KICK-ASS 2 Review

The first Kick-Ass was one of my favorite films of 2010 and though it was never the huge hit folks would like to assume it now was simply because it was a super hero flick, it garnered a strong enough following and was of high enough quality to garner a second installment. I, personally, have really been looking forward to this sequel and though I've never read the source material I'd at least be willing to bet that this continues to honor the tone of the comics if not copying the story lines exactly. What was so fresh and shocking about the first film was that it was able to so seamlessly weave together the tones of several different genres of film. In both the original and the sequel there is plenty of action, a fair amount drama and a dominant wave of comedy. Most importantly, just like the first film, Kick-Ass 2 knows what it wants to be and goes for it with no regards as to what others think or who might be offended by it. Plenty of people have cited the morally reprehensible actions of the characters in this story as inexcusable or declining into the very thing it is satirizing, but I can't help but feel the film does a fine job of doing exactly what it sets out to do. Was I as impressed with this sequel as the original? No, but that would have been a tough thing to do anyway and with original director Matthew Vaughn not returning and Jeff Wadlow (Never Back Down) taking over it was pretty much impossible. And while there are several factors that make Kick-Ass 2 a step down from the original, the main thing being that the novelty of it all is now gone and we are more nestled into this ridiculous world. What helps it rise above being a complete misfire though is that it puts its focus in the right place: Hit Girl. Though the titular character is still a major factor the film goes back and forth, giving equal time, to both the unfortunate situation he gets himself into and the evolution of Mindy Macready (Chloe Grace Moretz). This and the brutal honesty with which it tackles the tropes of the genre it's satirizing help what could have easily been a lackluster sequel into a satisfying follow-up to one of the more shocking films of the past few years.

Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey) along with his trusty sidekick Eisenhower report for duty.
As both Dave (Aaron Taylor Johnson) and Mindy begin another school year Dave has retired as Kick-Ass and now leaves it up to the hoards of other regular folks that have decided to dress up and take on the title of super hero. Most of these people are simply putting on a costume and either patrolling the streets or doing community service, but Dave is at least inspired by the people he inspired. He has become bored though and sitting around at night with his dad and his friends just isn't cutting it. After the death of her father, Hit Girl is now in the custody of Detective Marcus (Morris Chestnut replacing Omari Hardwick). Marcus drops Mindy off for school every morning, but Mindy leaves everyday and continues to train and go out on patrol as Hit Girl. Dave wants to return as Kick-Ass and goes to Mindy for help training, but after three weeks of intense sessions and on the brink of teaming up to become the next dynamic duo Marcus catches Mindy skipping school and wearing the Hit Girl costume and more or less forces her to hang it up. This is where our stories diverge as Dave continues with his plan and joins up with a local super hero squad known as Justice Forever that is led by the charismatic Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). Mindy, on the other hand, is doing her best to keep her promise to Marcus and attempting to fit in with the popular crowd at school. What is interesting here is that both stories have engaging aspects to them and hold up quite well against each other. Carrey lightens the mood and brings an enticing air of fun to the proceedings that show the inner workings of a guy looking for redemption. Wadlow does well to give Mindy's storyline a hint of Mean Girls with the twist that these privileged teens aren't dealing with just another bratty snob, but a full on enforcer who can dish out ten times the amount of what she can take. Then there is the factor that will bring all of this around full circle, Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who intends to seek revenge on Kick-Ass for killing his father and in the doing so puts together his own team of bad guys while making himself the worlds first real supervillain.

It has always been critical in understanding the violence, profanity, and downright grit of a Kick-Ass film to also understand the world in which it is playing off. It is taking those elements that make super heroes, whether in comic books or on film, so epic to the audience that devours them and applying them to a real world setting essentially exposing the truth of how ridiculous some of those things truly are which creates a space for inherent comedy. While most of this worked to great advantage the first time around there are hiccups along the way here. Mainly in the way that the production of the film seems rushed allowing the small things to begin to stand out, cluing the audience in on just how little time was spent on this effort. When Dave and Mindy are dressed in civilian clothes they wear the same outfit several times throughout the film on what are supposed to be different days and likely months apart. There are several shots where it is clear the actors are against green screen and some of the acting just seems a little off. This leads to the other major issue the film faces which is simply too many characters. There is already so much going on with both Dave and Mindy and we feel so wrapped up in their issues I almost completely forgot that Mintz-Plasse was even in the film, much less that his character posed a serious threat. When he brings in an entire team of baddies that are supposed to be carved out characters like Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina), Black Death (Daniel Kaluuya) and The Tumor (Andy Nyman) it all just becomes a little too much and too overwhelming causing the film to lose focus on where it needs to be and where it needs to go, but instead of leaving Mintz-Plasse as The Mother F***** along with his trusty sidekick Javier (John Leguizamo), who is unfortunately criminally underused, the film gives him as many players as Kick-Ass and allows for a finale that looks like the battle of Gettysburg as re-enacted at Comic-Con.

Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) and Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson)
square-off against The MotherF***** (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) in Kick-Ass 2
Still, overall, I was thoroughly entertained by the film. This may be due to the fact my expectations were initially lower and that the critical reception may have knocked them down a few more rungs, but despite the mishaps, the rough tonal shifts, and overall rushed quality the film delivers on what I expected it to. Though I was pleasantly surprised by the direction the film took (I simply chalked it up to being Kick-Ass and Hit Girl teaming up and finding followers to take down The MotherF*****). And if Kick-Ass 2 makes anything clear it is the talent of Moretz who essentially carries the film all by herself. As Hit Girl she is a young woman raised to know no other world than that of fighting, learning, pushing herself, killing, and all in pursuit of perfection. When she is asked to retreat from all she knows and try to live the life of a normal teenager she sees no point, she can formulate no goals, but this time away from her mask at least teaches her that she knows who she wants to be and that retreating back to Hit Girl is not a way to escape the real world, but the honest way she feels she will leave a legacy on it. Moretz makes these much deeper qualities come through in her performance as not only the energetic, smart-mouthed vigilante, but as Mindy Macready. The other standout is Mintz-Plasse who simply goes for it all here and for the most part wins out, finally being able to shed the McLovin persona to the fullest extent in any film he's done since his breakout. You can tell the actor digs the world of these films and is simply happy being able to take such a large role in the development of them that he revels in the chance of playing one of the more interesting people on screen. I wish there was more of Carrey as you can hardly tell it's him and he's doing really interesting work here and the same goes for both Clark Duke and Donald Faison show up in smaller, supporting roles bringing a nice bit of pep and gravitas to what could have just as easily been throwaway roles. Taylor-Johnson does fine enough work, but seems rather bored with the proceedings here as he isn't center stage. This ultimately gives us what could be the consensus for the film as a whole as it is a fine super hero flick that instead of invigorating the genre as its predecessor did feels complacent to abide by the rules of it and comes out fine enough for following them, but doesn't ever strive to become the exception.