Roger Ebert vs. Harry Knowles on the Politics of Kick-Ass's Hit Girl


We've known for quite a while that Hit Girl from Kick-Ass would be cinematically controversial, but now that the film is in release, the debate about her has gotten kicked up a notch. On one side, you have Roger Ebert, who gives the film one star and questions the delight taken in Hit Girl's R-rated behavior (which involves ultraviolence and a terribly dirty mouth). One the other side, you have Harry Knowles saying, "Naw, old man!" and then ding-dong-ditching Ebert. Let's examine their arguments, shall we?

First up, we have Ebert's take on the matter:

Shall I have feelings, or should I pretend to be cool? Will I seem hopelessly square if I find "Kick-Ass" morally reprehensible and will I appear to have missed the point? Let's say you're a big fan of the original comic book, and you think the movie does it justice. You know what? You inhabit a world I am so very not interested in. 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. Now tell me all about the context. [...]

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.

Knowles responds with a long treatise about the wide availability of toy guns in Ebert's childhood and the classic films that also put young actors in murky situations:

I remind you that there was a time, when Martin Scorsese was under fire for having a 13 year old Jodie Foster play a whore in TAXI DRIVER - which is more or less about a man that in the end is a hero for taking violent action to protect that girl.

At that time there were critics that wanted to hang Marty. You were not one of them. I remember that time because as a 6 year old I can remember watching you and Gene defend Scorsese and you were my heroes.

I have to say it is a little sad to see you go the route you did in your KICK ASS review. And don't worry, while I suppose you'll never really just get KICK-ASS... You're no square in my book. But you may be in danger of being a 'grown up'.

All right, Harry, good argument. But then you lose me here:

The sort of kids that will see KICK ASS this weekend are well prepared for it. Talk to a teacher at our public schools and you'll hear fouler language than even Hit Girl dishes in the classrooms. Not of a private school, but I have dear friends that teach - their kids know the language and how to use it. They'll see it as just a really cool movie that really let kids KICK ASS. And hopefully it'll make a few kids want to get into acting so they could do stuff like that. Hopefully.

Kick-Ass is going to inspire more little girls to become child actors? BAN IT! KILL IT!

Kick-Ass [Roger Ebert]

Why my friend, Roger Ebert is dead wrong about KICK ASS by Harry Knowles [AICN]


  • CS says:

    Sadly, though (my wife is an asst. manager at a movie theater) her auditoriums were filled with kids, being brought by parents that would argue about "why do we need to stay and watch it, we don't want to see it...." or just taking their 8 and 10 and in one case 6 year old kids to go see it.
    There is no cure for stupid, but what do you want the theater to do? The rule is accompanied by a parent, and the parents are there. This movie has been no secret for awhile. Google it , good grief.

  • Dugan says:

    wow thanks for the fucking spoiler warnings u dumb fucks

  • Zing Yoo says:

    Wow now that is cool dude. Seriously Wow

  • JaySin420 says:

    I think a 10 yr old girl saying the word "cunt" is disgusting but this movie is bombing at the box office so it doesn't really matter.

  • Come on People says:

    hey Ashley, it is a good thing that 90% of all statistics are just made up on the spot.

  • Come on People says:

    Your right, society is going straight to hell! There is just so much more violence today then, let's say, in ancient Rome.
    "As adults, we need to take action to make this reality change".
    Yes, Adults do need to take action. It's called parenting your kids. The movie is rated R, so maybe as a parent you should not let your kid see it. But hey, its always easier to just get something banned and censored then to do the work yourself, and you know, parent your children.

  • AJ says:

    Agree with Dugan. WHAT'S UP WITH THE EFFIN' SPOILERS! I stopped reading Roger Ebert because has that annoying bad habit of spoiling movies. I thought I was safe since this was a story on a debate between Roger and Harry, but NOOOOOO! Had to be freakin' spoiled. The ENDING, no less.

  • justin says:

    cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt

  • Dan says:

    If Spike Lee directed Kick-Ass then Ebert would have given it four stars (or thumbs up). If David Lynch directed it then zero stars. Ebert's reviews have been predictable and discountable for years.

  • RudyV says:

    @CS "If the target audience was kids, it wouldn't have had an R rating."
    If the target audience WASN'T kids, then the movie wouldn't be full of kids dressed up as superheroes. But then you made the point for me by admitting that the showings are full of children dropped off by parents who could really care less what their "8 and 10 and in one case 6 year old kids" are seeing--the ads are full of kids, so it must be okay, right?
    And you might want to do a Google search for articles about the movie--Chloe Meretz in the schoolgirl outfit leads about half of them. (And about another half are led by her in the purple wig; makes you wonder why they named the movie after a character who hardly gets mentioned at all. So who really is the star of the movie? Isn't that something the producer should've figured out before the cameras started rolling?)
    As for spoilers, if you think the movie is spoiled because someone said the bad guy was killed by the good guy in a really spectacular way, then I wonder how may action pictures you've seen over the last, oh, twenty years? Okay, might as well go for fifty-one years, since it was "North by Northwest" that set the standard for every action flick that followed.

  • Jacques says:

    "The movie shows her turning tricks in graphic, rated-R detail. Now the supporters can't rightly say, "Chill out, it's supposed to be subversive" because we're experiencing a very horrible world there."
    Well if you had read the article you'd know that Ebert supported exactly this scenario back in the day. Yes, a movie about a child prostitute would be sad and depressing. A movie where said child took bloody revenge on her abusers, cinematic gold. It has nothing to do with American's obsession with violence, (or the presumed corollary of European obsession with sex), it has everything to do the HUMAN love for violence and revenge. Here's the thing, Kick Ass is an ultra violent film, it places children is violent situations, but unlike our illusory civilized world where children are expected to be helpless, the kids in Kick Ass aren't. This is interesting because in the world we might wish kids could always be kids but the idea of "childhood" is just an idea, it doesn't exist in nature. A nice idea, but not one that corresponds to reality. I like Kick Ass because UNLIKE the world we live in these kids aren't entirely defenseless. Unfortunately, just as in the film there are violent people who threaten children in the real world. So instead of bitching about an 11 year old successfully exacting revenge for the death of her parents against a psycho-path who wants to do her harm, why not go out and protest the REAL violence committed against REAL children every day in this godforsaken planet.

