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.