A Response to Roger Ebert’s Review of “Kick-Ass”

Yesterday I stumbled upon an article on the snarky-feminist-lite website Jezebel which reviewed and offered up some interesting questions about children, women, violence and vulgarity which the film Kick-Ass brings up for many people.

The article itself, as well as several commenters in the discussion were quoting Roger Ebert’s review of the movie. I’ll preface this by saying – I’m not an Ebert fan. It’s not that I hate the man – I just don’t have any particular fondness for his reviews. I don’t follow him on Twitter and I don’t read his shit, excuse me “body of work.” As a kid, I can remember being greatly irritated by he and Gene Siskel’s panning of what I considered to be some of the best movies (Free Willy, My Girl – hey, I was 12!) and as a teen and adult never turned to him for movie advice.

Mostly because I was writing my own film reviews for our HS Newspaper, and I trusted local sources like The Oregonian and Willamette Week to dispense engaging film advice.

My bias is not HUGE towards Ebert – but, as I mentioned before, I have never used his reviews as the basis of what movies I watched. I know that many people do, or at least people tune in to his opinion because it strikes their fancy. Great – awesome – wonderful even! Don’t think I’m dissuading you at all. But just because he has an opinion, doesn’t mean he’s immune from criticism. He’s a professional critic afterall, it comes with the territory.

His review of Kick-Ass in particular seemed inept. He states pretty early on that he has no stomach for comic book violence, and has an entirely opposite viewpoint from those who do see it as entertainment or social commentary.

His review is virtually useless for this film – because he can also not understand the context or recognize even the whimsical nods, comic book cameos or references being bandied about. He’s out of his league, and though he mentions briefly that he finds all the elements of this film distasteful - he still plunges ahead and shreds it apart with vehemence anyway.

There is little focus on the story-telling, the character development or any other aspects of the film which are worth looking at. When a film is derived so copiously from source material – isn’t it worth at the very least, skimming through? Especially since it takes 30 minutes to read from cover to cover, not exactly a herculean feat.

Comments on the Jezebel article indicated that Ebert SHOULD NOT have to read the comic book to review the film. OK – yes, a movie can stand on its own two legs, but understanding that it comes from a comic book, and that it’s made mostly for comic fangirls and boys as parody or satire of the medium, should at least shape the context and allow the film to be taken with a smirking grain of salt (as it was during the screening I watched). No one in the audience seemed to gasp or choke or cry out when the bad guys got their asses handed to them. It was a room full of adults who can distinguish between real violence and comic book/movie violence. Even Chloe Moretz knows that shit.

Unfortunately – Ebert is quite wrapped up in Hit Girl being the cause and victim of Violence (with a capital V). He bemoans the scene where she is tossed around by the villain “to within inches of her life.” My gawd man - she is a superhero! Superheroes get their asses kicked, just as much as they kick ass. She wouldn’t be awesome if she weren’t at least somewhat vulnerable to physical violence. In fact, that would make her ridiculously unreal, and therefore imminently less cool.

I admit to a small glimmer of discomfort while watching Hit Girl being beaten by the villain, but most of what I remember is feeling overwhelming appreciation that the camera was not shying away. Obscuring her beating by the villain - would be sensationalizing it. As it stands – Hit Girl was treated with the same respect offered Kick Ass earlier in the film. The camera stayed – not lingering provocatively or pulling away to some shadow effect in horror while the audience is left to imagine what kind of atrocities are being committed.

The villain doesn’t threaten to rape her either. How many films have I watched where this is proffered as a punishment worse than death, or as the final violation pre-cursing death? Too many to count. Which should tell you something about our moral lines at this point, but apparently it doesn’t.

No one wants to see a woman hit, and if she is – we want to automatically call her the victim. Hit Girl WAS NOT A VICTIM OF THE VIOLENCE. If anything, she was a victim of her father’s revenge delusions. But clearly, she is matured beyond her years and seems to handle the transition from superhero to regular life with an aplomb that no one else in the film is capable of. Not once did she ask for pity or sympathy, she simply asked for vengeance and respect – just like one of the big boys.

The film recognizes and rewards Hit Girl in a greater capacity to the graphic novel. If Ebert chooses to shun and be saddened by the imagery of a young girl extracting violence revenge, he patronizes the character and me as a woman.

Ebert chooses to disregard the non-sexualized action hero of Hit Girl and instead bemoan her violence as if it somehow perverts her as a person. Actually – Hit Girl is one of the few characters to emerge at the end of the film with a fairly stable identity. Once seeking her revenge, she chooses to lead a “normal” life, but doesn’t hesitate to use her training and power to defend herself.

She is one of the few characters with an emotional stake in the violence she commits, while Kick Ass and Red Mist don their capes out of boredom – Hit Girl has a purpose.

