While some in the critical community dismissed Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass when it came out in 2010 and seem to think it’s completely without merit, I actually found a lot to like about that movie. It briefly positioned itself as a serious attempt to explore what might really happen if a regular person became a costumed crime fighter in the real world, but quickly ditched that premise when its main character, Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), ended up in the hospital and had metal rods fused to his skeleton. Combine our hero’s new kinda-sorta-superpowers with the introduction of Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) – the most badass 11-year-old you’ve ever seen – and the movie turned into more of a comic book crowd-pleaser than an insightful examination of real-world heroism.
Kick-Ass 2 is entertaining in the same surface-level way. A lot of similar thematic ground is covered here, except this time, things get really, really dark. I’d argue that Kick-Ass 2 is neck and neck with James Gunn’s Super for the darkest superhero movie ever made. About ten police officers are completely obliterated by a newly formed league of supervillains, and characters we care about get straight up murdered on screen. The film doesn’t ever find the right balance between the obvious humor found in scenarios in which people dress up in costumes and fight crime, and those depressing consequences that result from that behavior. A major theme here is whether or not the escalation from the first film was caused by the hero’s decision to wear the mask in the first place, but The Dark Knight tackled the same subject matter much better only a few years ago. The ultra-violence from the original Kick-Ass has lost its much of its surprise and effectiveness, and while writer/director Jeff Wadlow attempts to mine the humor from these scenarios, constant tonal shifts hurt the film.
Dave Lizewski inspired others to don capes and cowls at the end of the first film, but he hung up his Kick-Ass costume by the time the credits rolled. As this movie starts, he wants to experience the rush of crime fighting again and feel like he belongs to a family, since he can’t tell his single dad about his former exploits. He convinces Mindy Macready (aka Hit-Girl) to train him – not a problem since she isn’t adjusting well to life as a normal high school girl. The influence of Nicolas Cage’s Big Daddy character looms large over Hit-Girl, but a promise she made to her guardian Marcus (Morris Chestnut) takes her off the streets and into a Mean Girls-esque clique. Dave, desperate for that family of like-minded souls, must look elsewhere to find them.
He discovers a group of vigilante heroes called Justice Forever, led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), a former mob enforcer turned born-again Christian with a low tolerance for swearing and a proclivity for bashing bad guys with a bat. Sadly, Carrey’s role isn’t nearly as extensive as fans hoped for; he gets in on an action sequence here and there, but his contributions are minor. Twisted rich kid Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), whose father was the villain in the first movie, is obsessed with getting revenge on Kick-Ass and becomes the world’s first supervillain, known as “The MotherF*cker.” He forms his own army of ne’er-do-wells, and the whole film starts down a course toward the two groups’ inevitable face-off. Hit-Girl gets back in the mix (of course) after a juvenile-but-funny turn of events involving a “sick stick” that makes the mean girls simultaneously vomit and defecate, but an action-fueled ambush during a funeral is an example of the kind of scene that might work in the pages of the comic, but doesn’t translate well to live action.
Taylor-Johnson is forgettable as the titular hero – it’s Moretz who rises to the challenge of a bigger role this time around. She’s come into her own in recent years, and plays the most interesting character on screen. It’s not just over-the-top action for her this time: she brings a humanity to her character that might surprise those who saw Hit-Girl as merely a controversial talking point in the original. It’s not breaking any new ground, but at least she experiences some compelling internal conflict.
I had some fun with it, but ultimately, Kick-Ass 2’s dark side eclipses its lighter moments, resulting in a jarring experience that will likely be enjoyable for fans of the first movie but will have trouble proving memorable by summer’s end. Until next time…
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