REVIEW: Kick-Ass 2

Bit of a disclaimer: My interest in all things Kick-Ass has waned significantly since the comics first started appearing and the Matthew Vaughn-directed film hit three years ago, so keep that in mind when determining whether my opinion on that film’s sequel should have any bearing on whether or not you should go spend some money at your local theater and check it out for yourself.

I started buying the comics for Kick-Ass 2 when they first started coming out but lost interest after maybe two issues, and I can kind of see why that happened now having watched the film, which I presume hits many of the same story beats. This story is kind of pointless. It really just seems perfunctory. “We have a cast of characters that have been established, we have a premise, lets do some more stuff, I guess” seemed to be the creative spark that set off this sequel and that kind of makes for a middling experience. It doesn’t really have a compelling question at its core like the first one arguably did; “what if normal people decided to take a crack at being a superhero?” That has been answered, now I guess the follow-up question is “what if supervillains came along?”, but the exceedingly ruthless gangster played by Mark Strong in the first film effectively WAS a supervillain so the costumed goons led by Christopher Mintz-Plasse in this film don’t exactly one-up anything we saw the first time around..

Anyway, that said, I still like some of these characters and the actors who play them so I was never completely put off by what I was seeing, just not especially invested either. It was that unexciting middle-ground that is oh so difficult to explain in an entertaining way so I’m just going to run down some highlights and lowlights and leave it at that.

First off, Nicolas Cage is not in this movie. I know, I know, he died in the first film (spectacularly, I might add), but I was told his daughter, Hit-Girl aka Mindy Macready aka Chloe Grace Moretz, was continually haunted by the death of her father and saw visions of him in the comic so I was desperately hoping that meant the brightest star from the first film would appear at some point but alas, other than an excellent photograph, Cage is nowhere to be found in this film.

Our high profile supporting player this time around is Jim Carrey as Captain Stars and Stripes, and even though he recently criticized the film and expressed regret for being involved in it due to its attitude towards violence, he actually fits the bizarre, live-wire tone of the whole thing quite well. That said, there simply isn’t enough to his character so we don’t get enough satisfying moments to really latch onto in the film’s 100 minutes or so. Carrey is fun to watch when he is there, but I was left wanting more by the time it was over and considering how prominent he was in the marketing I don’t think that’s asking too much. The other stand-out performance for me was provided  by John Leguizamo, playing something of a foil for Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s character, but he too is in the film for but a moment, relatively speaking. So while I still enjoyed the core cast that returns from the first film, I felt the most interesting additions to the roster were underutilized which kind of bummed me out.

Now, those that do return from the first film still do quite well. I think its fair to say Hit-Girl was kind of Chloe Grace Moretz’s breakout role and she still has that foul mouth and gleefully bloodthirsty attitude from the first film, though the film does attempt to put her outside her comfort zone, squaring off against some Queen Bee-type high-school girls that bully her emotionally rather than physically, which is a type of attack she isn’t really equipped to deal with. I don’t fault anyone for trying to deepen the character of Hit-Girl, and the film DOES call out how insane her upbringing was quite bluntly early on which was a pretty bizarre plot element in the first film that was treated a bit too cavalierly, but the resulting scenes aren’t really funny enough or crazy enough to stand on their own and they seem a bit out of step with the crime-fighting shenanigans going on everywhere else.

I should pause to say this film was written and directed by Jeff Wadlow, whose only other work I know is the high-school MMA flick Never Back Down, which kind of worked but was preposterously stupid and corny. Some of that corniness seems to seep into Kick-Ass 2 now and then with several parental lectures about the dangers of being a superhero, inner reflections on the selfishness of one’s actions, etc etc, but none of it adds up to a coherent message. The film ends with a monologue from Kick-Ass aka Dave Lizewski aka Aaron Taylor-Johnson, that seems to just say “well, sometimes good things have to end, guess its all over for us super heroes”. It came across to me as a verbal shrug, a kind of “Well, guess that’s all we got. See you next time.” There is just no energy to it, it kind of just putters along and does its zany, Troma-esque superhero thing, but since we’ve seen a movie quite a bit like this one before it doesn’t quite have the same surprise factor this time around.

I guess I should say, Christopher-Mintz Plasse’s character is named “The Motherfucker” and his cronies are referred to as “The Toxic Cunts”, comprised of such colorful characters as “Mother Russia” and…that is honestly the only one I remember as she is given pretty much the entire spotlight as far as henchmen (henchpeople?) are concerned. There’s a wacky lair, complete with shark tank, and a whole collection of costumed villains and heroes, to the point where the final battle almost looks like a comic convention that got a little bit too rowdy. But even with all that zaniness, it just doesn’t come alive very often. The ingredients are there, the cast is there, but the story is not and it truly undermines everything else. No one cog brings the machine to a halt, you just kind of gradually realize you were looking at a machine that was never going to be very useful. It works, the parts move around, but nothing is produced at the end of the day, so what’s the point? Ironically, Captain Stars and Stripes’ mantra of “try to have some fun, otherwise, what’s the point?” kind of highlights what I felt was wrong with the film. Without much of a point, its kind of hard to have fun.

That’s more or less all I got so I’ll close by saying that if you’re a big fan of the characters from the first movie and don’t mind the notion of seeing them do less interesting things in a less focused film, it is conceivable that you might find some fun here but if you were pretty much done with the story of Kick-Ass after the first movie you can DEFINITELY skip the sequel as it seems those that created it didn’t have much left to say. This story didn’t need to be told, plain and simple.