Sure – there is a discomfort in watching a father mold his daughter into a killer, but I don’t think she is quite as “cold-blooded” as Ebert and other folks are shrieking about. She clearly loves her father, she is compassionate towards Kick Ass, and for most of her life grew up in a stable home environment with Big Daddy’s cop partner.

My question – why does violence have to be examined in these kinds of films? Why do people choose to draw the line of morality with a 11-year-old girl killing “bad guys” when sexual and domestic violence are a healthy part of most films – so much so that they’ve lost much of their shock value.

Ebert, I feel, inappropriately draws a moral line where he hasn’t in the past (he wrote the screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, a freaking sexploitation film!). And I would not hesitate to argue it’s because Hit Girl is a girl and not a boy. In fact, the studio asked for her to be replaced with a boy because his violence, and violence done to him would be far more acceptable.

What is awesome about the choices of the screenwriter, director and Chloe Moretz herself is how deliberate they are. It is not the film that sensationalizes Hit Girl or makes her power exceptional – it is our society. We choose to reject a non-sexualized young female sidekick because we cannot cope with a girl kicking ass and using filthy language, without feeling a sense of shame and discomfort.

That is our problem – not Hit Girl’s. She is a character who has earned the right to be respected on-screen through her steadiness of character, resolve and general awesomeness.

I respect Ebert’s right to have an opinion, but I don’t have to agree with it and neither should you. Instead of falling back on a man who has years of experience, degrees and prestige, I invite you to listen to the chorus of those who respect comic books as a medium worthy of being called “art” – no matter what kind of human atrocities they depict.

Link Love:

- Northwest Comics Scene Review and Ebert Response

- Comic Book Resource Review

- Tiny Heroes Review

- Women and Hollywood Review

- NY Times Review

- Comic Book Movie Review

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About tinyheroes

Mindy Crouchley is a 29 year old woman with a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Minor in Technical Writing from Portland State University. She has been reading comic books since she was 10 years old. She currently lives in outer southeast Portland with her spouse Dan Robertson and two pugs, Sunny and Jabba. She spends her free time devouring books, attending comic cons, writing stories/screenplays, attending book to film adaptation club meetings, volunteering and watching copious amounts of TV and movies.

18 responses to “A Response to Roger Ebert’s Review of “Kick-Ass””

  1. uselessink says :

    Some people are biased against comic books in any format that they appear. They will always rip the material to shreds and say it’s a joke. Those people must be ignored. If what they said was the truth, or what most people thought, then Comic Book media wouldn’t be as huge as it is.

    • tinyheroes says :

      So very true – it’s frustrating to be a comic book fan and have to dodge all this warbling of “hyper-violence” that doesn’t seem as liberally applied to other medium (including film or the evening news).

      It’s part of this greater shrieking about protecting the innocence of our childrenz, which I don’t feel appropriately respects our children’s ability to self-censor, or determine what is appropriate for them. I guess I’m at a disadvantage here, not having children and having been liberally raised on a steady diet of comic books, video games and horror movies.

      I was surprised at the mixed audience in the screening I went to, and even more suprised that it seemed generally loved by all the folks in attendance (including elder folks!). I don’t think you need to be “cool” or “hip” to enjoy this film. I think…most folks just need to take a deep breath and fucking *RELAX*.

  2. Chris says :

    I still have not seen Kick Ass But very much want to. I can’t comment too much on the characters as I have not seen the film yet but I am pretty sure that this movie adaptation is going to be a hell of a lot better then the Twilight Series, but the same site the reviewed this in a negative way also reviewed Twilight many times and has many articles on Twilight. they paint the, in my opinion, character the Kristen Stewart plays as gold and yet the criticize a girl that actually does something for a change?

    As far as Ebert, his era for movie judging is over. Movie are not and will not be like they were. Movie critics are nothing more than paid bloggers in this day and age. Anyone can write a review of a movie, to actually write a review and know what you are talking about is what makes a true critic.

    Movie in general are not rated correctly anyhow. Just because a movie sell 4 million on the first night that does not mean it was a good movie. Some of the movies that are listed as flops are only listed that way because they didn’t make the movie industry any money. They need to list them as unprofitable but not flops. When a movie gets the title of flop no one wants to see it, and quite frankly there are a lot of movie that are really good that made no money.

    • tinyheroes says :

      My lord – I totally agree with your reference to Twilight! The same folks who shriek in rage about an 11 year old using the F-Bomb will not bat an eyelash about the creepy-stalker-boyfriend and near-domestic-violence issues that pervade Twilight. It’s totally OK for women to be seen as fragile victims – but swearing and kicking-ass = not OK.

