Kick Ass hit screens in 2010 with zero expectations and turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
The underrated director Matthew Vaughn ran with Mark Millar’s superhero piss-take and emerged with something surprisingly sweet and devilishly subversive that winked at superhero conventions just as they were taking over mainstream Hollywood conventions. That was then, and this is now. Kick Ass 2 arrives as a known quantity with blockbuster expectations. The shock of the new was a big part of the appeal, and sequels don’t have that card to play. So, instead Kick Ass 2 embraces the “darker is better” philosophy of most comic book sequels. The filth, violence, and sweary one-liners pile up fast without much sweetness to lighten the load beyond drippy sentimentality. It’s still quite fun, certainly far more edgy than the usual Hollywood summer product, and as far a blockbuster season cappers go, things could be far worse.
The flick picks up shortly after the events of Kick Ass and keeps the story trucking. Kick Ass himself (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) decides to take the superhero thing more seriously. At first that means being trained by Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) in the ways of ultra-violence. However, Moretz soon decides to abandon her costumed theatrics to appease her new adoptive father. So Taylor-Johnson turns to the internet to join the first superhero team led by Jim Carrey’s born again gangster Colonel Stars And Stripes. Meanwhile, Christopher Mintz-Plasse becomes a billionaire orphan and decides to use those resources to transform himself into the world’s first super villain named The Motherfucker. The stories play out in parallel for a while with Johnson beating up with a new superhero girlfriend named Night Bitch (Lindy Booth), Moretz learning hard lessons about the horrors of high school, and Mintz-Plasse assembling a posse of psychotic henchmen. Eventually, all the strands converge and a hail of bloody “real world” violence rains down in a race towards an action climax. It’s all harsher and more cynical than the last movie, but those were at least qualities of the original, so it still feels like a Kick Ass movie, just a less successful one.
Matthew Vaughn’s (Layer Cake, X-Men: First Class) presence as writer/director is much missed this time around. He has a deft touch at mixing comedy with action that helped soften Mark Millar’s Millarsianly violent comic while still maintaining a subversive flavor. There’s a was a whimsical element that tapped into universal childhood fantasies about being a superhero in the “real world” that Jeff Wadlow can’t quite manage in the sequel. Part of that is due to the source material, which went out of its way to dive into darkness in an attempt to criticize the blood splattering violence of the series. Either Wadlow doesn’t have the conviction to push that far or the studio wasn’t interested. As a result, all references to comic book reality vs. actual reality feel more like flippant jokes out of a Scream sequel than genre deconstruction. So, instead of being clever and subversive, the movie is merely self-conscious and shocking. Kick Ass 2 can still be quite amusing on that level; it’s just not nearly as satisfying of an experience as the original. Wadlow does at least get enough of the outrageous humor and action right (minus the Times Square finale of the book, which was dropped for obvious budgetary reasons) for the movie to feel like it belongs in the Kick Ass family. It’s just not nearly as effective and feels more like an afterthought sequel than a logical progression of an ongoing story.
, the gleefully gory slapstick violence and rib-tickling vulgarity remain with all the filthy fun that suggests. Aaron Taylor-Johnson shifts to the background somewhat this time, but given the fact that there isn’t much room for development in his character at this point, that’s not particularly damaging. Chloe Moretz returns to do her Disney-faced psychopath again. She has some fantastic sequences struggling to fit in with high school mean girls (including a vomit/diarrhea related gag far funnier that it has any right to be), but otherwise her character doesn’t quite make the same impact. Part of it’s just a result of her being slightly older, but mostly it comes down to the fact that Hit Girl’s appeal last time was primarily in shock value and in the sequel she does what’s expected. The funniest part of the film this time is surprisingly Christopher Mintz-Plasse, whose portrayal of a dork-turned-psychopath transcends the darkness of Mark Millar’s book to become surprisingly charming. Jim Carrey slips into Nicolas Cage’s spot as the film’s high profile, extended cameo and despite the fact that he’s been boycotting the film, is surprisingly hilarious and dedicated to the violent cause on screen. Then there’s Olga Kurkulina as The Motherfucker’s vicious Russian henchman… and she just needs to be seen to be believed in more ways the one. Truthfully, the entire cast fully commits to the script and gives it their all; it’s just a shame that the script wasn’t better.
The original Kick Ass was so unexpectedly charmingly and subversively fun that the sequel can’t help but feel like a mild disappointment. There wasn’t really anywhere for this story to go, so instead of shifting gears or expanding mythology, it merely reworks the showiest scenes from the last film and goes dark because that’s what superhero sequels are supposed to do. Still, Kick Ass 2 suffers mostly in comparison to the first movie, but not as much when stacked up against other summer superhero fare. In a weak summer movie season pretty much devoid of anything special, the film at least offers an attempt at subversion and originality. It might not always get there and even comes off as downright cheesy sometimes, but it is fun. As long as expectations are low (and after this summer, how could they not be?), there are plenty of good chuckles and cheers to be had between the groans. There won’t be any applause this time, but at least that should help prevent there ever being a Kick Ass 3. Some movies shouldn’t have sequels. Kick Ass was clearly one of them, but at least the follow up is unnecessary rather than unwatchable.