Darker, nastier, meaner….but not better. Still good, though!
Obviously, the warning signs weren’t good – Matthew Vaughn not directing and Jane Goldman not writing, negative press and the knowledge that its comic book counterpart barely succeeded in balancing its humour with an even uglier violent streak that bordered on gratuitously unpleasant. Well, first things first – Kick-Ass 2 is not as good as the original. It lacks the freshness of its predecessor (then again, how many sequels can pull that off? By their very nature there will most likely be a sense of déjà vu), it’s not as funny, it’s not as well directed and the script isn’t as thrilling. Still, the main problems with this film boil down to what’s not here.
What is here is a hugely enjoyable chunk of ultraviolent, bad-taste entertainment that gets by on pure volume and oomph. Admittedly, the film’s big shocks weren’t shocking to me because I’d read both its source material and the excellent Hit Girl Prelude, and as such I was geared for them. In the book the more extreme moments really did throw me, not just because they were unexpected but also because they were so damn horrible. The film doesn’t hold back either, though it’s not as extreme. I don’t want to give anything away, but the film does refrain from depicting (or even referencing) some of the book’s more grotesque moments. In fact, one notoriously unpleasant moment from the book is completely turned around here, with unexpectedly funny results.
Okay, no more coy references to stuff I don’t want to spoil. Let’s talk about the film. Everyday teenage superhero Kick-Ass/Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) barely survived the explosive conclusion of the first film, and has begun combat survival training from Hit-Girl/Mindy McCready (Chloe Grace Moretz), who, lest we forget, is only fifteen and has already killed dozens upon dozens of criminals in the name of justice, thanks to her, shall we say, unconventional upbringing from psychotic father Big Daddy, who didn’t make it to the end of the last film. Problem is, Hit-Girl is now living with her dad’s old buddy (Morris Chestnut, you know, Ricky from Boyz N The Hood!) who knows her secret and doesn’t want her to go around slicing up criminal scum. He just wants her to go to high school and be a normal girl. Once she makes a solemn promise to stay away from crime and Kick-Ass, our hero turns to the new wave of amateur superheroes who are vowing to protect the city. These include Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison from Scrubs), whose anti-gravity baton is just a baton, and Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), an ex-mob enforcer turned born again Christian crime-fighter, who has a dog he likes to sic bad guys with. However, there’s also the matter of Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the son of the chief villain from the original, who has gone completely bat-shit in the meantime and intends on avenging his father’s death by re-christening himself The Motherfucker and putting together a team of supervillains.
This is a busy film, with a lot of plot to cram in its running time – it can all seem a bit cluttered and rushed at times, but the film doesn’t overstay its welcome, which isn’t something you can say about most superhero films with their two-and-a-half-hour + running times. In addition to the above plot points, we also experience Mindy’s school days, which turn out to be more brutal than her days decapitating gangsters. Oh, and there’s Kick-Ass’s romantic (well, sexual) relationship with a fellow superhero named Night Bitch, the Motherfucker’s rivalry with his prison-bound uncle (Iain Glen, only present for one scene but making plenty of impact in the process), Kick-Ass’s father, his school friends….there’s a lot going on, but for the most part everything’s kept in check. Taylor-Johnson is perfectly amiable and engaging as Dave/Kick-Ass, but the real star is Moretz, whose Hit Girl is still unforgettably, staggeringly vicious and who as Mindy gets a lot more to do in this sequel. In fact, Mindy is the beating heart of this film, the much-needed sweetness amongst all of this carnage. Oh yeah, Mindy’s still a bad-ass, but it’s hard not to feel utter sympathy for her as she tries out for the school dance class or goes out on her first date – for her, this is all new, and Moretz is wonderful during these moments. I guess the film short-changes her when it comes to giving her a killer catchphrase – ‘game on, cocksuckers’ was never going to match ‘Okay you cunts, let’s see what you can do’ for sheer jaw-dropping shock, but she elevates this film substantially. What with Let Me In and Hugo (and obviously the first Kick-Ass film) to boast on her CV, she really is one of the best things in the movies at the moment. As for Jim Carrey, he’s great. It’s easy to forget he’s Jim Carrey in this – no face-pulling, no mugging, just a vivid, comic-book performance with bad teeth and a great, deep voice. Mintz-Plasse has one of the trickier characters to work with – a sadistic, evil, mad bastard who’s also pathetically weak and hopelessly whining. In the book he’s responsible for the more disturbing acts of cruelty – his sadism is toned down a bit here, which works given the film’s overall tone, any more nastiness would have pushed the film over the edge. Saying that, he’s not as terrifying here as he is in the book, where you felt he was capable of anything. Mintz-Plasse is riotously entertaining regardless, and there’s fine support from John Leguizamo as the Alfred to the Motherfucker’s Batman (their words, not mine), Faison as the wildly enthusiastic Dr. Gravity and Clark Duke as Dave’s school buddy who feels the need to rip-off an origin story for his superhero alter-ego because nothing’s interesting’s ever happened to him.
The 15 certificate isn’t that surprising given that the original got one too– this is a very, very violent film but not too shocking given what we’re used to. Again, the most wince-inducing moments involve Hit-Girl getting pummelled – I suppose it’s a good thing that I’m not desensitised to the sight of a teenage girl getting the crap beaten out of her, even if she gives more than she takes. There’s a cracking set-piece on top of a moving van, and the visuals are bright, snappy and appropriately vivid given the source medium, and even though the film feels mostly like a lesser version of the original, it has enough that’s new (the Mindy subplot) that helps it stand apart from its predecessor. I was gearing myself for a disappointing experience, but Kick-Ass 2 still kicks arse.