Most of the characters in the Kick-Ass universe have a secret identity; regular everyday people who have decided to don a costume and become a superhero or a diabolical super villain. By day, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a high school senior, but by night he is the masked vigilante Kick-Ass. It’s kind of the premise of the whole franchise. The problem with Kick-Ass 2 is that it doesn’t have any identity, let alone a secret one. The movie retreads a lot of the same beats from the original film, but without the same charm or excitement. Doubling down on the violence only serves to make the movie less interesting, not more. The whole thing is kind of a jumbled mess. If it wasn’t for the semi-interesting arc involving Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) the sequel would have been a complete disappointment.
I quite enjoyed Kick-Ass when it was released in 2010; it felt fresh and original and had an innovative story to tell. While the first film was supposed to be the story of Dave’s journey into heroism, the real star of the film was Hit-Girl. Seeing a little girl who is a total bad ass and uses bad language was such a cool juxtaposition that you could be forgiven for forgetting what else happened in the film. That would be too bad, because there were other fun performances in Kick-Ass, including Nicholas Cage properly used as Big Daddy, and the film as a whole was witty and exciting. Though Hit-Girl stole the show, these were clearly defined characters and you enjoyed spending time with them (for the most part – I was never 100% on board with Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Red Mist). When Kick-Ass 2 was finally announced, I was excited and hoped that the sequel could capture some of the spark of the original.
Sadly, Kick-Ass 2 is a giant step backward for this burgeoning franchise. While the first film was violent, it was mixed in with some good storytelling and comedy. The second film opts to ratchet up the violence and darkness, but it is a case of diminishing returns. I think the movie thinks it is still funny, but they would be wrong; the humor has become decidedly cruder in this second film, which wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the jokes actually worked. However, most of the jokes land with a thud in this film. I saw Kick-Ass 2 with a bunch of fanboys who were primed for the film and even they barely laughed. A bunch of new characters are introduced that have absolutely no personality. The film feels more like a slog than the fun and transgressive ride of the original movie.
Now, I do not have a problem with violence in and of itself and while some people may be turned off by the uptick in gratuity, that isn’t necessarily an issue for me. I have watched and enjoyed many films that are much darker and more violent than Kick-Ass 2. However, those films are balanced and there is just violence for the sake of violence. You get the feeling while watching Kick-Ass 2 that they are using violence to cover up the complete lack of real story or character development. I can almost picture the writers’ room, where they realize that there are plot holes and a weak story and decide rather than trying to fix the problems that they should just throw in a prolonged fight scene. “Just add more violence – they’ll never notice.” The problem with relying on mayhem to paper over holes in the film is that the more that it is used, the less effective it is. After a while, I just got bored with it. It no longer felt daring; it was just more of the same.
The biggest miscalculation, in my opinion, was bringing back Christopher Mintz-Plasse. He simply doesn’t work in this role and most of the scenes involving him were just painful to watch. His comedy was the flattest and I just didn’t buy his alleged transformation. Absolutely nothing about his character works. He was also involved with a scene that is the most eyebrow raising of the film – the attempted rape of a woman. Thankfully the scene from the original comic, which was much more graphic and violent, is not included in the film, but the fact that they even hinted about going down that road marks the much darker tone that the sequel has taken. I’ve liked the actor in other stuff, but I just think he is a distraction.
I was most concerned with the role of Hit-Girl going into the sequel, as I had concerns about whether she would be as awesome as she was in the first film. Part of the fun of that character was the sheer insanity of a little girl that can kick ass and take names, but I worried that it would seem less novel now that the actress is older and we had already witnessed her in action throughout the first film. Kick-Ass 2 wisely decides to put Hit-Girl on the shelf a bit; this doesn’t mean less screen time for Chloë Grace Moretz, rather that her story focuses more on her life as Mindy Macready and trying to fit in with her peers and adjust to life after the death of her father. While not the most innovative story, this was the part of the film that I liked the best as she struggles with being true to what her father wanted and respecting the wishes of her guardian, while trying to resist the pull of the excitement of being a super hero. She didn’t have a traditional childhood, so trying to fit in at high school as a regular student proves to be a challenge. Moretz is fun to watch in both identities and she does a nice job with conveying the inner turmoil that her character is experiencing. Hit-Girl is not nearly as shocking as she was in the first film, but she’s still the most interesting character of the bunch.
Taylor-Johnson is fine as Kick-Ass/Dave, but his is saddled with not much of a story to tell. His relationship with Hit-Girl is the most interesting, but the rest of the new characters that turn up are so bland that there isn’t much to sustain interest. The first film was all about him learning to become a superhero and inspiring others, but this film has no such transformation. It’s just recycled plot points and it doesn’t feel very fresh or original. I’ll give him credit though – dude got pretty ripped for the sequel. It’s not really in keeping with character, since I think some of the charm of Kick-Ass was that Dave didn’t look like much of a superhero, but I can’t fault the guy a little vanity in wanting to look like the more traditional comic book star.
Some other thoughts:
- Jim Carrey, who plays the Colonel, famously distanced himself from the movie because of all the violence in light of events like Sandy Hook. The cynic in me says he distanced himself because he knew this wasn’t a very good movie, though he would have to distance himself from a lot of his films if that is the case. Guy has been in some pretty awful stuff. He’s fine as the Colonel, the only new character that has any real pop or personality.
- It says something that at the end of the film I was still unclear as to whether Kick-Ass had hung up his costume or not. The movie sent some very mixed messages as to what the ultimate resolution was for a lot of these characters.
- The climax of the movie hinges on Dave’s friend Todd being a complete and utter moron. I get that you’re mad at your friends, pal, but think things through.
- Most of the people that died in the original film were bad guys or people sacrificing for the good of others; Kick-Ass 2 kills innocents and civilians at will.
- It was nice to see Donald Faison (Turk from Scrubs, or Murray from Clueless if you are old school) turn up as Dr. Gravity, but I wish they had given him more to do.
- They should just get it over with and make a Hit-Girl film; she seems to be the only character that still works. The film noticeably slows down and becomes less interesting when she isn’t on screen.
- There is a brief after the credits scene, that lives open the possibility of a third Kick-Ass film. This is not a good idea and the scene felt like a total cop-out. Weak sauce, writers. Weak sauce.
Kick-Ass 2 lacks all the cleverness and fun of the first film; the decision to make this a darker film and to focus more on gratuitous violence rather than other essential elements was misguided. I had been very excited for this film and I left the theater extremely disappointed. Many of the elements of Kick-Ass 2 simply didn’t work and the result was a boring film that was anything but amusing. Chloë Grace Moretz and Hit-Girl are the only parts worth watching. Sitting through this film was work and the final product was anything but kick-ass. Do yourself a favor and just re-watch the original film. It’s a better use of your time.
Kick-Ass 2 opens nationwide today.