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Mark Millar, the now famous comic book writer, has faced a lot of heat with the movie adaptations of his Kick-Ass series. Most of the criticism is leveled at the amount of violence present in his comics and the films, which he co-produced. This criticism in part has only intensified with the upcoming release of Kick-Ass 2. Part of this has been spurred on by Jim Carrey’s sudden refusal to participate in the film’s promotional campaign following events like the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. Yet, the question begs to be asked: is any of this criticism justified, and is this just another case of the media singling out one work as a scapegoat?
Mark Millar’s comic series Kick-Ass is inherently violent. A story about a high-schooler who admires superheroes so much that he decides to become one himself. Even if the violence were kept to a minimum, as a crime-fighting vigilante, Kick Ass would eventually do just as his name implies and kick some ass. The fact is that there is no denying that Mark Millar takes a certain pleasure in violence and its depiction. It’s titular character Dave Lizewski is a naive teen enamored with the idea of a secret, law-enforcing alter ego. He is not by his very nature a blood thirsty bullish type. However, Dave’s slightly pathetic and endearingly innocent attempts at superherodom are completely overshadowed in the series by the characters of Big Daddy and Hit Girl. Herein, I believe is the heart of the issue.
Big Daddy and Hit Girl are a father-daughter vigilante team whose intense desire to stop any and all crime borders on a fetishistic relationship with violence. In a scene depicted in both the comic and film, Big Daddy shoots his own daughter (she’s wearing a bulletproof vest) in order to accustom her to the threat and feeling of being shot at. Big Daddy strips his daughter of any normal childhood and single-mindedly trains her to be a ruthless killing machine, all as part of his crusade to fight evil. He makes presents out of assault rifles and knives to his daughter. He has her memorize important facts and dates about weapons and memorable action films. There is almost an implication that nothing is out of bounds as long as it is done under the guise of fighting crime.
What seems to be most problematic about Kick-Ass is that one of its deadliest characters is only a ten year old girl. This is exactly what Roger Ebert seemed to find most appalling in his one-star review of the film which he called “morally reprehensible.” Hit Girl is played by the older-looking Chloe Grace Moretz in the film, but Ebert cannot comprehend how a girl her age can commit such brutal acts of violence. “Big Daddy and Mindy never have a chat about, you know, stuff like how when you kill people, they are really dead,” says Ebert. Children are so universally regarded as innocent beings who need to be protected that such a breach of this standard is hard for most people to accept.
It is this very same principle that caused star Jim Carrey to pull out of any promos for the film. After the tragic death of twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary, Carrey felt he could no longer support the violence in the film, not necessarily the film itself. Mark Millar went on record saying that Kick-Ass like other movies provide “escapism” from these events. On the one hand this is true. Millar’s books and films provide a way for audiences to enjoy seeing bad guys finally get what they deserve. The good guy always wins and justice prevails. However, the films walk a fine line on what is and is not acceptable in the pursuit of justice. Mark Millar wrote Kick-Ass on the good side, but it’s up to each individual person to decide for themselves whether or not he’s crossed that line.