Movie review: “Kick-Ass 2”

kick ass

Kick-Ass 2

dir. Jeff Wadlow

Release Date: Aug 16, 13

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If you tend to read film geek-friendly movie news websites, and you shake your head at all the woefully premature, panicked invective delivered whenever a beloved franchise is given a sequel with a new director/writer/etc. at the helm, just know that movies like Kick-Ass 2 are the reason this sort of panic exists. A totally woeful sequel to a largely wonderful movie that left a ton of room for improvement in subsequent installments, Kick-Ass 2 ensures that the goodwill the first installment garnered with viewers will have to be earned back with a great deal of effort should a third film come to pass. Whether that’s even an idea worth exploring is really called into question at this point, though.

After blowing up a mob boss with a bazooka while flying through the air with jetpacks, Dave “Kick-Ass” Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Mindy “Hit Girl” Macready (Chloe Grace Moretz) are trying to lead civilian lives as high schoolers despite self-actualizing as superheroes. Mindy is doing a better job of it; at the behest of her godfather (Morris Chestnut), she lays down Hit Girl’s weapons and attempts to fit in with the cool kids. Dave, meanwhile, joins up with Justice Forever, an underground league of everyday superheroes inspired by Kick-Ass’ work and led by Col. Stars & Stripes (Jim Carrey under quite a lot of prosthetics), a born-again Christian and former mob heavy. There’s also Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who abandons his Red Mist hero garb in favor of his dead mother’s BDSM wear (yes, seriously) and becomes The Motherfucker. In a move endemic of writer-director Jeff Wadlow’s overall approach to the material, the film ignores the obvious Oedipal overtones and just giggles at the word “motherfucker” a lot.

What many critics missed with Kick-Ass was how deftly it handled its subject matter. It synthesized moments of genuine pathos (nothing in the sequel is a hundredth as moving as Big Daddy’s death sequence), pitch-black comedy and the contemplation of how sociopathic many real-life superheroes would truly be into what’s best described as a funny version of Watchmen, and an affecting portrait of wayward teenagers trying to find their place in the world. Whether this is attributed to the across-the-board committed performances, the assured direction from Matthew Vaughn or just serendipity, it did something interesting in an increasingly stale subgenre. Arguably, one of the film’s biggest strengths was its deviation from Mark Millar’s source comic, which traded far more heavily on aren’t-I-so-edgy crassness and raging misogyny and less on the innate strengths of his subject matter. Kick-Ass 2 feels much more like a Millar comic made manifest, and this is meant as whatever the polar opposite of a compliment is.

 As in the first film, Moretz is the MVP of this woeful enterprise, which is good given that in the past three years Taylor-Johnson gained a six-pack and lost a huge chunk of the charisma that made him such an endearing lead. He’s given little to do, to be fair, as Justice Forever inexplicably serves as the film’s C-plot, after Moretz’s struggles with puberty and The Motherfucker’s formation of a rival league of supervillains. (A quick note on the latter: There’s not enough room in this review for the indignant words I have about the sequence in which Night Bitch, the comeliest member of Justice Forever and Kick-Ass’ sporadic lover, is hastily pushed into the background of the film after an implied gang rape scene that’s preceded by jokes about impotence.) The high school story doesn’t fare much better as the film goes on, although Moretz manages to get an affecting performance out of beyond-tedious material about what dumb sluts popular girls are. At least when this narrative thread resolves itself, the literal fountains of excrement that bid it farewell put a nice point on the audience’s likely reception.

The film feels like it’s functioning on fast-forward for much of its runtime, racing through narrative beats that are clearly supposed to land with a greater deal of resonance than they do. One sequence in which The Motherfucker sends his henchmen to jail to send a message to Kick-Ass is clearly supposed to be this film’s equivalent of the aforementioned Big Daddy scene, but is handled and discarded so hastily that it’s barely memorable by film’s end. Another, in which Col. Stars & Stripes faces off against a room full of The Motherfucker’s best henchmen, suffers the same fate. That’s okay, because the screenplay so desperately wants viewers to leave on a sugar rush while quoting the film’s endless treasure trove of R-rated bon mots that it doesn’t really matter. The film’s final showdown, in which everyday heroes and villains’ bodies pile up as the heroes rattle off one-liners like “stupid gash” in reference to a masculine woman, is a montage of everything that Kick-Ass 2 gets wrong. It’s deafening, it’s garish, it’s covered in embarrassingly bad CGI, and it’s trying way, way too hard to bait the sort of audience that’s probably just going to bootleg the thing anyway.