Kid-Ass

Oh dear, Christopher Tookey, film critic of the Daily Mail, doesn’t much like Kick-Ass, the new American action movie from Brits Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, based upon the American Marvel comic by Brit Mark Millar and American John Romita Jr. I’ve seen it and agree with the consensus: that it’s a highly entertaining and knowing piece of superhero hokum, and yes, it’s incredibly violent in a way that’s usually described as “cartoon” but it’s actually jarringly realistic, as this is not a fantasy, it’s a hyperreal flesh-and-bone drama. It’s a 15 certificate. It’s sexually frank (there’s more than an allusion to how much Aaron Johnson’s geek protagonist masturbates in the first 10 minutes, with trousers around ankles and tissues being binned) and the language is blue from the start.

It’s shocking – it’s supposed to be – and at first seems pretty strong stuff for a 15. But when I was 14 I went to my first legal AA at the cinema – National Lampoon’s Animal House – and heard similarly rude language and saw similarly sexual scenes, including a number of what can only be described as bare breasts – so maybe not so much has changed in 30 years. What’s really shocking to me is the frothing overreaction of Christopher Tookey in the Mail, who gives Kick-Ass one star (fair enough; his view) and then starts the ball rolling by summarising the film thus: “verdict: evil.” That’s evil. This film is … evil.

I won’t reprint his review in full – if you’re interested, it’s here – but I feel duty bound to flag up certain observations and devious political points. “Millions,” he writes, “are being spent to persuade you that Kick-Ass is harmless, comic-book entertainment suitable for 15-year-olds. Don’t let them fool you.” From the off, he assumes his readers to be dimwits. He predicts that it will be “among the most influential movies of 2010. And that should disturb us all.”

His big beef: “It deliberately sells a perniciously sexualised view of children and glorifies violence, especially knife and gun crime, in a way that makes it one of the most deeply cynical, shamelessly irresponsible films ever.” That’s ever. I have seen this film. I did not see any “sexualised view of children.” A day later, I saw the new, much-celebrated new French drama Father Of My Children, in which the protagonist’s young daughters are seen topless, swimming in a lake. It is not a “sexualised” image, indeed it is one of innocence, but it is an image that could, by a disturbed mind, be interpreted as such. The film is a 12A. Why is Tookey not outraged at this? Because it’s not “hyped”, apparently.

His problem is Chloe Moretz as Hit-Girl, an eleven-year-old masked avenger played by a girl of 12-13, who commits the lion’s share of the violent acts in the film, and at one stage calls a bunch of villains “cunts.” She uses other bad language, but the c-word is played very skilfully for maximum shock effect. (She appears in costume and saves the life of Kick-Ass; the utterance of “cunts” is not casual, or throwaway.) Tookey writes that “the reason the movie is sick, as well as thick, is that it breaks one of the last cinematic taboos by making the most violent, foul-mouthed and sexually aggressive character, Hit-Girl, an 11-year-old.” That certainly makes it interesting, but again, I didn’t see Hit-Girl, or her alter ego Mindy, as “sexually aggressive.” The fact that she’s 11 is the point; she’s not sexual. Or at least, not to my eyes. But to Tookey’s, she is. “The movie’s writers want us to see Hit-Girl not only as cool, but also sexy, like an even younger version of the baby-faced Oriental assassin in Tarantino’s Kill Bill 1. Paedophiles are going to adore her.” Well, firstly, we can’t censor art, or anything else, because paedophiles might get off on it. We would also have to stop producing catalogues that contain children modelling children’s clothes. Or build walls around school playgrounds. “One of the film’s creepiest aspects is that she’s made to look as seductive as possible – much more so than in the Mark Millar and John Romita Jr comic book on which this is based.” (I disagree with that, by the way – the film’s is visually very faithful to Romita Jr’s designs.) “She’s fetishised in precisely the same way as Angelina Jolie in the Lara Croft movies, and Halle Berry in Catwoman.” Well, not precisely, as both of those figures are adults. Hit-Girl is shaped like an 11-year-old.

