Kick-Ass 2 (United States/United Kingdom, 2013)

August 15, 2013
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Kick-Ass 2 Poster

The summer blockbuster season of 2013 is over, so what do we get as we move into the dog days of August? Yet another superhero movie. If there was ever any question about their ubiquitous multiplex presence, this answers it. A sequel to the breath-of-fresh-air 2010 action/comedy, Kick-Ass, this film tries to do what many second installments attempt - now that the origin story has been dispensed with, take the characters in new directions. That usually means bigger fights, more interesting plot developments, and a stronger payoff. However, since Kick-Ass was such an atypical superhero production, the filmmakers, with Jeff Wadlow (whose previous effort was the forgettable Never Back Down) taking over for Matthew Vaughn in the director's chair, appear to be in a quandary about how to proceed. And, while there are some solid gold moments, the story as a whole has an unfocused, meandering quality, and there are elements that simply don't work. Plus, the movie's need to include so-called "meta" elements (comparing the "real world" with the world of comic books) feel forced and obligatory. And there are instances when the irony is laid on so thickly that the only thing missing is a blinking neon sign with an arrow.

Kick-Ass 2 starts at an unspecified time after Kick-Ass (but it's about 3 years). By now, the first "real" superhero, Dave Lizewski a.k.a. Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), has returned to a normal high school life. The same cannot be said of Mindy Macready (Chloe Grace Moretz), who continues to moonlight as Hit Girl, helping to keep the streets of Manhattan crime-free. She has plenty of help from other masked vigilantes like Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison) and Night Bitch (Lindy Booth). Her guardian, Detective Marcus Williams (Morris Chestnut), believes she has given up her life of crime-fighting to become a model student. Meanwhile, Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the former Red Mist, nurses his grudge against Kick-Ass to the point where it poisons everything in his life. His obsession to kill the man responsible for his father's death causes him to become the world's first "super villain." Spending the millions of dollars of inheritance money, he recruits an army of psychopaths and misfits, led by the frightening Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina).

Bored of doing regular high school senior things, Dave decides he wants to resurrect his alter-ego, but he realizes Kick-Ass needs a partner, so he seeks out Mindy. Although initially reluctant, she eventually agrees to train him and they have a short-lived partnership (with romantic overtones). Once Mindy is forced out of the superhero business by Marcus, Dave seeks out others and joins a group of unlikely Avengers led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). The team, however, is destined for a short and unpleasant life as Chris, who now calls himself The Motherfucker, targets them for elimination.

Probably the most controversial aspect of Kick-Ass 2 will be the dark, dark territory into which it ventures. Using The Dark Knight as a template, it puts characters and viewers alike through a wringer. The first Kick-Ass raised some eyebrows with its extreme violence (especially where Hit Girl was concerned); Kick-Ass 2 dials back nothing but this time some of what it does feels cruel and sadistic. For a movie being marketed as an "action/comedy," the tonal shift is shocking. There's nothing comedic about the places where the storyline takes us and an endeavor to turn an attempted rape into a joke is about as ghastly a misfire as one can envision. While the first half of Kick-Ass 2 stays mostly true to its predecessor's feel, the second half abandons almost all attempts at humor in favor of something that would be considered grueling for even an uber-serious superhero outing.

Tone isn't the movie's sole problem. There's something off-putting about Christopher Mitz-Plasse as the chief bad guy. The actor is so over-the-top (wearing an S&M fetish costume) that it's impossible to take him seriously. He makes Al Pacino in Scarface seem restrained and under control. Yet his actions of mayhem, murder, and brutality are so stark that it creates a disconnect. Mintz-Plasse is trying to do his version of The Joker, and it never comes close to working. His henchmen, especially the seemingly indestructible Mother Russia, are a lot more interesting. That's why the least interesting aspect of the finale is learning The Motherfucker's fate.

To be fair, there are elements of Kick-Ass 2 that work exceptionally well. Although Dave isn't the most interesting of leads, the filmmakers recognize this and give significantly greater exposure to the much more interesting Mindy. Despite a pointlessly graphic ending to an otherwise engaging side-story, the trajectory of her character is effectively delineated. Mindy (and by extension the actress who plays her, Chloe Grace Moretz) is Kick-Ass 2's greatest asset. The final battle is also undeniably satisfying in a visceral way. It doesn't redeem the movie's missteps but it mutes them. The ending, a Dark Knight/Iron Man pastiche, hints that, if the box office warrants it, there could be a Kick-Ass 3.

Whatever its faults, Kick-Ass 2 at least dares to be different. The R rating should limit some of the most vociferous criticism associated with the non-stop brutality - this isn't intended for kids nor should it be seen by them. Some of the things done by Wadlow and company keep the movie from becoming repetitive. Still, there's a sense that a better-focused, more grounded approach would have resulted in a stronger film. After all, elements of Kick-Ass 2 hint at the promise of something more interesting. One of the key aspects of Kick-Ass was the lampooning of superhero tropes; Kick-Ass 2 has largely abandoned this segment of its DNA and instead bought into them. Kick-Ass 2's desire to abandon the "parody" label and move in the direction of becoming an actual card-carrying superhero adventure edges the saga closer to Watchmen territory. By abandoning so much of what made Kick-Ass memorable, Kick-Ass 2 has devalued the nascent franchise and left vaguely unpleasant aftertaste.

Kick-Ass 2 (United States/United Kingdom, 2013)