Reel Women: Sorry Hit-Girl, ‘Kick-Ass 2′ is Misogynist Garbage
The first 'Kick-Ass' film was praised for its depiction of miniature crime-fighter Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz), whose origin story satirized traditional comic book origin stories: her father (Nicolas Cage) is a delusional vigilante and has stolen her childhood, training her to be a tiny killing machine. Audiences relished in the gleeful, hyperactive sequences in which the foul-mouthed Hit-Girl completely wiped out rooms full of weapon-toting adult men, and for good reason.
Unfortunately, Hit-Girl has lost her magic appeal in 'Kick-Ass 2,' but the even bigger disappointment is the film's horrible issues with gender.
You can make an argument for the first 'Kick-Ass' film (and a slight one for the comics on which it was based) -- it was an at-times sharp, satirical take on comic book lore that took the idea of vigilante justice and placed it in the hands of a teenager and a small child. There were moments of coming of age hilarity, and dark, shocking moments of violence when the film began to make its point: the real world is not a comic book, and there are consequences for every action, no matter how good your intentions are. Bones are broken, people die, and real tragedy can and will occur.
Sadly, there is no argument to be made for 'Kick-Ass 2,' which ditches acute self-awareness for broad, lunk-headed strokes, and trades in the satire for straight-up glorification.
Based on the comic book of the same name from creator Mark Millar, the film surprisingly manages to edge away from some of the more violent material. For instance, in the book, a character is raped, while in the film, the villain can't get it up to do the raping. I'm not sure which scenario is more cringe-inducing -- the idea of rape, or the idea of trying to wring some laughs out of someone almost getting raped. I get the point (this villain is so weak that he can't adequately perform such heinous acts! Hilarious!), but it's poorly executed and screenwriter/director Jeff Wadlow's White Knight attempt at flipping that situation on its head is agonizing to watch.
The aforementioned almost-rape sequence is but one of many examples of rampant misogyny in the film. Women are referred to in outdated derogatory terms like "gash" and "ax wound," but we shouldn't be offended because women are using these terms to describe each other -- which calls to mind the argument that pejorative racist words are okay as long as they are spoken by the people whom they're intended to offend. (It's okay ladies, we're taking "gash" back!)
Meanwhile, villains like Christopher Mintz-Plasse's "Motherf---er" (charming) toss around "bitch" like mobsters in an early 90s movie, and we should be okay with that because he's a bad guy, and bad guys say bad things. But, Hit-Girl is a good guy, and she uses much of the same derogatory language, if not worse. The logic is as follows: we excuse the women for using sexist slang because they're women; we excuse the bad guys for using sexist slang because they're bad guys and it's expected; and we excuse the tween ass-kicker because she's a kid and it's so funny when kids say the darnedest things.
I want to explain, right now, that I am not offended by this language. The C-word is not a word that deserves the pearl-clutching it's attracted, and can be used in jokes and uttered by characters on TV or in movies for comedic or dramatic effect. But like anything else, it's dependent on context and tone, and 'Kick-Ass 2' is a garbage pail of shockingly banal violence that tries so desperately to offend with its big, violent set pieces, but instead only offends with its gender and racial politics -- just saying that the film is self-aware (as the characters annoyingly remind us every 10 minutes) doesn't make the very casual sexism and racism okay. It doesn't grant the film immunity, nor does it automatically make every misogynist moment okay.
Perhaps the most glaringly offensive moment in the film comes about halfway through, when one of Mindy's peers, a cheerleader named Brooke, is trying out for a dance squad. In her too-short, skintight pink shorts and revealing top, she dances, jiggles, and shakes her rear-end at the camera, with every nook and cranny of her body alarmingly highlighted as she gyrates seductively to a stripper-ready pop song. This would be fine if we were talking about Jennifer Aniston in 'We're the Millers,' but we're talking about a girl who is supposed to be 15 years old (maybe 16 ... maybe). You'd think that they would use an actress who is older, but the actress who plays Brooke is only 17 -- legal age of consent in some states, but it's not an excuse for obnoxious, deplorable sexualization of a teenager who is still a child, especially when that depiction includes lingering shots of her rear-end.
Satire requires intellect and understanding. Self-awareness requires wit and wisdom. 'Kick-Ass 2' has none of these things and is instead a meat-headed, frat-bro send-up of vigilante justice and revenge, with not one ounce of understanding of what made 'Kick-Ass' so entertaining in the first place. Wadlow and Millar are more concerned with pushing buttons, and the result is surprisingly banal where it counts -- though if their intention was to offend audiences with their misogynistic language and imagery, perhaps they've won. At least Millar has made it perfectly clear that the credit for the first film lies in the hands of director Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman. In that case, 'Kick-Ass 2' is sorely -- and hilariously -- missing a woman's touch.
Juxtaposed against Millar's comments earlier this week regarding rape and violence in comic books (in which he equates rape with any other random act of violence in comics and proclaims that it's just not a big deal), 'Kick-Ass 2' becomes even more deplorable. Aside from the arguably positive female character of Hit-Girl, the only representations of women in the film are: a housewife who can't fight without her husband and uses a purse to bludgeon enemies; a scantily clad sexpot known as "Night Bitch," whose soul function is to fornicate with Kick-Ass and become the victim that propels his storyline forward (making her what? The Manic Pixie Dream F--- Buddy?); teen girls obsessed with sex, whose bodies are sexualized and exploited (one of them even declares herself to be "soaked" when watching a boy band music video -- a real vomit-in-the-mouth moment); a former KGB agent with abs of steel who breaks necks with her thighs (okay, she's kind of cool); and Kick-Ass' ex-girlfriend, who shows up only to participate in the tired trope of misunderstanding an exchange of dialogue and dumping him for (she wrongly assumes) having sex with a 14-year-old girl.
If there's anything 'Kick-Ass 2' has taught me it's that you can sexualize, marginalize, and use derogatory language toward women, as long as they are 15-years-old or over. If this movie isn't a comic book, as it insists over and over like some blanket excuse for its horribleness, then why is it just as sexist as one?