Worth A Look: 20%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 30%
4 reviews, 6 user ratings
by Brett Gallman
Back in 2010, Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass” operated in a curious zone that allowed it to function as satire, spoof, and homage all at once as it took Mark Millar’s central tenant—everyday Joes taking up the mantle of superheroes—and explored the vicious consequences in a manner that both highlighted and glorified violence. The result was a thrilling but slightly confused film caught between decrying and lionizing its vigilantes (though you always grasped that it really leaned towards the latter). For better or worse, “Kick-Ass 2” attempts to one-up its predecessor, which only means it’s even more confused and tone-deaf as it opts for both outrageous, sophomoric edginess and the faintest hint of a conscience.The problem is that each feels so calculated. Imagine running into an angry, 13- year old angst-ridden poser and his finger-waving mom all at once—then imagine that the former wishes death on the latter, only to actually feel really bad about it afterwards, and you’ve got “Kick-Ass 2.”
"A sequel that misses the point of its predecessor."
In fact, that exact exchange provides the impetus for Jeff Wadlow’s sequel. Set about four years after the events of the previous film, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is still stewing over the death of his father. His mother has consigned him to home schooling and to the constant shadowing of a personal assistant (John Leguizamo), so he lashes out at her with a puerile fit that ends with her roasted to death in a tanning bed. He’s immediately repentant but also sees this as an opportunity to follow his true calling as The Motherfucker, his BSDM clad supervillain alter-ego, and begins plotting his revenge against Kick-Ass.
Meanwhile, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has actually given up the superhero mantle, citing its danger. The complacency of the last few years has left him wanting, though, so he convinces Mindy McCready (Chloe Moretz)—who still masquerades as Hit-Girl—to train him so the two can form a dynamic duo. They briefly team up before Mindy’s guardian (Morris Chestnut) finds them out and forces her to give up the vigilante lifestyle, thus leaving Dave to join a ragtag group of fellow wannabe heroes headed up by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey).
Such wavering between embracing and disavowing heroism isn’t unexpected, especially since it’s basically served as a sequel template ever since “Superman II.” It might be a little trite considering how well-worn it is, but “Kick-Ass 2” provides a natural arena for it in its sea of teenage indecision and angst. A better version of this story might have explored it from that perspective and presented a twisted coming-of-age story since it’s essentially centered around three arrested adolescents attempting to navigate those rough waters.
But “Kick-Ass 2” isn’t interested in this (or much else, quite frankly), as it instead prefers to just stick to a comic book movie script with crassness scribbled in the margins. Where the first film gently nudged superhero conventions, this one’s okay with going through those motions. You might recall that Dave’s origin story mocked the notion of a parent’s death causing inspiration, but “Kick-Ass 2” goes that route in earnest. Other familiar hallmarks appear, such as one of Kick-Ass’s friends (Augustus Prew) spurning heroism and becoming a villain when Dave and Marty (Clark Duke) mock his attempts to join up with Justice Forever (it’s revealed that Marty’s been running with the group before Dave meets them). Again, that’s good coming-of-age fodder, but it’s just sort of glossed over here so the film can shuttle itself to its big, climactic scrap between Justice Forever and the Motherfucker’s gang.
The film also weirdly sidelines its best element in Hit-Girl, who stole the show from the title character in the previous film. Here, she’s stuck with a template that will feel all too familiar to us by the end of the year, as Moretz plays the weird, awkward loner who’s drawn in by a clique of preppy mean girls before she’s made the victim of cruel high school social politics. No matter what happens when we see this scenario repeated later this year in “Carrie,” I’m pretty sure it won’t involve simultaneous vomiting and diarrhea like it does here. That “Kick-Ass 2” relegates Hit-Girl to this sort of thing is disappointing, especially since it feels obligatory and exposes the film’s contradictory push-and-pull: it makes a fine case that Chestnut’s father figure is right because Mindy is the victim of a psychotic father who twisted her into a killing machine. But it also knows you’re totally there to see her bash in the skulls of guys (and gals) three times her age, so it gives in and treats that as its big, triumphant moment.
So the message is clear: vigilantism is great, right? Well, sort of. There are repeated references to the fact that this is “real life” rather than a comic-book, so there’s always the (admittedly very faint) voice of a disapproving parent in the background intoning that “this is bad, mmmkay?” And at no point does the film actually commit either way—it seems to reach a pretty reasonable conclusion before ending on a note that explicitly refutes everything that’s said during the denouement. Likewise, even its juvenile attempts at envelope pushing are undercut by that same sort of pearl-clutching. For example, when The Motherfucker recruits someone for his group, he attributes them a racist nickname, only to have his assistant chide him for insensitivity.
