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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Are the haters really right to hate 'Kick-Ass'?

April 16, 2010 |  2:24 pm

When "Kick-Ass" director Matthew Vaughn talked to my colleague Geoff Boucher the other day, he vented a little, complaining that too many people had expressed outrage about his new movie--which opened Friday--without actually seeing it first. It's really no surprise that some people are up in arms, since "Kick-Ass" is chock-full of graphic violence and ultra-nasty language, much of which is used by the film's potty-mouthed, preteen Hit Girl, played by 13-year-old actress Chloe Grace Moretz.

As we all know, it's a time-honored tradition for every special interest group--from Jews to Muslims, from gays to evangelical Christians--to beef about the amount of sex, bad language, violence and negative portrayals of minority groups in Hollywood movies. So, it's hardly a surprise that Vaughn is getting a lot of flak. As he said to Boucher: "Of course, the people that do complain, 99% of them haven't seen the film. I tell them, 'Go see the movie and then call me up after and I'll chat with you as long as you want. I'd be interested in your opinion.' "

OK, so what do America's film critics have to say about the film now that they've seen it? As you might have guessed, the reaction ranges from revulsion to rousing approval. If you see the film this weekend, I'd love to hear your take. But here's a condensed sampling from some of our best critics (you can click on the links to read the entire reviews):

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: Hyperviolence is the dominant mode of "Kick-Ass," Matthew Vaughn's low-budget excursion into Tarantino-style chaos for teens. The film is grungily stylish and often funny, at least for a while, though all of the caveats and contradictions that apply to Tarantino films apply here: One man's—or boy's—stylization is another's profane, unrelenting and tedious brutality. "Kick-Ass" stands as an intriguing fantasy of social networking. To achieve superhero status, you simply put up your own Web site, announce it on MySpace and Facebook and you're on your mythic way.

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: A movie camera makes a record of whatever is placed in front of it, and in this case, it shows deadly carnage dished out by an 11-year-old girl, after which an adult man brutally hammers her to within an inch of her life. Blood everywhere. In one scene, she faces a hallway jammed with heavily armed gangsters and shoots, stabs and kicks them all to death, while flying through the air with such power, it's enough to make Jackie Chan take out an AARP membership. 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?

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "Kick-Ass," directed by Matthew Vaughn ("Layer Cake"), is an enjoyably supercharged and ultraviolent teen-rebel comic-book fantasy that might be described — in spirit, at least — as reality-based. Hit Girl, trained by a daddy (Nicolas Cage) with rubber-suited-vigilante ambitions of his own, turns out to be the most ass-kicking character in the film. The reason that's a good joke is that the way she turns villains into cannon fodder is really no more preposterous than, say, Bruce Willis doing the same thing. Yet is it a problem that "Kick-Ass" is by far the most violent movie ever to feature kids as heroes? Parents should consider themselves warned, though personally, I just wish that the film had ended up a bit less of an over-the-top action ride.

Karina Longworth, the Village Voice:  For all of its self-conscious edge, "Kick-Ass" feels as if Vaughn took all of his potentially powerful material and filtered it through distancing devices. It's a teen-angst movie filtered through the comic book form in which the characters themselves only respond to reality as filtered through comic books, TV and social networking. Most offensively, it takes the strain of Asian pop culture centered on uniformed schoolgirls coolly and competently kicking the asses of grown men, which has already been filtered into American pop culture by Quentin Tarantino, and reduces it to shallow shock lines. Anything passed through this many filters would come out weak. Never as shocking as it thinks it is, as funny as it should be, or as engaged in cultural critique as it could be, "Kick-Ass" is half-assed.

Ty Burr, Boston Globe:   "Kick-Ass" wants to shock your momma. The new superhero action-parody — half a scrappy send-up of the “Spider-man" genre, half a desperate wannabe — indulges in all sorts of bad behavior designed to appall the guardians of culture while delighting the young, the jaded and the smug. Fusing teen comedy, bad-boy raunch, Tarantino-style gonzo mayhem, and tossing in a bloodthirsty little girl vigilante who swears like Steve Buscemi in a Coen brothers movie, the film has its moments of high-flying, low-down style. It’s also nowhere near as subversive as it thinks it is.

Kenneth Turan,Los Angeles Times: "Kick-Ass" is the movie our parents warned us about, the movie you don't want your children to see. A highly seductive enterprise that's equal parts disturbing and enticing, it will leave you speechless because its characters — especially a 12-year-old virtuoso of violence named Hit Girl — are anything but. 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.

Dana Stevens, Slate: The director, Matthew Vaughn, pointed out the hypocrisy of those who criticized his movie's use of profanity while ignoring its violence: "I was like, 'Does it not bother you that she killed about 53 people in this film?' … I'm like, 'Would you rather your daughter swore, or became a masked vigilante killer?' They're going, 'Yeah, I don't know.' " Cogently put, sir. But this critic, for one, is going, "Yeah, it does bother me that Hit Girl, and her fellow amateur superheroes rack up a body count in the high dozens." In the course of this zany romp made for the high-school set, human bodies are microwaved, crushed in trash compactors, skewered, bazookaed, and burned alive. And, 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.

Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star-Tribune: "Kick-Ass" is a guilty pleasure of the highest order, a guns-blazing, media-savvy superhero comedy designed to thrill geeks and outrage prudes. What makes it different from "Sin City" or the "Kill Bill" movies is that it features Hit Girl, a moppet who swears like Joe Pesci and turns villains into corpses by the dozen: a tween Tarantino. If that's a deal breaker, too bad for you, fuddy duddy. You're missing a fabulously insane piece of work -- original, self-aware and so cartoonishly extravagant with bloodshed that it makes a joke of hollow Hollywood violence. If you look beyond the jokes and gore, you'll find a strong belief in a code of honor. Honor among vigilantes perhaps, but a virtue nonetheless.