone should tell most moviegoers what kind of cinematic experience they're likely in for if they decide to go. It's so violent, so profane, what else needs be said?
More than you might think.
We've already talked a bit about Hit-Girl and the actress who plays her, Chloe Moretz, who is now 13. But I think Moretz and her cinematic alter ego deserve just a bit more time:
Hit-Girl has been raised, intentionally, to be a pink-wigged assassin. She's never been to school. She asks for knives for her birthday. When her father tells her to crush a man to death in a car compactor, she does so with a smile and a giggle.
"This is not the life for nobody," one of Big Daddy's friends tells him. "You owe that kid a childhood."
But some still consider Hit-Girl a role model.
"I thought that it was kind of cool that it looked like the person with the best abilities was really a girl—a young girl," Dr. Susan Lipkins, a psychologist, told Fox News. "If anything it can be empowering to kids, to girls. It's not a boy again who's saving the world, but a girl who has power."
A power she wields with a pink and purple psychotic passion, without remorse, while sporting a pixie grin.
"Seeing an attractive young girl playing such a violent role gives the message that this type of behavior (and language) is not outrageous," counters Joanne Cantor, a professor of Communication Arts at the University of Madison-Wisconsin, also to Fox News. "Younger children may not be able to see it in theaters, but when it comes out on DVD, children of all ages will have access to it—and young children will have less capacity to discount what they see."
Moretz, who was 11 when the film was made, says she's nothing like Hit-Girl. She's never uttered a four-letter word offscreen, according to The Scotsman, and at home she calls the film "Kick-Butt." She tells MTV she has a 9:30 p.m. bedtime. And she'd like to reprise her Hit-Girl role another two or three times.
Some wonder whether Moretz was simply too young to take on such an adult-sounding and acting role. Even Nicholas Cage, who plays Big Daddy, was "concerned" about how the violence might affect his young co-star. "I knew it was going to be something that was uncomfortable for me as an actor."
"People are affected emotionally by what they see and they certainly are affected by the roles they play," Cantos says. "One experience does not poison a child's mind. But participation in violent activities, especially when they are rewarded, is not emotionally healthy."
Moretz would likely say she wasn't exploited, wasn't abused in making Kick-A‑‑. Flanked by her parents, she walked in willingly and is, surely, being handsomely rewarded. But Hit-Girl wouldn't think there was anything wrong with her childhood either, would she?