Oh, but hang on, Tookey has borrowed special paedophile spectacles through which to view the film: “As if that isn’t exploitative enough, she’s also shown in a classic schoolgirl pose, in a short plaid-skirt with her hair in bunches, but carrying a big gun.” Well, yes, she does appear in school uniform. But school uniform isn’t intrinsically sexy, otherwise the Krankies would carry an 18 certificate. “Oh,” he adds, “one of the male teenage characters acknowledges that he’s attracted to her.” This is true, but the geek who makes this comment on seeing Hit-Girl on TV is immediately admonished for the inappropriate nature of his observation. The joke is on him.

Tookey brands the film as “unimaginative”, “irredeemably bone-headed” and “cliched”, but these are subjective views to which he is entitled. (He also concedes that it’s “sporadically funny, efficient, and well shot”.) He also says it’s “morally fatuous”, which is more arguable. Yes, violence is meted out upon men, but these are bad men, who are also killers. It’s no more morally fatuous than any film in cinema history in which bad guys have been killed by good guys. Tookey clearly doesn’t “get” comic book movies, as he sneeringly uses the phrase “so-called graphic novels” which reveals a deep-seated snobbery against the form.

Inevitably, Tookey resorts to reminding us how broken Britain is, with reminders that – BECAUSE OF FILMS LIKE THIS! – children carry knives (yes, a tiny minority of them), and are having underage sex (“recent government figures revealed that in this country more than 8,000 children under the age of 16 conceive every year”), but surely this is a complex social ill, and not one conveniently explained by Hit-Girl wearing a skirt? Equally, “Worldwide child pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry.” Yes it is. But this is a 15 certificate film, aimed at people over 15. It is responsibly certificated to reflect the film’s content. I saw what can only be described as bare breasts aged 14 in Animal House, legally.

Later, he states that the “childish violence” is presented with “calculated flippancy, as funny, admirable and (most perversely of all) sexually arousing.” [my italics] Is it? I mean, really, is it? I didn’t get sexually aroused by the violence. It is not sexual violence, as it is meted out by an 11-year-old to adult men. They are not sexually aroused and nor is she. The only explanation for this observation is that Christopher Tookey is sexually aroused by the violence, or that he vicariously imagine that Daily Mail readers might be. The line, “in Hit-Girl, the film-makers have created one of the most disturbing icons and damaging role-models in the history of cinema” is pure hype. In the history of cinema? Come on!

He throws in “feral gangs” and “child soldiers”, just in case we’re not frightened enough of our young’uns. And he plays to the gallery with what I actually deem offensive references to James Bulger and Damilola Taylor. It’s the old join-the-dots between video nasties and real-life nasties. It actually requires a disconnect in the individual child’s brain for violence to be meted out to other children, not just a VHS of Child’s Play. Life would be simpler if we could blame all of society’s problems on a couple of violent films. I’m afraid it’s far more complicated than that. Tookey doesn’t call for the banning of Kick-Ass, like Alexander Walker might once have done, but the implication is there.

He says the film will get “an easy ride” from his fellow reviewers, “who either don’t care about the social effects of movies or are frightened to appear ‘moralistic’ or ‘judgmental’.” This is damning stuff. If I were a “fellow reviewer” I’d have a word at the next screening.

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41 thoughts on “Kid-Ass

  1. Does Tookey actually feel this way about the film or does he feel obliged to write this kind of review to fit in with the daily mails agenda?
    He has attempted to hype as much as possible each controversial aspect of the film to the extreme, hoping to draw as much horror and revulsion from the readers as possible.
    I await some news story about a group putting pressure on local MPs and cinema chains to ‘ban this sick filth’ all of whom protesting without seeing the film. And of course if the tabloids get hold of it they will enjoy making reference to jane goldmans husband and his ‘million pound contract’ and ‘sachs-gate’
    God i hate the tabloid press.

