Review: Kick-Ass 2 / Director: Jeff Wadlow / Screenplay: Jeff Wadlow / Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey, Donald Faison, John Leguizamo / Release Date: Out Now
“As a great man once said... wait until they get a load of me.” So ended Matthew Vaughn and Mark Millar's Kick-Ass, the sage set for a showdown between the titular Kick-Ass, breakout star Hit-Girl, and the newly villainous Red Mist. With the promise of more heroes, more deliciously entertaining ultraviolence, and more Mindy McCready, Kick-Ass 2 was set to be the Dark Knight to its predecessor's Batman Begins. All this, and Jim Carrey too. How could it disappoint? Well, wait until you get a load of this...
Kick-Ass 2 picks up three years after the previous film left off. Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor Johnson) is retired and bored, coasting through life while Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz) continues her ass-kicking ways as Hit-Girl. Eventually, the boredom becomes too much, and Dave has Mindy train him in the art of crime fighting – Big Daddy style. Initially a lot of fun, we see Kick-Ass join his very own Justice League (led by a distractingly scary Jim Carrey) and actually grow to become competent at his craft. And then The Motherfucker makes his presence known, and suddenly things aren't quite so fun anymore.
Unfortunately, this carries over to the film itself. Always go darker for the sequel, is the general rule for superhero films, but given that Kick-Ass ended with Kick-Ass flying around with a jetpack, blowing up Mark Strong with a bazooka, while McLovin runs around wearing eyeliner and spandex, the same rules don't quite apply here. The irreverent cheer and bombastic silliness has returned for the sequel (see Dave fighting a gang of thugs while dressed as a Great White Pimp, and Mindy bombing it across town on her motorcycle) but it sits ill at ease with the darker, crueller themes of the comic book. True, many of Millar's more horrid ideas have been phased out, but his influence lingers there, insipidly whispering away in the background. By the time an attempted rape is played for laughs and (another) beloved character is violently murdered onscreen, there's a very bitter taste left in the mouth. The laughs which follow intermittently between feel tainted and cheap. Where the first film was triumphant and optimistic – its shocking violence offset with a sense of fun and, above all, wit - this seems cynical, sad and hollow. Cheap, tonally inconsistent and reliant upon easy gags, the departure of Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman is deeply felt.
Which is a shame, because there's a lot to like elsewhere. Obviously, Hit-Girl is the star, and Carrey puts in a great performance as Colonel Stars and Stripes, but it's the likes of Donald Faison and John Leguizamo who really anchor the film, capturing that optimistic, humanist spirit that made its predecessor so likeable. Mindy's own story is enjoyable too, a version of Carrie or Mean Girls, crossed with Kill Bill. Her beefed up screen time really works, and Moretz is growing into quite the impressive actress, in case you hadn't noticed already. Well done, too, with the casting of Andy Nyman and Daniel Kaluuya as Chris's goons. There's always that giant Nicolas Cage shaped hole at the film's heart, but Jeff Wadlow and his fine cast of actors and actresses do a fine job of making it seem less noticeable.
Ultimately, Kick-Ass 2 is a disappointment. It's well-acted, amusing and occasionally a lot of fun, but that's tempered with a mean, ugly streak that makes it quite sad to watch. Another general rule for superhero sequels is that there's always one in which the hero quits, hanging up the cape 'forever'. In this case, one can't help but feel that would have been for the best.
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10