I’m ashamed to admit it, but I really enjoyed KICK-ASS 2. I’m ashamed because the sequel to 2010’s ultraviolent, sailor-mouthed superhero sugar rush is at once dumber, cruder and significantly more disjointed than its predecessor. I enjoyed it because, I dunno… there’s a bunch of ridiculous homemade costumes, two dudes get merked with a lawnmower, some stuff explodes, there’s some cool music…
Look, if you didn’t like KICK-ASS, don’t even bother. Written and Directed by Jeff Wadlow (CRY WOLF), KICK-ASS 2, which picks up 2 years after the original, features many of the same characters, repeating the same inane question (what would happen if someone tried to be a superhero in real life?), with half the narrative and twice the swearing. Also hella puke.
Where KICK-ASS brought super-teens Dave “Kick-Ass” Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Mindy “Hit Girl” Macready (Chloë Grace Moretz) together, the sequel sees them drifting apart, Dave venturing farther into the extreme-LARPing lifestyle of moonlighting superheroes and Mindy, after a promise to her worried guardian, dubiously bivouacking a swath through the social wilds of freshman year.
In telling both their stories, the film’s tone nauseously tilts and pitches between frenetic superhero action, raunchy teen comedy, and hollow melodrama, all the while maintaining a pace just breathless enough to keep the audience distracted.
Dave’s story introduces an ad hoc cadre of rag-tag vigilantes comprising over-enthusiastic Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison), under-clad Night Bitch (Lindy Booth), Dave’s poseur schoolmate Marty “Battle Guy” Eisenberg (Clark Duke) and a host of others, all of them led by born-again ex-mob enforcer Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey).
Thematically, the team is used to elucidate some of the personal aspirations and upheavals, ranging from loneliness to justice to loss to good-old-fashioned American vengeance, that lead disenfranchised souls to the cape and cowl. And while some of the team's members are thoughtful and affecting in concept – most notably Remember Tommy (Steven Mackintosh and Monica Dolan), a husband and wife duo who reside permanently in the cavernous negative space left by the loss of their son – in practice, all of them quickly collapse into one-note jokes or raw plot machinery.
Mindy’s story, a MEAN GIRLS-style high school survival tale, offers, on the one hand, lots of flat teen comedy, but, on the other, myriad opportunities for Moretz to imbue Hit Girl with more of a sense of character than all of the film’s other misfits combined. Though, like most of the movie, the arc never gets a chance to fully gel, and ends in a heinously over-the-top gross-out punchline, it’s one of KICK-ASS 2’s most unexpected and inspired turns.
Both storylines are finally brought to a head (and I do mean finally - it takes the movie at least 50 of its 110 minutes to pull together anything even resembling a coherent storyline) when newly orphaned Chris “Red Mist” D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) gets serious about vengeance, outfits himself in bondage gear and a crass new nom de costume, and vows to take over the city.
One of the biggest complaints people – even fans – have about KICK-ASS is that it treats its primary conceit (the aforementioned “what would happen if someone tried to be a superhero in real life?”) as a jumping off point for what ends up amounting to just another spandex-swaddled punch-'em-up. If anything, KICK-ASS 2 is even more egregious in this regard, creating a veritable mantra of the phrase “this isn’t a comic book” while devolving further and further into a ludicrous (if occasionally awesome) cartoon, in the process undercutting what few emaciated niblets of actual social insight the film possesses.
(I’m a fan of KICK-ASS, but as recent “real life” superhero flicks go, I’d sooner recommend either James Gunn’s SUPER or Max Landis’ CHRONICLE.)
I guess if you’re reading arch-iconoclast and armchair misogynist Mark Millar’s comics, upon which both films are based, there may be a cutesy, meta (although I’d still argue evanescent) irony about these assertions in the face of the reality that, of course, it is a comic book. But in a movie that can't even decide which single fictional genre it wants to grossly exaggerate, the repeated insistence that we share some corner of these characters’ reality is frankly moronic.
KICK-ASS 2 might’ve at least broken even if, during its self-conscious plunge into comic book histrionics, it offered some new insight into pop culture’s love affair with its noble and garish caped crusaders, but the entire thematic arc of the narrative as it relates to superheroism is a flabby reiteration of Jim Gordon’s escalation speech at the end of Nolan’s BATMAN BEGINS (a film, by the way, in which Alfred’s never like, “This isn’t a comic book, Master Wayne. We have to find where the ninjas hid that microwave emitter.”)
But, hey, like I said at the start, I really enjoyed KICK-ASS 2. For all its problems, it has a frantic, devil-may-care sort of charm, its blade-wielding acrobatics, unflinching gunplay and arterial geysers fluorescing amid a sophomoric stew of slang, sarcasm and casual obscenity.
In the unseasonably cool summer dark outside the theater, it becomes abundantly clear that this is a film of diminishing returns - a single-serving burst of energy and light. But amid the hoots and cackles of a full auditorium, it’s fun. And once in a while, that’s worth the price of shame. (2 1/2 out of 4 Stars)