  2. Seeing as the topless girl in Animal House is (spoiler alert) revealed to be 13 at the end, I think at 14 you were one of the few in the audience ‘allowed’ to ogle her boobs. Ah, innocent times.

  3. Good stuff. That’s exactly what I thought when reading it: sexual arousal is in the eye of the beholder. I wouldn’t let Christopher Tookey babysit my kids.

  4. I agree pretty much on all points. I found it very odd that the reviewer would find a school uniform inherently sexual. I think this is a classic case where the outrage says more about the person spouting the view than it does about the target.

    You didn’t mention the part where he, quite bizarrely, talks about Hit-Girl as the victim of ‘child abuse’ at the hands of Nic Cage’s character, having been ‘brainwashed’ etc. It’s at this point that it becomes apparent that he (deliberately or otherwise) has *totally* missed the mark with the film, and seems to believe it’s meant to present something actually believable and serious. He would do well to read the BBFC report on their classification decision, in which they remark on the ‘rather ridiculous idea of having trained a young girl to be an assassin’. At least the people making the decisions about who can see the film actually understand what they’re watching.

    I also thought that he completely overstepped the mark when it came to talking about child pornography and the murders of James Bulger/Damilola Taylor. Completely irrelevant and utterly exploitative, I think he should be ashamed.

    The thing about all these tabloid bursts of outrage from moral commentators (and I’m also thinking of other recent examples like, say, the fuss over Modern Warfare 2), is that what they are essentially saying is: ‘I am sensible enough to see how this is intended, or to understand that what it portrays is not acceptable, but I do not believe that the general public are as intelligent as me and therefore they can’t be trusted to be allowed to see it’.

  5. I have a “sexy” school girl outfit. The skirt barely covers my backside. The skirt SHE is wearing couldn’t ever be called sexy!
    What a strange man *bemusement*
    Do we need any more reasons to completely disregard the Mail?

  6. While I disagree with anything that comes from the Daily Mail – Mark Millar himself acknowledged that this was a film ‘by Daily Mail readers for Daily Mail readers’ with regards to the vigilante violence. I don’t think it’s the sexuality which Tokey hysterically sees everywhere that is the problem, but rather the lazy ethnic stereotypes that populate this film, where an all white crew of killers dispatches Black and Latino prostitutes and drug dealers and petty thieves for comic effect.
    I don’t think films have such a powerful effect that they will influence kids’ decision to carry knives or guns (there are bigger more complex issues at play there) but that doesn’t mean that I can’t be offended by something just because it lacks influence. Kick Ass is slick, but ultimately morally vacuous, like all the work of Mark Millar (see Wanted for previous offenses).

  7. Brilliant criticism, Mr Collings.
    I think the part that annoys me most with Daily Mail writers (or puritans of their ilk) propagandising and moralising is that they don’t realise the vanity in it.
    They say that this work of art will corrupt the minds because they think the word is all-persuasive, that a reader/viewer cannot be exposed to something without being convinced by it. That’s without touching on the nature of subjectivity and the myth that they see things the one, true way. They believe their own hype, just as the religious extremists they sometimes attack do.

    I’m off to plant a copy of Lolita in Mr Tokey’s study.

  8. Careful Andrew, Mr Tookey might be aroused by the title of your post.

    Can’t wait to see the film, your comments on this review have made me want to see it more than ever. If the Daily Mail hates it, I will love it!

  9. Hmm. I don’t suppose the Daily Mails chap’s thoughts could be possibly be coloured by who Jane Goldman’s husband is could they? Towing the party line and all that. Or am I jumping to silly over simplified conclusions based on not one jot of real evidence. A Bit like Mr Tookey. He also seems obsessed with a certain subject I won’t mention for fear of accidently implying something.

  10. Thanks to Tookey I’m even more keen to see this. His ‘so called graphic novels’ shot tingles of geek rage right through me so I’m glad to see someone taking the time for a well planned repost.