  • David says:

    Ebert's been recapping the entire plot of movies in his reviews for decades. It saves him the trouble of thinking up actual things to say about the film.

  • Cliff says:

    You know what -- Roger Ebert never mentions her cursing. So this article's very first sentence already is completely missing his point ("Hit Girl’s R-rated behavior (which involves ultraviolence and a *terribly* dirty mouth)"). He's not complaining about her mouth, guy-who-can't-read-who-wrote-this-article.
    I watched the movie and enjoyed it. After reading Ebert's review.
    But I was a bit put off by the details of how the violence was portrayed. This film's violence was more akin to horror-movie violence than most superhero (or cowboy, or Dirty Harry, or even GoodFellas or Scarface) violence -- it lingered on juicy, bloody details. Extracted eyeballs would not have surprised me at all in this movie, it's of a piece with Saw, Hostel etc. as far as I'm concerned.
    And I'm fine with that -- I'm 40 -- but I can see where Roger isn't. Which, to me, is the value of his reviews. He doesn't (well, mostly doesn't) say "Movie X sucks". He says "I really do not like Movie X for such and such reasons". Which helps me to know whether *I* will like it, which is the point of reviews. (Also, I usually use Metacritic to get a range of views).
    In this particular case he even says "if you do like this, I'm really not interested in getting to know you".
    So. FUCKING. what?
    Is Ebert's approval THAT important to you? WTF?
    Like I said, I read his review, and from that, figured I'd probably be able to enjoy the movie. Which I did. I would have enjoyed it more, actually, if the violence HAD been a bit more cartoonish, and less blood & gutsy. And I *definitely* would have enjoyed it more if the girl had been just a little bit older.
    In fact, deeper level -- I don't think an eleven-year old sex symbol is really that great to be promoting. If they had made her 15, 16 I would have been much more OK with it.
    Because, be honest now -- is not every single superhero EVER a sex symbol? Are they not made to be super attractive because of their dynamism, range of action, freedom from normal limits, etc? Are superheroes not basically the same as superstars in this regard? The Olsen Twins/Britney/Miley etc. have or had this exact same controversy whirling around them for the exact same reasons, right? (Britney concerts when she was blowing up being renowned for their attendance by a 70/30 mix of 13 year old girls and 40 year old men).
    So at least give me a teen superheroine (menstruating, be-haired, developing tits) rather than an ELEVEN year old (preteen, no secondary sexual characteristics to speak of, the essential target of the true pedophile)).
    Honestly, I think that five-year age bump would have made most people a lot more OK with it.
    I don't know if anybody posting or reading here is a parent, but really, is Cage's relationship with his "special little daddy's girl" in this movie not, like, a little fucked up and incestuous (emotionally if not physically) feeling?
    Whatever. Look, I *liked* this movie. And I *respect* Ebert's opinion. And will continue to read his, and Stephanie Zacharek's, and other's, opinions about movies because they do *NOT* say "X is bad, Y is good", they say "I didn't like X 'cause I don't like Hammer-style gore scary movies, but for people who do like that kind of thing, this movie RAWKS" or "I dug Y cause I like British relationship comedies that move real slow and rely on awkwardness as their main technique of getting uncomfortable laughs" or whatever the fuck. They let me know what I'm in for, and as I get to know a reviewer over time, I can tell what I personally can ignore and/or accentuate in their reviews.
    Just repeat this to yourself, and take some deep breaths: Roger Ebert is just some guy, you know?

  • Cliff says:

    I'm sorry, disregard my comment insofar as it appears to respond to you, the author of this article. I was having my own bout of not-reading-what-someone-wrote, having just skimmed a bunch of negative reactions to Ebert's review and reading this as another one. Still stand by my comment that Ebert doesn't mention the cursing, but mostly this is a response to other commenters here.
    My apologies. feel free to delete/edit both comments.

  • Jose says:

    Characters from real life are not equal to fictional like the ones in this comic.
    You might be right with apples and oranges bat not with Taxi Driver and Kick Ass.

  • Max says:

    There's a moment in Taxi Driver that renders any comparison between Hit Girl and Iris (Jodie Foster's character) irrelevant.
    When Travis (Robert De Niro) is on his rampage through the whorehouse, he points his gun at the head of the last pimp, and Iris screams "NO! DON'T SHOOT HIM!" just before he pulls the trigger.
    He shoots the pimp anyway, and (like nearly any 14 year old girl in the real world, even one roped into prostitution), she buries her face in her hands and starts to sob.
    Taxi Driver treated murder like something real, important, and not to be treated as a device for bad jokes.

  • Spinto says:

    I saw the movie. I found it disgusting. But not as disgusting as the comments. I know how Ebert felt and I too was saddened that a movie with teens and preteens could be so full of violence and vulgarity and back alley sex.
    Again, I was doubly saddened that such a movie could find such a wide acceptance with the general public. How far have we fallen as a people. Are we so far ot of the range of decency that we find this movie not only acceptable, but according to IMDB, this is one of the best movies ever made.
    Heaven help us.
    And don't give me that BS about it's ONLY a movie. Pukeeze...don't even try it. If you don't think that movies are one of the most influential mediums in our culture, go back to Mars...
    I'm with Ebert, all the way on this. How sad.

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