By Simon Miraudo
August 20, 2013
(Republished December 16, 2013)
With its second instalment, the Kick-Ass saga has officially been stripped of its satirical bite. No biggie. So long as Chloë Grace Moretz's murderous Mindy Macready - aka Hit Girl - remains in the limelight, I'll take little umbrage with the bastardisation of the comics upon which these movies are based. Besides, it's not as if author Mark Millar is some kind of unimpeachable talent whose precious prose mustn't be tampered with. The provocateur's tales can get pretty poisonous, and I suspect many of them are only satirical by accident. The message of Jeff Wadlow's Kick-Ass 2 is far more conventional than anything that's ever been expressed in one of Millar's panels: something about heroes not needing cowls, only bravery, and other platitudes that would make Frank Miller and Alan Moore vomit into their cereal. Whatever. Some may believe Millar's genius, convention-busting work has been defanged; others will celebrate Wadlow for making it socially acceptable. (Or neither.) All that truly matters is that the pint-sized Moretz still gets to slaughter assailants by the truckload. That's entertainment.
Matthew Vaughn's first film told of a wannabe teen vigilante, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), whose boyhood dream of donning a mask and seeking justice (as the not-so-aptly named Kick-Ass) is dashed after a run in with actual superheroes: sociopathic daddy-daughter duo Big Daddy and Hit-Girl (Nicolas Cage and Moretz). They didn't share Dave's hesitation when it came to gleefully slicing and dicing criminals; that was a moral sacrifice, they claimed, necessary to save the world from itself. Conundrum! In Wadlow's sequel, Dave is eager to get back on the streets, and, to prove his commitment to the cause, recruits Mindy as his trainer. However, Mindy is checking out of the game for good and learning how to be a "real" teenage girl; one who fawns over boy bands, is eventually bullied by the mean girls, and is even ditched by a hunky date. The hormonal nightmare of pubescence is even more terrifying than those crack houses she used to infiltrate.
Dave instead teams up with born-again mob enforcer Colonel Stars and Stripes (a bland Jim Carrey), Doctor Gravity (Donald Faison), and the succinctly dubbed Night Bitch (Lindy Booth), among other oddballs. Meanwhile, his recently orphaned nemesis Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) welcomes the return of Kick-Ass, pledging to take revenge on the leotard-wearing freak who killed his father. He adorns himself in his late mother's bondage gear, demands to be called The Motherf***er, and christens his army The Toxic Megac***s. They're supervillains, in case you didn't read between the intricate subtlety of their titles.
Despite Kick-Ass 2's heartwarming themes of heroism, friendship, and courage (if I could insert an emoticon that represented an eye-roll into a review, I would place it here), it still has some troubling moments. There's a rape scene - played for laughs, no less - which is a relic from Miller's much darker comic. Wadlow purposely waded away from the black heart of the source material, gifting his newly-sympathetic characters with a number of soppy speeches, yet he still included this awful, harrowing moment. Similarly, he retains the ultra-violence of the original, but jettisons many of the consequences. Kick-Ass presented us with the brutal, real-life toll of fantastical violence. In this iteration - particularly in the final battle - it seems as inconsequential as the carnage of any other action movie.
Wadlow's direction isn't quite as characterful as Vaughn's (and Vaughn is hardly Mr. Personality). A couple of comic-esque speech bubbles fail to make the picture pop off the screen, and, in the wake of Edgar Wright's energetic Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, this second Kick-Ass feels pretty dated. The fight scenes are executed with relish, though, affording Hit-Girl plenty of opportunities to cut loose (and much credit to stunt doubles Casey Michaels, Gina Limbrick, and Talila Craig for their fine work).
It's the twisted turns from Mintz-Plasse and Moretz that really set Kick-Ass 2 apart from the more polished Marvel and DC flicks. The latter's expression when struck with a syringe of adrenaline is golden; her wide, exhilarated eyes barely registering the gory actions she's conducting with her hands. Even Mindy's trials and tribulations as a regular teenage girl are compelling. Moretz stole the first flick and is practically handed the sequel by Taylor-Johnson, who can't ever convince us that he's even remotely as interesting on screen. When he steps aside, and Moretz takes center stage, Kick-Ass 2 becomes everything we wanted from a Kick-Ass sequel. Elsewhere, it's a competent - if ethically schizophrenic - superhero movie.
Kick-Ass 2 will be available on Quickflix from December 18, 2013.