Sequels are par for the course for superhero movies (barring complete bombs), so it’s only to be expected that a commercially-successful deconstruction of the genre would also receive a sequel. Kick-Ass 2, released three years after the first film, continues the story of the not-quite-superhero in a world without superpowers.
The first film had a certain degree of unevenness in its quality, starting off awkward and gradually getting better. Unfortunately, the second film has its own uneven quality, and it’s spread throughout the film.
That’s not to say that it’s entirely bad; far from it, it’s still a reasonably entertaining film. And thematically, it goes in a direction that is inspired and logical. The first film was about becoming a superhero in the real world, and explored the “heroic” aspects. The second film explores the “real world” aspects of the concept — in particular the fact that the real world has real consequences, not comic book consequences. This is a great direction to take the story in, and is explored well with the two leads. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character of Dave/Kick-Ass is more self-assured, and starting to take his crime-fighting seriously. Meanwhile, Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) is getting out of the business, trying to lead a normal life, and especially trying to figure out what a normal life actually is. Both young actors get to show more emotional range than in the first film, and handle it capably, especially Moretz.
However, as good as an idea as “lead a normal life” is for the character, the actual sequences of showing Hit-Girl as an ordinary high school student are, well, ordinary. Until she (inevitably) returns to form, it’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before in countless teen dramas, and it’s not even a very good example of it. One particularly painful example is when, at a slumber party, she and her classmates spend several minutes watching a shirtless boy band video… and the audience is likewise subjected to it. This is meant to show Hit-Girl’s awakening as a teenager with non-violent feelings, but it could have stood to have been truncated considerably. I suppose young teenage girls might appreciate the footage shown (being a man in his mid-30s, I have no clue on such), but given that this is an R-rated comic-book movie, it’s doubtful that demographic makes up a significant percentage of the audience.
A lot of this has to be blamed on the director. Replacing Matthew Vaughn on this outing was Jeff Wadlow, who also wrote the screenplay. This means he gets credit for the good parts of the film, such as the great battle royale at the end and a really good car chase, not to mention the brilliant (and obvious in hindsight) way that subtitles are handled in the film. But it also means he gets credit for the bad parts of the film, such as the slow moments mentioned above, and an increased tendency to go to the well of vulgar humor.
What’s not clear is who is to blame for the tone of the movie. Again, Wadlow is the director and the screenwriter, but it’s an adapted work. Some of the film’s most significant flaws are ones that may have come from the comic book; not having read it, I don’t know, but if they aren’t, the film must have diverged significantly. The first film is in some ways a parody of the superhero genre. The second film is, in some ways, a parody of itself.
This is most obvious with the character of Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), returning from the first film, who has decided that if Kick-Ass is the first real-world superhero, he will be the first real-world supervillain. And for his code name, he chooses… well, I don’t want to blow the site’s PG-13 rating in this review, so we’ll just call him the MFer for short. He recruits a group of thugs to act as his henchmen, assigning them code names that are both absurd and, as his bodyguard points out, casually racist. Of course, aspirations of grandeur aside, he’s still the same putz underneath. The idea of the character evolving into a supervillain is a logical one, and a good one, but the execution is lacking. As a comedic character, he’s not quite funny enough to work. As a serious character, he’s too absurd to work. He never quite manages to fit in with either of the tones the film tries to go for. It’s symptomatic of the film’s basic problem, which is that it seems much less clear than the original on what sort of film it’s trying to be.
There are a lot more characters in the film as well, but most of them aren’t given much development; most of the team that Kick-Ass joins are there simply as mobile props. Special mention has to be made of Jim Carrey’s role as Sergeant Stars and Stripes, however. While Carrey has since spoken against the level of violence in the film, he was clearly enjoying his role during filming, and the enthusiasm he has makes for a very enjoyable character. He also seems to be channeling a bit of Bruce Campbell’s demeanor in the character; it’s hard to say if this is deliberate or not, but it definitely reminded me of him.
Despite the unevenness of the film, Kick-Ass 2 is still a reasonably enjoyable film experience. But whereas the first film built a solid story around its action, viewers of the second film will be looking to the action to make the film interesting.