It’s hard to imagine a time when superhero films weren’t as ubiquitous as they are now. Back when Superman and Batman were basically the only game in town, and even then, decades would pass devoid of new film releases. Alas, we now live in a different time, where millions of people who have never bothered to pick up a comic book know that Tony Stark is Iron Man. With the growth of the superhero in mass media, so grows the satirical take. The most popular in the bunch that includes Super, Defendor, Special, and the oft forgotten Mystery Men, is Kick-Ass. Kick-Ass was one of those films with a very specific audience in mind. An ultraviolent, often comedic take on what a regular guy could accomplish as a superhero in an approximation of the real world. It somehow seems fitting that we are now discussing its sequel, something that has overtaken the superhero film genre. Kick-Ass 2 has an awareness of sequels that often works, if inevitably feeling lesser than its predecessor.
Following the events of Kick-Ass, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has returned to his normal life. Eventually he becomes bored and after some pleading with his friend Mindy Macready (Chloë Grace Moretz), aka Hit-Girl, he returns to training. When Mindy decides that she cannot return to the world of superheroes, Dave turns to Facebook to find a new partner. The city is now filled with similarly masked vigilantes trying to do good, and Dave as Kick-Ass finds a group of likeminded individuals. They dub themselves Justice Forever, the first real life superhero team. Meanwhile, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is brimming with hatred towards Kick-Ass following the death of his father. In his quest for revenge he recreates himself as the first supervillain, The Mother Fucker, and assembles his own team of evil.
Our superheroes have always been just that, super. Even with uberwealthy Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne, the superhero still possessed some aspect to their personality that kept them separate from us. Their worlds are fantastic and theatrically superior to the mundanity of our own. So it was with open arms that we welcomed Kick-Ass. While the setting still had a bit of an otherworldly aura, it felt like a depiction of what it might actually be like if superheroes not only walked the streets, but were willing to end the lives of their adversaries. It showed just how messed up it all was, and acted as a commentary on not only our simplification of the superhero genre but our celebrity obsessed culture. The film had its faults, including a confused tone and a lead that was easily overshadowed by his supporting players, not to mention an ending that seemed to conflict with the more grounded worldbuilding. But when all is said it done, it was a good time, and definitely a unique concept with more than adequate execution.
The general formula for sequels has been to make everything louder, more action, louder explosions, bigger set pieces. Kick-Ass 2 certainly takes this to heart. This means we get even more of the things we enjoyed in the first film. Unfortunately this blade has two sides, and just as the action, humor and body count rise, the smart edge and satirical nature fall to the wayside. Recognizing the appeal of Hit-Girl, and the fantastic performance from Chloë Grace Moretz, the film starts by making her more of the focal. So imagine my worry as she puts away the costume and attempts to live life as Mindy Macready. This wasn’t what audiences wanted, although the film argues that it may just be what you needed. The teenage Mindy moments, while occasionally limping too close to R-rated Mean Girls, is wonderfully developed through Moretz’s character work. The character is deepened, and we come to enjoy her just as much as we did as Hit-Girl. It’s nice to get more Hit-Girl, but again the film doesn’t give us as much as we want (which is honestly, a better film about the character alone). The character of Dave has always been weak, and try as Aaron Taylor Johnson might to make him intriguing, is often quite boring. This time we have even more characters to distract from the bland Kick-Ass, including a fantastic, nearly unrecognizable turn from Jim Carrey, but at the end of the day it is still a film about Dave.
The action is perhaps even better this time around. Continuing to employ its own modern day ultraviolence, it is brutal to an extreme. The fights are so captivating as to allow me to momentarily ignore my hatred of CGI blood, as it heightens things to the appropriately cartoonish levels. Similar to the first film, the stakes are real and people have no problem dying. Christopher Mintz-Plasse makes The Mother Fucker work, with enough humor to reveal his own ineptitude. His group of supervillians is a nightmare to behold. They lack any character development, but perhaps that best serves their henchman nature. Additionally, the flip-flopping tone of the first film is even more unbalanced now. Certain scenes demand a sense of gravity, while others seem to abandon any reality. One scene in particular features a graphic display of exploding bodily functions and it’s out of place both in lack of humor and quality. A little bit of cutting in order to gather its own thoughts is definitely in order.
The action is better and the jokes often funnier, nevertheless, it all feels a bit insignificant. Where Kick-Ass was a new take on the superhero genre, its sequel is more generic rehash. It indulges in the same over-the-top, blood gushing fights, but doesn’t have anything to actually say. It isn’t for a lack of worthwhile performances, for everyone involved, from a giddy Donald Faison to a domineering Olga Kurkulina, is certainly committed to delivering Mark Millar’s demented vision. However the increased frequency of punches don’t hit nearly as hard. Kick-Ass 2 is plenty enjoyable and brings even more of what audiences liked the first time around, but where the first one was innovative this is just derivative.
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