Review Overview: The Shock and Awe of "Kick-Ass"

Is the potty-mouthed 11-year-old assassin too much?

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Continuing Hollywood's recent love affair with super-hero films, Kick-Ass premiered this week to delight and disgust. Directed by Matthew Vaughn and based on a graphic novel by Mark Millar and John Romita Sr., Kick-Ass has proven an energizing subject for reviewers, who are captivated by the the film's dysfunctional characters, cartoony violence and profanity. Some critics have found the violence excessive and others are put off by the character of Hit Girl--a foul-mouthed 11-year-old assassin played by Chloë Moretz.

  • Behold, Our Culture! Kenneth Turan of the L.A. Times welcomes the " shrewd mixture of slick comic-book mayhem, unmistakable sweetness and ear-splitting profanity" of Kick-Ass as "a popular culture phenomenon because of its exact sense of the fantasies of the young male fanboy population." Despite the unsettling elements of the film -- the excessive violence and "pint-size, profanity-spewing killing machine in a purple wig and pleated skirt" portrayed by Chloe Moretz -- Turan recognizes a vehicle for the cinematic zeitgeist when he sees it. "It's as if all the arguments about these hyper-violent films — why they are so popular, what they have done to our culture — are open for business in one convenient location. It may or may not be the end of civilization as we know it, but 'Kick-Ass' certainly is Exhibit A of the here and now."
  • Behold, the Superhero! At Time, Richard Corliss lauds Kick-Ass for "redefining the superhero" with its grim realism, marveling at the dysfunctional (and often gory) nighttime escapades of the film's amateur vigilantes. "To shake off his teen torpor, [Dave] buys a wet suit, dons a mask and stands up to a bunch of toughs. As a reward for his good intentions, he gets a knife in the gut and is knocked unconscious by a hit-and-run driver," muses Corliss. The real shockers come from Nicholas Cage and Chloe Moretz's skewed father-daughter relationship. "Damon stocks enough artillery in their outer-borough lair to keep a Middle East insurgency going for years and, during commando practice, shoots Mindy at close range (she's wearing a bulletproof vest) before taking her for a hot-fudge sundae. He's bats, no doubt — but he's also any doting dad training his kid for the family business."
  • Behold, Linguistic Taboos! The Daily Beast's Nicole LaPorte tackles a feature of Kick-Ass overshadowed by the intense violence: the breaking of the "c-word" taboo. LaPorte chalks the bold is move up to director Matthew Vaughn's British roots. "In Britain—Vaughn’s native land—cunt is a more endearing, jolly term, at least when it’s used between mates, used in phrases like, 'Monty, you terrible cunt,' or 'You crafty old cunt,' as one Limey explained." But LaPorte points out that the use of the delivery of the term by "an 11-year-old girl, the actress Chloë Moretz, who plays Hit Girl, a pint-size vigilante and trained assassin who twirls butterfly knives as though they were cheerleading batons, and bounces off walls clad in black leather biker gear, a bright purple wig, and a Mask of Zorro face piece" was enough to make the film's producers nervous.
  • Behold, Feminism's Protege! Women & Hollywood's Melissa Silverstein further breaks down the politics of Hit Girl. "Never before have a heard the c-word (yes, that word) uttered by a girl describing men," writes Silverstein, before abandoning her initial shock. "While I was horrified at the moment, I have to admit that I smiled at the same time because she was doing something onscreen I never thought I would see. A girl kicking ass." Despite the the surface discomfort elicited by Kick-Ass ("this is a movie for adults" she warns), Silverstein welcomes the brawl flick as a step forward for women on the silver screen. "It warms my heart that a young actress is interested in playing these kinds of parts; that she wants to, for lack of a better word, kick ass, is cool. Also, the fact that all these guys are destroyed by a girl never becomes an issue. There's no sexist bullshit about guys being killed by a girl. She comes and wreaks havoc and all these guys want to do is survive."
  • The Violence Doesn't Fit Slate's Dana Stevens finds Kick-Ass' questions the the wisdom of mixing the cartoonish and surreal style usually reserved for Quentin Tarantino movies with the overall message of the film "Yes, it's comic-book violence and deliberately over the top—but since Kick-Ass' whole premise is that comic-book violence, when enacted in real life, has real consequences, it seems a strange choice to layer Tarantino-style splatter onto the Y.A.-novel setting and play the whole thing for laughs," pens Stevens. Overall, the film held some surprising perks in store for Stevens: "Sentences I never thought I'd write: Nicholas Cage gives the most nuanced performance in this movie."
  • Seconded Touching on the Tarantino analogy The New York Times' Manohla Dargis dismisses Kick-Ass as a bloodbath unworthy of an association with the famed director's guns-and-guts style. Kick-Ass's saving grace? Hit Girl: "The filmmaking isn’t in the same league, of course, and the blonde doing the slicing and dicing here isn’t Uma Thurman but Chloë Grace Moretz, who was 11 when she slipped into her purple wig and killer affect. (She’s now 13)," evaluates Dargis. "Ms. Moretz is by far the best thing about the film: she holds the screen as gracefully as she executes a running back flip. It’s a good thing, too, because without those monkey moves, Ms. Moretz’s queasy charm and Mr. Cage’s patented freak-show turn, 'Kick-Ass' would quickly fade."
  • What Satire? Roger Ebert isn't amused by Kick-Ass's attempts at tongue-in-cheek satire. "Will I seem hopelessly square if I find 'Kick-Ass' morally reprehensible and will I appear to have missed the point?" he worries, before moving forward with his criticism:
This isn't comic violence. These men, and many others in the film, are really stone-cold dead. And the 11-year-old apparently experiences no emotions about this. Many children that age would be, I dunno, affected somehow, don't you think, after killing eight or 12 men who were trying to kill her? I know, I know. This is a satire. But a satire of what? The movie's rated R, which means in this case that it's doubly attractive to anyone under 17. I'm not too worried about 16-year-olds here. I'm thinking of 6-year-olds. There are characters here with walls covered in carefully mounted firearms, ranging from handguns through automatic weapons to bazookas. At the end, when the villain deliciously anticipates blowing a bullet hole in the child's head, he is prevented only because her friend, in the nick of time, shoots him with bazooka shell at 10-foot range and blows him through a skyscraper window and across several city blocks of sky in a projectile of blood, flame and smoke. As I often read on the Internet: Hahahahaha.

UPDATE, 4/19: Hat tip to reader Sky Bluesky for identifying some crucial editorial mistakes in this piece that have since been corrected.
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