      I find the role models and messages in Twilight to be far more subversive and dangerous for young girls. Especially since Twilight is marketed towards Tweens, and Kick Ass clearly IS NOT. But then again – you will always have people that classify comic books and horror films as bad – and more damaging/popular/mainstream influences as “good” despite what message they convey.

      And thanks for the comments about Ebert – I totally respect the man, but he clearly doesn’t give a crap about comic book movies or the comic book genre in general. Why bother disrespecting and alienating people who found the film enjoyable? I found his tone of voice regarding those who read the book or watch the movie to be more offensive than his comments about the film itself. :\

      • Chris says :

        Thank you for the comment back. Sorry for my horrible grammar and spelling, this post really got to me.

        • tinyheroes says :

          Don’t worry about grammar and spelling – thanks for joining the conversation! I appreciate your insight, and hadn’t even really considered comparing Bella and Hit Girl as pop-culture heroines. :)

          You also made some great points about what is considered a successful film – sorry I didn’t address those. Didn’t want to rant too much at you!

      • Sumana Harihareswara says :

        I have read maybe 200 of Ebert’s reviews, and he does care about comic books and comic book movies; it’s just that his taste in those is different than Kick-Ass’s. Example from his review of The Dark Knight:

        http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080716/REVIEWS/55996637/1023

        “Something fundamental seems to be happening in the upper realms of the comic-book movie. “Spider-Man II” (2004) may have defined the high point of the traditional film based on comic-book heroes. A movie like the new “Hellboy II” allows its director free rein for his fantastical visions. But now “Iron Man” and even more so “The Dark Knight” move the genre into deeper waters. They realize, as some comic-book readers instinctively do, that these stories touch on deep fears, traumas, fantasies and hopes. And the Batman legend, with its origins in film noir, is the most fruitful one for exploration.”

        He also compared the 2000 X-Men film to the comics to talk about its expository style. Ebert is interested in comic book films as films, and he dislikes wholesale transplants of comics’ styles and motifs that don’t (to him) make sense in film.

        My experience of his reactions to violence are that he dislikes meaningless violence, especially by or to children. He tends to like better films that are psychologically realistic about the effects of violence on the victims and the the perpetrator. This is true whether the people involved are male or female.

  3. Hisham says :

    Well done!

    I figured that you had a detailed response brewing.

    BTW, there’s another interesting take on the film by former Punisher writer Steven Grant here:

    http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=25751

    • tinyheroes says :

      How could I not? After spending several hours yesterday (I know, kind of shameful) defending my opinion on the Jezebel article (worst site to comment on ever, btw) – it had to happen. I know you feel very similarly about many of these things. BTW – we’re going to see it again tomorrow at Regal Cinemas at 7:10pm, and stopping at 4th Street afterwards, if you’re interested! :)

  4. Margaret Lion says :

    I like your comments!! Yes to all of your points. And I totally loved Hit Girl! I can’t wait for her to become Hit Woman. :)

    Oh and I LOVED that in the end as a “normal” teenager she was so gonna pwn some bullies. Oh please but I LOVED THAT!!! (I would have stayed to watch.)

  5. AlexReynard says :

    I fucking loved reading this. This was everything I felt reading Ebert’s review but couldn’t put into words. I applaud Mark Millar and the filmmakers for so skillfully pushing society’s buttons on this. We see violence as normal for boys, but horrifying if it happens to, or comes from, girls. There’s an awful lot of gender stereotypes we still have to get rid of, and Hit-Girl’s character strikes them like a kick to the nuts.

  6. Carcotas says :

    I loved the first one and have been waiting for this with great anticipation! When I saw it on Comcast On-Demand I immediately rented it. Like most sequels, this wasn’t as good as the first and it’s hard not to make comparisons to the first movie.

    The first thing I noticed was the lack of a good soundtrack that went with the first movie. Scenes like Hit-Girl whooping ass to Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation”, or the old Banana Splits song “Tra La La” Song totally made the first one awesome for me. The soundtrack was as important as the characters.

    As the movie was unfolding I kept waiting for some funny/rocking music to play. Unfortunately, I was pretty let down that they didn’t spend the money to acquire some interesting/funny/rocking songs for this movie.

    Then the plot was sort of handicapped by the fact the characters had matured. I felt the actors all did a good job, but the built in humor that came along with an innocent naive Kick-Ass character getting his butt beat, or the irony of a 10 year old foul mouthed girl killing someone with the same zeal she would pursue a boy band with was gone.

    I think they spent a little to much time developing the idea of a group of super hero’s and and not enough time developing Kick-Ass & Hit-Girl characters. Overall, I liked it, and I’m sure most will… It just wasn’t as fresh and new as the original.

    More about the movie you can also find it here
    http://movieinfodb.com/en/movie/59859/Kick-Ass+2-2013

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