Controversy sells, and Lionsgate rode a swell of debate over the R-rated superhero action comedy Kick-Ass to a robust box office lead on Friday, an estimated $7.5 million in 3,065 runs. It may or may not make the $20 million opening benchmark some predicted; Date Night could wind up number one. This is the sort of movie that is banking on a core fan following–the folks that responded enthusiastically to early footage at Comic-Con last year–but needs to widen its appeal in order to really score. Lionsgate only invested $15 million to acquire it plus some $25 million in marketing, so it should come out ahead.
The web noise and controversy surrounding this movie–which is great, imaginative, transgressive fun–reveal the generational divide among critics. (The film earned a 67% Metascore.) Many older film critics (like Roger Ebert) are offended by the morality of a film that asks viewers to get off on a foul-mouthed 11-year-old girl on a killing spree. Ebert’s review angered younger fans who embrace the film’s comic-book audacity.
In my flip-cam interview with Matthew Vaughn, he insists that he purposely made the film to appeal to men, not women, and was surprised when so many women responded positively to Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz). The film treats her like a heroic figure, not a victim of abuse (her vengeful father–Nic Cage–trains her to be a ruthless assassin). The movie fails to deal with that central issue, which is why it is so vulnerable to attack–as I knew it would be. This is a significant omission.
Ebert and other critics have internalized the conventions of their generation which dictate that in order to be a heroic killer –of any age or sex–you should kill bad guys or at least have an honorable mission (as a soldier, spy, cop etc.). If not, you must suffer serious repercussions, pay a price, repent or at least recognize in some way that you have done something morally wrong. Hit Girl is a brainwashed little girl wielding knives and guns who is looking to kill (tellingly, Vaughn films her from a videogame POV during the worst of her mayhem). It’s all a big lark. There is no indication of psychological damage or moral consciousness on her part. Yes, it’s comic-book land. And that’s the generational divide in a nutshell.
Vaughn is smart enough to say the right things about making Hit Girl a Terminator 2 figure in the inevitable sequel, limiting her violence and dealing with her issues. But he’d have been better off acknowledging them in the first film. He didn’t.