Kick-Ass 2 is the second film based on Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s hit comic series about people in the “real world” deciding to follow their comic book icons by fighting crime as costumed superheroes. But the grounded view suggested by the concept is quickly dismissed in the first film by the same bombastic and hyperbolized tropes frequenting superhero movies, making Kick-Ass more a celebration of the genre than an examination. Though not without a few missteps, Kick-Ass did manage to find the balance between homage and parody thanks to director Matthew Vaughn constructing a strong superhero film that was enhanced by its silliness rather than burdened by it. Sadly Kick-Ass 2’s writer/director Jeff Wadlow fails to recognise any of what worked in the first film and gives us 103 minutes of horrible plotting, absurdly underdeveloped characters, and comedy elements that are immature, gratuitous and groan-inducing.
The biggest problem is that Kick-Ass 2 can’t decide whether its primary focus is on the action or on the humour, resulting in minimal effort being put into either. The first film presented the costumes and the world as whacky and eccentric, but still believable as an extension of its characters. Kick-Ass 2 plays it all for laughs, completely disarming itself whenever we are asked to take the film seriously (which is surprisingly often).
When it’s not self-indulgently violent, the action in this movie is passable, though completely uninspired. There is nothing here that you haven’t seen before, but really it’s the so-called comedy that seems the most phoned in. Lazy double entendres, references to Stan Lee and One Direction allegories are amongst the gags robotically inserted into the script to keep you laughing. But if that doesn’t do it for you, you’ll also be able to look forward to the popular (but shockingly unkind) cheerleaders graphically regurgitating and defecating on screen, as well as a light-hearted chuckle about attempted rape.
Kick-Ass 2 ditches the quirky indie-superhero vibe of its predecessor and instead caters to an easier and less mature demographic (classifications be damned), which probably explains why it has all the structural strengths and character development of the Scary Movie franchise. Putting aside all the contrived and completely unnecessary subplots, these are some of the worst realised characters I’ve seen on screen since The Last Airbender. Over and over again the cast simply announce turning points or motivations, which is probably a good thing as it’s pretty damn rare these progressions are catalysed by anything tangible on screen.
At first I was taken aback by Jim Carrey (who plays the Captain America analogue ‘Colonel Stars and Stripes’) distancing himself from the movie, as he surely would have been aware of the violence going in. But having seen how much fun he was clearly having with the character and how schlocky and hollow he and everyone else are presented, I can’t help but wonder if he feels embarrassed and let down by the final cut.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson is extremely unengaging as Kick-Ass this time round. While he was never all that endearing in the first film, the character was at least interesting enough to draw you in, but here there is nothing to connect to. Christopher Mintz-Plasse as ‘The Motherfucker’ is very likely the least threatening antagonist I’ve seen. I get that it’s part of his schtick, but if you’re going to devolve this movie into giant brawl for the third act, there has to be something resembling a danger.
Most disappointing though is Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit-Girl. Though trading a little on shock-value, it’s hard to deny how charming and fun the murderous and fowl-mouthed little girl was in the first film, but it’s completely neutered here. When she isn’t languishing in her fish out of water subplot, she’s devoid of any of the conflict, swagger or humour that made her character such a compelling addition the first time round. Perhaps it’s just that without the chemistry she shared with Nick Cage’s Big Daddy, there just isn’t enough to explore with this character.
The most depressing thing is that this actually had me question my love for the first movie and whether I’d overlooked something, but I don’t believe that’s the case. I mentioned earlier the balance between parody and homage. That unbridled fun that comes from an understanding of what makes the genre great while embracing all of its strengths and its weaknesses. It’s what gave movies like Galaxy Quest, Cabin in the Woods and the first Kick-Ass that little bit of magic. But Kick-Ass 2 just doesn’t understand what the value of the first film was, and instead gives us what is little more than an underdeveloped and unfocussed cash-in that actually had me say that I missed Nic Cage in a review.
THE REEL SCORE: 5/10