    And if I was a paedophile (maybe if I study hard and eat my vegetables) the last person I would want to be confronted with is a 11 year old who could kick the living shit out of me, followed closely by her Dad.

    I can’t help wondering if they ask Tookey to go over the top “Just go nuts on this one, it’ll be great for ratings”. Cynical attention grabbing indeed.

  11. Very entertaining. Glad you mention Father Of My Children too, which is another one of the best films of 2010 thus far – and one with excellent performances from its children.

  12. I read the Daily Mail website every day, a little like I would read a satirical newspaper, like the Onion.

    Funny, always offensive and very often wrong.

    I originally read the Kick-ass comic (in my top 25 comics ever), and took it the way it was ment, pure fun. THe film I think should be taken the same way.

    Good write up Andrew.

  13. Great piece Andrew. I don’t suppose the Daily Mail’s attitude towards this film would have anything to do with the fact that it’s co-written by Jonathan Ross’s wife? Frankly, if JR found a cure for cancer, the Mail would slate him for having taken so long about it.

  14. Surely the simple fact that the film was written by Jonathon Ross’ wife is the real reason that the Mail simply *had* to find it disgusting/immoral etc. Tookey even references Ross himself in the review as if to tar him with the ‘paedo’ insinuations.

  15. Pingback: Absolutely the last post about Kick Ass, for now. « Comics Daily

  16. It’s quite amusing when you put The Mail’s review of this film side-by-side with The Sunday Times’ review which appeared yesterday, stating that although the film was violent/shocking and all the rest, “You would be have to be pretty determined to be actually offended by the film.” To me, that says it all!

    (I must point out that being in one of the magazine supplements it must have been written before the Mail’s review was published on Friday, so it almost certainly isn’t a direct response to them, more a happy coincidence!)

  17. Well, it was only a matter of time before they jumped on this film, wasn’t it. And true to form, they’ve (or rather he’s) completely missed the point.

    I’ve seen Kick-Ass twice now, and thought it was a fantastic adaptation. Very intelligent, excellently structure and incredibly entertaining. Yes, some of the violence is disturbing, but it’s supposed to be. The filmmakers go out of their way to present the real consequences of these violent acts.

    While films like G.I Joe have no problem wiping out thousands of innocent people in a CGI explosion for “entertainment”, Vaughn and Goldman make it clear there is a price to pay for senseless violence. In that respect, and in total contrast to the Daily Mail’s review, I would argue Kick-Ass is one of the most morally sensible films to be made that deals with violence. If I had a 15 year old son or daughter I would much rather they see Kick-Ass than something as mindlessly over the top as, say, Transformers 2.

    Excellent article, Andrew, as always.

  18. I am so glad to read this as Andrew has stated, in a far more thoughtful and professional manner, everything I felt about Tookey’s utterly stupid review when I initially read it some days ago. I’d seen Kick Ass the day before and, as a 43 year old life-long lover of comics, had been so pleasantly surprised that the source material was not only treated with great reverence but, if anything, improved upon. The film was a riotous, superbly directed and highly amusing affair which, as Andrew said, had moments of darkness which showed that violence is, on the whole, a pretty horrible, painful and affecting thing. True, this was no Nil By Mouth, but it was never meant to be, and it is now my second favourite superhero film after Watchman. I despair for the average Daily Mail reader, I really do, as they are the ones being fed a totally false view of reality and society. Newspapers feed on the fear of their readership and amp up the country’s problems to such a high degree (this one goes up to 11!), and that creates a culture of suspicion that leads to the mob mentality. Thankfully this is only a movie (rather than a harmless pediatrician just going about their business) and I believe, wholeheartedly, that most people who see this film will experience no more than a couple of hours of highly diverting and very entertaining cinema.

  19. I can’t improve on Liquidcow’s comment: “I think this is a classic case where the outrage says more about the person spouting the view than it does about the target.”

    Collings’ article hits the spots.

