movie film review | chris tookey

Kick-Ass 2

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  Kick-Ass 2 Review
Tookey's Rating
2 /10
Average Rating
4.40 /10
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Full Cast >

Directed by: Jeff Wadlow
Written by: Jeff Wadlow adapted from the comic book series by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr

Released: 2013
Origin: UK/ US
Length: 113

Comic-strip violence at its most juvenile.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Jim Carrey has famously refused to promote Kick-Ass 2 - not on the grounds that he’s in it for only about half an hour, during which time he’s as dull and unfunny as the rest of the picture, but because he feels it trivialises violence.

Actually, it goes further than that. It supports vigilantism, advocates violent revenge and revels in gang warfare. It also suggests that the way to deal with bullies is to bully them back, even more brutally.

I suppose it’s some kind of antidote to the more wimpish approach of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ, but not perhaps a healthy one.

Another reason the film is hard to watch is that writer-director Jeff Wadlow’s way of shooting fights is to get in too close to the action and edit it so frenetically that it’s impossible to see what’s happening, still less care.

The picture’s hardly idiosyncratic attitude to brutality – it’s in favour of it - is not as heinous as the first film’s paedophile overtones, but even in the sequel the camerawork takes a keenly lubricious approach to the bodies of 15 year-old girls.

There’s also a particularly nasty sequence where an attempted rape is played for laughs. Apparently, there’s an even sicker scene in Mark Millar’s original comic-book that involves gang-rape, but the flippancy about sexual violence here is unlikely to endear it to women – or thinking men, for that matter.

The rest of the story is essentially the same as in just about every other moronic superhero movie. The bad guys are out to kill good guys because they’re really really bad. And the good guys aren’t good in any way that’s noticeable; they’re just not as bad as the bad guys.

A super-villain, formerly Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) but now renamed in a way that’s unprintable in a family newspaper has sworn vengeance on superhero Kick-Ass (Aaron Tayor-Johnson) for killing his father.

So he gathers a gang of super-villains to help him kick Kick-Ass’s ass.

Meanwhile, 15 year-old Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) is trying to lead a normal life at high school, but she’s bullied so badly by some “cool” girls – in a series of scenes that are like a witless parody of the much funnier Mean Girls – that she takes revenge with an orgy of projectile vomiting and explosive excretion that makes Bridesmaids look restrained.

And then she runs amok with knives, broken glass and guns, much in the way she did in the first movie. Eventually, Hit-Girl, Kick-Ass and other wannabe superheroes commit mass murder, which is presented of course with psychotic relish.

Yes, I know it’s only a movie. All the same, your enjoyment will depend a lot on whether you regard murder, mutilation and dismemberment as good, harmless fun. If you do, you will certainly find this film a great deal more entertaining and wholesome than I did.

The 15 certificate struck me as erring on the generous side, but then I’m not sure I’d advocate it being shown to 18 year-olds either. This is more Sick-Ass than Kick-Ass.

A slightly abbreviated form of the following article by me appeared in the Daily Mail on Friday, 16th August, 2013:

The murder took place just as my wife and I were dozing off in front of Newsnight. ‘They're trying to kill me!' a man screamed, outside our window. We opened the curtains, but the road was too dark to see much more than shadowy figures and the glint of a blade.

Other neighbours across the road saw more clearly the way the three masked men clubbed their victim with a baseball bat and knifed him repeatedly. Educated voices called out from doorways or upstairs windows. 'What do you think you're doing?’ said one. ‘Stop that at once!' admonished another. They sounded like Joyce Grenfell upbraiding infants for misbehaviour - but this wasn't comedy. It was real violence, of a kind so unfamiliar that it seemed less authentic than the kind of slaughter I witness every week in the cinema.

Two neighbours cradled the victim in their arms, holding his hand and trying to comfort him as I ran out. I had phoned the police and ambulance during the few seconds he was under attack. Others had done the same.

Now, the man was visibly, audibly dying a few yards from my front door. Blood didn't spurt out, the way it does in horror movies. It leaked. Even so, by the time I'd run to help him, his blood was already a red stream running down the pavement. 

I remember thinking: I haven't seen so much blood since Reservoir Dogs. But this, of course, wasn't fake blood.

At first, my neighbours and I thought the blood was coming from the man's neck. But then one of us felt his side and that was sticky, too. The police told me later that he had been stabbed 17 times.

