On the heels of Matthew Vaughn‘s unexpectedly well-received 2010 film (we thought it was OK) comes Jeff Wadlow’s equally zany but lack-lustre sequel. From the get go, Kick-Ass 2 feels like an imitation as opposed to a follow up and the film’s unevenness only calls more attention to the absence of Vaughn. Now that’s not entirely a bad thing as Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz and their band of colorfully righteous bad-asses do keep things breezy and entertaining. But it feels stiff and phoned in as things don’t click like they should or take the story anywhere worthwhile.
You can’t blame Wadlow or the crew too much – this is a property called Kick-Ass after all, it’s not Shakespeare. This sequel doesn’t even try to take itself seriously and revels in this make-believe world where anyone can be a superhero. Really any and all of these poor schmoes, Kick-Ass included, act like they’re geared more to participate in an afternoon of L.A.R.P. not fight legitimate crime. Now that is the point of the joke as few characters aside from Hit Girl have any quality training. But Kick-Ass 2 (fyi, this should have been called Hit Girl not Kick-Ass 2) really is more about pathetic souls, inspired by Kick-Ass, trying to put a stop to common street crime than the titular hero. Their do-gooding, plus a little matter of revenge, have attracted the wrath of Chris/Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and driven him to become The Motherf%&*^r. With the power of “money”, he has amassed his own group of deadly but equally pathetic souls and sets out to rid the world of Kick-Ass and anyone else who happens to get in the way.
In the film, Kick-Ass takes up with an unintimidating band of merry wannabe heroes, led by a charismatic Jim Carrey. One of the supreme high points Carrey, like a chameleon, totally disappears into the role of Colonel Stars and Stripes. As the founder of “Justice Forever” he shows his flock (and the audience) that he is more than a patriotic themed leg-breaker; he believes in protecting the weak, a sense of fair play and even feeds the homeless. Chloë Grace Moretz is now a little older in this film so there’s a bit of novelty that’s worn off as she’s not this pint-size terror spouting obscenities as she dismembers bad guys. It came across so unexpected in the first one, and now that it’s to be expected is less impressive or shocking when she’s ripping everyone a new one.
One problem with Kick-Ass 2 is that it just seems rushed. It feels like a cheap and under-cooked sequel; compared to the first X-Men, this is X-Men: The Last Stand. Yet that doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to be had even if it is laughing at them not with them. There are gut-busting jokes and charm in and around the contrivances and rampant stupidity that really compliments the absurd carnage. Two minutes can’t go by without us being given characters or situations both conceived and delivered in lunacy. But in a world where so many comic films follow the Christopher Nolan playbook Kick-Ass 2 knows what it is, stands its ground and as such can’t be criticized too harshly – it is rather fun. These characters cheaply ham it up giving the impression they’re eager to sit alongside the audience members and experience this irreverent roller coaster they helped create. Granted it doesn’t excuse the weak plot, sloppy pacing and thin characters but somehow the cheapness has charm that just won’t quit.
Again, the film is primarily about all the people Kick-Ass inspired to do good and fight crime. The members of “Justice Forever” range from non-threatening to downright sad and laughable, including Donald Faison who is hilarious, albeit severely underused, as Dr. Gravity. But there’s an endearing quality to this sort of “Bad News Bears” Superhero club. They move the film forward however Hit Girl causes it to stumble and lose its momentum as we suffer through Mindy’s CW grade high school strife. More to that point the presentation of characters, cinematography, even many action sequences just reek of bad television or direct-to-video production value. But when all the superficial turmoil is over Waldow dispenses with the crappy dialog and delivers – Dave, Mindy and their righteous do-gooders squaring off against a warehouse full of supervillains. Also, one strong element carried over from the first film was the score by Henry Jackman. Jackman returns, seemingly phoning it in but the notes are there when they need to be, and you’d be hard-pressed not to feel yourself walking a little taller humming the Kick-Ass theme.
Sequels tend to go the “bigger is better” route throwing more action, more characters, and more tropes into the mix, well Kick-Ass 2 definitely follows the status quo for that, and it really kind of works. Or maybe the yards of multicolored spandex and hilarious homemade heroes simply create such a hypnotic distraction one dismisses that this just isn’t very competent movie. Case in point, the absurdity and insanity to which Mother Russia, Black Death, and other newly minted villains terrorize Happy Street, USA make this a complete blast to watch as everyone willingly ingests and embodies schlocky B-Movie goodness. From time to time you get little jokes within the jokes too, like Chris’ bodyguard (John Leguizamo) being OK with killing yet shows his racial sensitivity when Chris starts giving his cohorts their monikers. Small bits like that don’t fix the movie’s problems, but they help it not taste so bad.
The problems that exist in the first Kick-Ass film have to do with its slow middle and boring lead-in to the third act. There’s substance but overall the movie is a little flat. Kick -Ass 2 has zero substance and feels even flatter, yet in an odd way works better as an adaptation (for this kind of story that is) which borders closer to spoof territory. Taken as one complete story these two comic book films blend together well to become one overarching film that chronicles the rise and prominence of both Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl (and her stupid high school strife). The cheapness to this second entry makes the two as a whole feel more like a comic book which is the right direction…but people probably won’t look at it that way, or as positively. Giving credit where its due, and if one’s brain is sufficiently checked at the door, Kick-Ass 2 can be a lot of fun – breezy, profane, slightly low-brow entertainment, but fun – and pure R-rated popcorn-grade insanity. And if you feel the same way, make sure and stick around for the end credits.