  20. Great assessment of a terribly misconceived review. The whole argument is fundamentally flawed, as you say, by the fact that millions of kids play violent games and watch brutal movies but grow up completely unaffected.

    I watched Evil Dead, Hellraiser, Reanimator, Basket Case, Street Trash and all manner of revoltingly entertaining films with far less directorial flair than I’ve heard Kick Ass has and grew up without harming a fly, seeing extreme violence in movies for what it was – essentially a sensational, eye-boggling form of comedy. Parental responsibility (or a lack of) is the major factor – alongside peer pressure and lack of education – in creating violent children. Entertainment is a piddling part of its manifestation.

    The only thing that’s discouraging me from seeing Kick-Ass is the ugly Ross / Winkleman / BBC nepo-promotion that’s going on behind the scenes without any backlash. I find that a bit shady. But the film itself looks like a right royal laugh.

  21. Can I also make a small, gracious suggestion?

    The ‘read more’ feature in the rich text editor when you edit a post means you can break your posts up, making the front page much easier to navigate for readers… hurray!

  22. It does seem that the Daily Mail have removed all the comments for the Tookey review from their website. This is a shame. They were 98% against the views expressed in the review, incidentally. Taking them down does not make the Mail look good. without them, you’re more likely to find your eyes wandering to the salacious pic stories on the right about women in bikinis.

  23. See the icon to the right of the (blanked out in this example) break link option?

    The one that looks like a piece of paper cut in two?

    If you’ve got that icon, put it after your first sentence or paragraph, then carry on writing under it and it’ll insert a ‘read more’ link on the front page so that when you click it you’ll go to the full article from the front page, making the front page tidier and more navigationable. And yes, that is a word.

  24. You’ve all fallen for it. The Hate Mail has got you all mentioning their paper and adding to its fame (oxygen of publicity and all that). At the end of the day, if the Mail’s readers choose to boycott the film, there’ll be more seats available for the rest of us.
    They are, always have been, and always will be both hypocritical and politically slightly to the right of Genghis Khan, so we shouldn’t be surprised by their latest episode of foaming at the mouth.

    • Yes, we have all fallen for it. I don’t see how countering what’s written in the Mail adds to its “fame”. They are entitled to their opinions, and so am I, and so are you. I hardly think my blog entry will increase the Mail’s readership!

  25. I think he’s probably got a point. I ruined a perfectly good pair of trousers watching Home Alone. Some kind of warning regarding its content wouldn’t have gone amiss. A similar thing happened with Home Alone 2. On the other hand, so to speak, if a film is going to turn us into paedophiles, it’s probably no bad thing if it also encourages the younger ladies and gentlemen to carry knives.

    I don’t think we should assume that while we can tell the difference between itch-scratching entertainment and reality, Mail readers are just poor helpless saps strapped to the teet, who can’t tell piss from butter. As they probably say, somewhere.

  26. “Kick Ass is slick, but ultimately morally vacuous, like all the work of Mark Millar (see Wanted for previous offenses).”

    I officially consigned “Wanted” to the “Fuck off, you useless waste of celluloid” pile around the time our “hero” allows a whole train-load of people to die just so he can go one-on-one with his rival. If “Kick-Ass” is anything like that, I’ll pass.

  27. I was going to say the high number of views might have something to do with the fact that wdiagr blog was featured in a tiny corner of the Times today (page 16), in a feature I’ve never even noticed before called Chatter, but their link doesn’t work – has an extra dash and n (and if you remove those it takes you to the old blog). So I don’t know but there’s an exciting scan of it here, hope the link works.

  28. The first poster is correct Tookey’s review is not honest, its just what his editor wants to hear to conform to the paper’s agenda. This is makes his exploitative use of the Jamie Bulger case all the more offensive because its so calculated. It trivialises that awful case

    Its just trash. Lets be honest here we could have all written that review if we were told to make the film look ‘evil’, just link it to a high profile murder, knife crime and pedophilia, its really lazy. I suprised he didn’t find some illegal immigration in there to attack to.