The killing of Abdul Kamal Samad, a father of two from East London, was a tragedy for his family, and it took 15 years to bring even one of his attackers to justice.

That murder, which we later heard was gang-related, took place 16 years ago, but it taught me a few lasting, unexpected and disconcerting things about the relationship between real-life and movie violence. 

What surprised me most was my own reaction to the murder, or rather my lack of reaction. My neighbours were visibly shaken. Some had nightmares afterwards. Others had difficulty sleeping. I was totally unaffected. 

The reason is obvious. As a film critic, I routinely see the most horrible murders and most brutal killings every week. I see more violence in a month than frontline police officers will witness in a lifetime It is, of course, make-believe, but the skill of modern special effects ensures that the violence is very lifelike, while modern mores mean it is shown in ever-greater, gorier detail. 

What the murder in my road brought home to me was that I have seen so much film violence that I have, without noticing it, become desensitised. It is a shocking reminder that none of us is immune from the effects of screen violence. 

I do not count myself as a violent or callous person, either by nature or upbringing. And I began my intensive diet of screen violence only in my 30s, by which time I was reasonably mature. 

But there are, sadly, many people who are violent, whether by nature or by nurture. And the majority of film releases are aimed quite cynically, and irresponsibly, at immature male adolescents and young adults. They encourage a belief that violence is heroic and offers easy solutions. Violence is presented as the essence of sexual attractiveness for a male.

Witnessing a man die as the result of a real-life attack significantly changed my outlook. Two days after the killing, I did not join my fellow critics in chuckling at a black-comedy scene in Gridlock'd, where two young men stabbed each other for laughs.

Sixteen years on, having watched many hundreds more increasingly violent movies, it is clear to me that the level of aggressive brutality in filmmaking has risen to new heights, or rather fallen to new depths. This week’s most depressing film is Kick-Ass 2, so pointlessly violent that one of its stars, Jim Carrey, has publicly disowned and refused to promote it.

This has exposed him to a certain amount of ridicule, but I’m sure his concerns are genuine. Like me, he is less concerned with individual copycat crimes – though well-documented evidence of these does exist. The most disturbing thing is the culture of violence, bullying and aggression that films like this encourage.

Kick-Ass 2 makes a joke out of rape and preaches that extreme violence by gangs is not only justified, but fun. Will a pacifist watching it suddenly be turned on to a life of violent crime? Will it turn normal people into rapists? Of course not, but violent films such as these help create a world in which brutality isn’t just acceptable but the norm.

Another example of pointless and egregious violence is another recent release, the Ryan Gosling film Only God Forgives. It is far more horrific and even more irresponsible than Kick-Ass 2. But because it had fancy, monochrome lighting and a star who’s currently the hottest in Hollywood, it attracted four and five-star reviews from critics who would normally be repelled by films like that.

Of course, there is a place for violence in drama. One of the most famous scenes in Shakespeare is Gloucester having his eyes gouged out in King Lear, an act that was intended to be viscerally shocking and, five hundred years on, still is.

Some of my favourite films have extreme violence in them, including Fight Club, Pulp Fiction and GoodFellas. I am happy to acknowledge that some horror films that include hideous acts of cruelty, from Hitchcock’s seminal slasher film Psycho through to Takashi Miike’s deeply disturbing Audition, are – in their way – masterpieces.

But Kick-Ass 2 and Only God Forgives are a very long way from being masterpieces. And they are evidence of a sea-change in film-makers’ attitude to violence. What’s happening now is new, and probably inspired by the popularity of computer games such as Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row: The Third and Hitman: Absolution.

Extreme, graphic violence is being used cinematically, not to denote extreme, anti-social behaviour, but to entertain, titillate and show how “cool” the film-makers are.

Stay to the end of Only God Forgives, and you’ll have seen eyes, ears, legs, arms and hands impaled in unflinching close-up, limbs amputated, various people carved up, and a young man sticking his hands into the sliced-open abdomen of his mother. All this is portrayed “non-judgmentally” or “amorally”, which are the new ways of saying “immorally”.

In Kick-Ass 2, you’ll see gang warfare, mass murder and a rape scene played for laughs. The amputation, torture and mutilation-fancying methods of the good guys are indistinguishable from those of the bad.

