“Kick-Ass 2” is not a bad film, but it suffers from a lack of the vitality that caused audiences to embrace its predecessor when “Kick-Ass” hit theaters in four years ago.
While there are splashes of newness, writer/director Jeff Wardlow doesn’t take his characters to enough interesting places to keep “Kick-Ass 2” a thoroughly compelling film. We see how the surviving characters of the first film are getting along, but too often the proceedings feel a bit stale. However, the film does have its strengths, and they typically revolve around Chloë Grace Moretz and Jim Carrey.
Carrey reminds us that he is a terrific character-actor as he loses himself in the role of Colonel Stars and Stripes, a former mob thug and born-again Christian. Carrey is the only new actor in “Kick-Ass 2” who attempts to add some dimensionality to his role. The Colonel seems born and bred on the East Coast, and Carrey gives the character a deep New Jersey inflection. While the character is larger than life, Carrey restrains himself from becoming too cartoonish in the role and lets the costume and his star-spangled German Shepard sidekick do their part.
Moretz was a revelation in “Kick-Ass” and she gets the opportunity to do more of what audiences loved about her character, Hit-Girl, in the new film. Better yet, we follow Moretz’s character as she finds that it isn’t easy adjusting to life as teenage Mindy Macready. Because we know that Mindy has spent the last few years maiming and killing hundreds of criminals, thugs, and their ilk, it’s totally absorbing to watch her struggle through such mundane acts as sleepovers, dates, and lunches with the most popular campus clique.
It’s the addition of the new to the film, be it Carrey’s role or Moretz’s advancing storyline, which makes most of the rest of “Kick-Ass 2” feel as though nothing fresh is being mined from the material. Dave Lizewski, played by the talented Aaron Taylor-Johnson, has given up a life of fighting crime as the costumed hero Kick-Ass when the film opens. Dave decides to get drawn back into the superheroics and asks Mindy to mentor him, which she does until she turns her own back on vigilantism to live her life as a normal teenager.
Dave joins the superhero team Justice Forever, led by Colonel Stars and Stripes, and discovers a new sense of purpose. He’s going to need all of the help he can get. Chris D’Amico, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, is out for Kick-Ass’s blood after the costumed hero murdered the young man’s mob-boss father in the first film. Chris wears a bondage-style costume and goes by the moniker the Motherfucker. This villain, whose unsubtle name feels to be born more of desperation than imagination, is creating a supervillain army to take down Kick-Ass and cause unruly mayhem.
We are faced with this unfortunate fact in “Kick-Ass 2”: Mintz-Plasse does not have the ability to carry a film as the main heavy. With a voice that incessantly cracks like a twelve-year old and a diminutive physique, there is nothing menacing about him. Sure he’s got his team of villains to back him up, chief among them is the mountainous Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina), but a superhero film requires a formidable villain and Mintz-Plasse just doesn’t cut it. Yet, to be fair, when required to be funny, such as when he selects a number of ethnically derogatory supervillain identities for his gang, Mintz-Plasse is much more effective.
“Kick-Ass 2” tones down the violence just a notch from the first film. That isn’t to say blood isn’t spilled, but the first film gleefully embraced carnage in a way that this second chapter does not. Wardlow is a competent storyteller, but the film needed to do something more with Dave. Mindy’s arc, going from Hit-Girl to the trials of high school, is surprisingly fascinating. Dave joining Justice Forever and continuing to hide his superhero life from his father is less compelling because it isn’t really treading new ground for the character.
Though Hit-Girl doles out a similar brand of foul-mouthed, blood-thirsty justice as she did in “Kick-Ass”, it works just as well here. The film proves that the character is resilient and would probably be able to headline her own picture with the right story. In an excellent action sequence on a moving van, Mindy clings onto the speeding vehicle as she takes out everyone inside to protect Dave. She’s a miniature James Bond and she’s just as sweet.
The finale is a satisfying action sequence involving a final showdown between Kick-Ass and the Mother-you-know-who, while Hit-Girl takes on Mother Russia. The latter confrontation is the more engrossing as the wee heroine finds herself way in over her head against the soviet juggernaut. Towards the end of the scene, there is an odd encounter with Ass-Kicker (an indecisive costumed character) who is inexplicably forgiven for his part in an unthinkable crime. It feels as though Wadlow had forgotten what had occurred with Ass-Kicker in previous scenes.
For all its lulls and some stale passages, fans of the original may find enough here to warrant a matinee showing. However, Moretz and Carrey’s scenes strengthen the material enough to remind us how enjoyable this franchise can be.
Directed by: Jeff Wadlow
Writer: Jeff Wadlow (based on the comic book “Kick-Ass 2” by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.)
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass), Chloë Grace Moretz (Mindy Macready / Hit-Girl), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Chris D’Amico / The Motherfucker), Jim Carrey (Colonel Stars and Stripes), John Leguizamo (Javier), Clark Duke (Marty/Battle Guy), Donald Faison (Dr. Gravity), Garrett M. Brown (Mr. Lizewski), Morris Chestnut (Detective Marcus Williams), Lindy Booth (Night Bitch), Olga Kurkulina (Mother Russia)
Studio: Universal Pictures
Release Date: August 16, 2013