  29. He may well deplore how this film has been hyped, but his own myopic and reactionary review is sure to increase said hype, and the kudos got from outraging the Mail will help sell this film to savvy teens.

    Tookey and his ilk at the Mail are relics who are generally ignored by the target demographic of most media, whether they are comic book films, videogames or youtube. You just have to say , ‘aww, bless them and their paranoid fantasisng’.

    The Mail finds its voice increasingly irrelevant in the age of internet blogs, cross-referencing and fact-checking, and is becoming more sensationalist and distortive to sell copy.

  30. With regard to the Kick-Ass controversy, you may be interested in a further piece I have written about the all too numerous people who have abused myself and other critics over the internet. A necessarily abbreviated and watered-down version of my article, for family consumption, was published in the Daily Mail this morning, 29th April, 2010 and can be found on Daily Mail online. The full, unexpurgated version – HOW I FELL FOUL OF THE INTERNET LYNCH MOB- can be found at http://www.movie-film-review.com/devFilm.asp?ID=15578.

    I believe this is one of the most important pieces I have ever written about film. Please read it with care, and link to it if you have your own website. Best regards. Christopher Tookey.

  31. Chris Tookey, I admire you for posting here and pointing people at your rebuttal. However, having read it, your main beef seems to be with the anonymity of haters on Internet forums, something I also have a problem with. I have been the subject of hate posts and abuse on my blog over the years and always from anonymous folk. You have to learn to live with it, and ignore them. It’s really difficult, and I’ve had trouble heeding my own advice, but yes, there’s a lot of abuse out there, floating about, with no names attached, and that’s an easy way of having a pop, but my reaction to your review was done without anonymity, and indeed, as a fellow critic (well, in my case, almost a critic), I hope you don’t class my blog entry as abuse. I was careful not to make it so. I can’t really account for comments left here. They reflect a general anger at what you wrote, and I felt it was worth linking to and quoting from because you have a huge audience, much larger than my own, but I hope you don’t consider any of the comments here as offensive as those you quote (or don’t quote, for reasons of taste) in your Mail column. I do approve or reject all comments, and I don’t wish my sincere and heartfelt feelings about what you wrote initially to be deemed as abusive.

  32. Fair review. A friend of mine who saw found it similar to Harry Brown, which seems to have recieved a favourable review at the Mail.

    Here’s a quote:

    ‘It won’t only be embattled pensioners who cheer as Caine turns masterfully medieval on the sneering sociopaths in our midst.’

    However, similar violence in Kick Ass is deplored:

    But in Kick-Ass, childish violence of the most extreme kind – hacking off limbs, shootings in the mouth, impalings and fatal stabbings – is presented with calculated flippancy, as funny, admirable and (most perversely of all) sexually arousing.

    The Harry Brown review was also written by Chris Tookey, though I’d imagine this was probably a different Chris Tookey.

  33. Andrew, Like yourself I too admire Chris Tookey for posting a comment here and agree with your comment back to him. I feel that he should be taken to task on a couple of points though. Mr Tookey is a public figure, and as an adult is surely aware that his original review was going to be inflammatory enough to provoke a strong response. I am sorry for his distress at some of the more bone-headedly aggressive responses, and personal attacks. However I’d draw your attention to a facebook group called Christopher Tookey is full of shit which Mr Tookey himself has joined. Yes it’s a crass title, but despite that many of the other members of the group have welcomed the chance to engage in personal debate with him over his views. Chris’s response has generally been to call them ill-educated morons and to tell one person that if they are too idiotic to get his point first time round then there is no point in engaging further with them (I’m paraphrasing here, but you get my point.) Granted it is not as aggressive as accusing someone of being a paedophile, but if you are going to publicly declare yourself the victim of cyber-bullying then at least keep your own nose clean.

  34. Pingback: Hope for the Future » Archive » Daily Mail in reductive overreaction shocker!

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