You get a lot of that in “Kick-Ass 2”—there’s a sense that it’s trying really hard to garner shock and outrage, but’s just a hollow bit of faux-transgressiveness. It’s the sort of film where a villain balks at killing a dog because he’s not that evil but has no problem with attempting to rape Kick-Ass’s new squeeze from Justice Forever (Lindy Booth). The latter scene is played for laughs and doesn’t go all the way (the underlying implication again being “just how demented do you think we are, anyway?”), but that still gives you a good idea of how women are treated in a film where they’re referred to as “gashes,” “axe-wounds,” and “Night-Bitch” (a super-heroine name that earns some rightful disgust from Hit-Girl, who occasionally provides the conscience the film needs but doesn’t deserve).
If it were all at the service of anything that mattered (be it satire or parody), it’d be okay—I liked how the original film served as a heightened reflection of the grim and gritty comic book culture that craves violence and uncomfortable sexualization. “Kick-Ass 2” just desperately wants to appeal to that culture, only it’s about as extreme as a Mountain Dew commercial. Like its predecessor, it’s too impish to take seriously; however, it’s also too confused and artificial to be a thoroughly enjoyable, violent lark like that film.
This struggle is encapsulated in The Motherfucker himself; if Hit-Girl captured the original film’s essence, then he does the same for the second film. Now in his mid-20s and barely passable as an older teen, Mintz-Plasse deftly wrangles with The Motherfucker’s arrested development and adolescent petulance; he has no actual powers of course, only money and infantile angst that drives him to crave infamy more than anything else. His every move, from a small-time robbery to the naming of his supergroup (The Toxic Mega Cunts) is driven by his need to transgress and stir the pot, but he’s a total poser.
So it goes for “Kick-Ass 2,” which, despite these heavy reservations, is pretty entertaining, if only because Wadlow’s working with a lively cast of characters that inject the film with an energy that’s sorely needed since its script lurches along in disjointed fashion. Taylor-Johnson is excellent as Dave, who seems both ganglier and more physical than before, almost as if he’s caught in that same stage as Seth Brundle immediately after he emerges from his teleportation pod. His relationship with Mindy is one of the film’s genuinely affecting touches, and Moretz is more than capable of keeping up. There’s a back-and-forth rapport between them that works well because Mindy is finally forced to confront things she doesn’t understand, like boys and a brief encounter with some budding sexual urges (another rare moment of authenticity), and Dave sort of serves as a big brother figure. For all its glibness, I’ll be damned if “Kick-Ass 2” doesn’t have some emotional moments that work well because the core cast finds an earnestness that isn’t matched by the film’s overall tone, which vacillates from moment to moment.
The familiar faces are complimented by some nice additions; Carrey is an obvious highlight as Stars and Stripes, an ex-mob enforcer turned born again Christian that brings just the right amount of screwiness and heart to make for a decent replacement for the dearly departed Big Daddy (who does manage to cameo via a hilarious background portrait). Carrey doesn’t go as broad and campy as Nic Cage, but the facial prosthetics and his accent make for authentic comic book affectations.
The same is true of Olga Kurkolina’s Mother Russia, the brawny, ex-KGB muscle of The Mega Toxic Cunts who closely approximates what it might have looked like if Brigette Nielsen had played a Terminator in her prime It's also worth noting that one of her highlights sees her laying waste to a dozen police officers in an awe-inspiring, spectacle-laden sequence featuring an inventive use of a lawnmower--and it comes just minutes after the attempted rape, just in case you needed a good indicator of the film's obliviously schizophrenic sense of tone.
To its credit, “Kick-Ass 2” has a lot of character and personality that serves it well and compensates for its limp storytelling and thematic wishy-washiness. Even though Wadlow doesn’t have the same sort of sensibilities or cinematic verve as Vaughn, he makes the film pop with some nicely constructed action sequences. Save for a breathtaking sequence featuring Hit-Girl’s assault on a van hurtling at full-speed, none of them are quite as inventive as any in the first film, but they’re appreciably clean and visceral. The climactic showdown, which sprawls with dozens of costumed heroes and villains wielding various implements of carnage, somehow manages to feel too small and tame. Such a setup deserves something as ambitious as the House of Blue Leaves sequence in “Kill Bill,” but you’ll have to settle for a bunch of masked men and women pummeling each other in the background while the main characters brawl with their nemeses.
That climax sums up “Kick-Ass 2” well enough—the film seems like a missed opportunity that inexplicably transforms its predecessor’s transgressive subtext into the text and still falls flat. Given the hoopla surrounding Mark Millar’s comic book sequel and Jim Carrey’s disavowing the film’s content, it’d be easy to assume that “Kick-Ass 2” believed too much in its own bullshit. We’ve seen that before—an infamous but misunderstood film garners a sequel that gives into the perceived reputation and misses the point entirely (Tom Six brilliantly subverted this notion in “The Human Centipede 2”). This sequel doesn’t even really believe in anything, though, including its hyper-violence and its juvenile irreverence, both of which are here simply because that’s what “Kick-Ass” is, right?At one point, “Kick-Ass 2” was to be subtitled “Balls to the Wall,” a moniker this final project wouldn’t have earned. It perhaps flings your balls about halfway to the wall before letting a dog chew on them while it looks on and laughs with an unearned sense of self-satisfaction.
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originally posted: 08/17/13 18:28:27