This film does a fantastic job of showing the gritty reality of what would happen if real people took up the cape or cowl, as well as the personalities who’d be drawn to it. Such as:
The teen lead in the film’s title, his hormone-addled daydreaming and horseplay making him about as anti-Peter Parker/Billy Batson/young Clark Kent of Smallville, Kansas as one can get (although he does grow up a little before the film is over), yet he charms with his naiveté and never-say-die approach to crime fighting, even after brushes with death. His secrecy isn’t so different from other such heroes, but it’s not his lies about a secret life that cause him trouble, so much as assumptions that others make about him (such as a would-be girlfriend coming to false conclusions about his private life), assumptions that he takes forever to correct, that put him in an awkward position, to humorous effect. Lacking any big, life-changing trauma or powers, his only incentives for pursuing this life are a.) repeatedly being mugged for his comics, as onlookers do nothing, and b.) fantasizing about why no-one else has ever dressed up and fought crime before (actually such people do exist in real life, such as the media-hyped Phoenix Jones, but that’s outside the scope of the review).
Big Daddy, the wronged ex-cop (his career and family destroyed by the Mob) and gun-toting Batman wannabe, is a loving dad and sympathetic guy, but not the most stable character in the film, and whose brainwashing of his daughter to be a child soldier (it would be as if The Punisher had one surviving kid and trained her to follow in his footsteps) would cost him custody of her in real life.
The daughter, the famous Hit-Girl who sells the film to audiences, is controversial, but unjustly so, her cutting language and brutality the result of tragic conditions before her birth and a dysfunctional upbringing that caused her to grow up too fast (once you learn her back story, your heart goes out to her, even as you watch in fascinated horror at the atrocities she dishes out upon the guilty), yet is a charming kid in her civilian mode, albeit one showing a near-innocent, childish glee for lethal weapons on her birthday, a glee which other children would reserve for video games, bikes, etc. It remains to be seen how easily she assimilates (or not) into mainstream society in the film’s sequel (as the childhood tragedies that shaped her rival those of young Bruce Wayne); that said, her father didn’t raise her to be a victim, which is never a bad thing.
The friendless Mafia fanboy, Red Mist, is an example of cruel irony: On one hand, he wishes to impress his father, that he may inherit the family’s criminal business, someday; on the other, his fascination with fictional, costumed good guys in comics clashes with his future career plans in a big way, as does his lack of killer instincts, and his naïve assumption that he can discourage his dad from inflicting revenge on the film’s lead hero (for non-existent offenses), a hero whom he’s bonded with. Which path will he choose? That’s a question to be explored in the sequel.
While the film is underrated, compared to other film heroes such as Iron Man and Batman (entertaining, yes, but not too convincing, having—in one character’s words—“the expensive stuff that doesn’t exist”), these heroes’ use of weapons thrown together at home, bought online, or MacGuyvered, is fascinating enough on its own, and makes them seem like average people who just might live next door. And for those who think it’s too violent, this is, believe it or not, a watered-down depiction of similar events in the comic it’s based on.