They are two apparently different films – the first is solemn and aimed at the art-house crowd, the second is comedy geared to the youthful mass-market – but both approach violence, bloodshed and pain in a flippant, facetious, emotionally dead way: precisely the spirit in which a gangland killer approaches a victim.

Do such films desensitise? I am in no doubt that they do. I’ve witnessed it in myself. But don’t take my word for it. The US military has long used violent films and video games to “toughen up” recruits. In 1996, the US Marine Corps actually commissioned a game Marine Doom in order to train soldiers. In 2002, the US Army released first-person shooter America's Army to recruit soldiers and prepare them for the battlefield.

The worry is not what we’re doing to a handful of film critics or a few thousand military recruits; it’s that, without our even noticing it, we’re raising a generation of desensitised children and young adults. There were times during the screening of Kick-Ass 2 when, as I heard people around me chuckling with glee at some new atrocity, I felt like a foreigner in my own country.

Do you remember those Clive James TV programmes where he showed excerpts from Japanese reality shows in which people were routinely hurt and humiliated in the name of entertainment? At the time, those clips seemed weird and alien to the whole British way of life.

Nowadays, if you turn on your TV, you’ll see precisely the same kind of thing being made over here, from celebrities forced to perform demeaning acts on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here though to the loathsome treatment meted out to the no-hopers on Britain’s Got Talent. It’s all part of the same culture of cruelty.

Before you dismiss this as the ravings of someone old or out of touch, I’ve discussed this issue with my 22 year-old son and people of his age group, and they’re as baffled and alienated as I am. Most have responded by staying away from the cinema, which I think is a pity. A wonderful and rewarding art-form is falling into disrepute because of commercially inspired cynicism.

Ten years ago, movies like the Kick-Ass films would have struggled to be granted an 18 certificate. Now they’re routinely labelled 15.

The problem with doing as the British Board of Film Classification has done, and gradually reneging on once easily understood rules – no rapes to be shown non-judgmentally, or extreme violence without some kind of moral context – is that some film-makers will take every new opportunity to push the boundaries of taste and decency further and further.

Now the taboos have all collapsed. Walk into a cinema today, and the average 15 or 18 rated film may well make you feel that film-makers have completely lost their moral compass.

Anyone who writes a piece like this knows he or she is going to be abused horribly on the internet. After my review of the first Kick-Ass, in which, going against the prevailing tide of critical opinion, I aired my fears of the impact this sort of movie could have, I was subjected to an extraordinary campaign of vilification – often by people who protested that they hadn’t been desensitised by such movies, when their behaviour showed with horrible clarity that they had.

I was accused of paedophilia and even bestiality by ordinary people operating behind the cowardly mask of anonymity, the internet equivalent of balaclava helmets. Two Facebook sites came into existence, purely in order to spit out the most venomous hatred against me.

Three years on, of course, there has been a huge increase in “trolling” on the internet. Earlier this month, freelance journalist and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez was subjected to a blizzard of abusive tweets, including rape threats, after she made an innocuous attempt to have novelist Jane Austen featured on a U.K. banknote.

MP Stella Creasy also received a tweeted rape threat, and Time magazine Europe Editor Catherine Mayer received tweeted bomb threats for equally pathetic reasons. Over the years, I’ve had numerous threats of violence and death, from IRA sympathisers through to Star Wars fans who felt I was being unduly harsh about George Lucas’s screenwriting ability.

The huge, seemingly unstoppable growth in abusive behaviour on the net reflects the same culture of barbarism we see in films, television, video games and comics. It is noticeable that the one sure way for any critic to incur the most vicious and intemperate personal abuse is to express artistic doubts about any film based on a comic strip. If you don't believe me, take a look at the online responses to my review of Kick-Ass.

My apologies if I start to sound like Michael Gove, but it seems to me that we are now reaping the whirlwind of an educational system that encourages freedom of expression but completely fails to lay down any parameters of social responsibility or acceptable behavior.

Is cinema wholly responsible for the ignorance, violence and callousness in our society? Of course not, but films like Kick Ass 2 and Only God Forgives are symptoms of a deep-rooted malaise. And they are helping to encourage the current culture of cruelty that should concern every one of us.

There is one other chilling aspect I remember from that real-life murder. That was the coolness, the callousness, the macho body-language of those vicious assailants as they swaggered off down my road. They looked exactly as if they thought they were behaving like movie heroes.

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