Kick-Ass 2 Review
A very hit and miss affair, this follow-up to 2010’s mightily entertaining Kick-Ass succumbs to the law of diminishing returns. On the surface it has all its predecessor’s ingredients: bloody violence, inappropriate language, flirtations with darker thematic material, an irreverent approach to the world of comic books. Yet something is lacking; perhaps it was the novelty factor of Matthew Vaughn’s original that elevated it above the norm, or maybe it’s the change of behind-the-scenes personnel, but much of this sequel feels perfunctory - what felt envelope-pushing first time around now seems a bit silly. For those who enjoyed the characters and just want to see what happened next though, Kick-Ass 2 will likely more than satisfy.
Some time on from the events of part one, Kick-Ass a.k.a. Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, looking a bit too old to pass as a high school student) is keen to keep his alter-ego in business, but the wave of copycat superheroes now patrolling the streets of New York means he’s not the star he once was. He initially tries to join up professionally with Hit Girl a.k.a. Mindy Macready (Chloë Grace Moretz), but after an act of street justice gets her in hot water with her guardian Marcus (Morris Chestnut), she resigns herself to a life of normal teenage girl activities like shopping and worshipping boy bands. So Dave decides to team up with a new team of vigilantes, Justice Forever, led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). But they meet their match in Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the one-time Red Mist now reborn as The Motherfucker, who is intent on avenging his father’s death.
Despite the useful addition of Carrey to the franchise (lending the sort of charismatic weight that Nicolas Cage brought to the original), it quickly becomes apparent that Hit Girl is the star of this show. You miss her when she’s off screen, to the point that Dave’s story just isn’t compelling enough. There’s more plot in the vein of the first film, whereby he has to face up to the consequences of his actions (and there’s some pretty unhappy places he is forced to go to), but Hit Girl is a real breath of fresh air. Moretz is a delightful screen presence and Mindy is a brilliantly conceived character. The search for her inner teenager, buried beneath years of physical training and ass-kicking, brings much needed humour to the fore. As before, she is streets ahead of any other amateur superhero, including Dave; it’s a running joke that seemingly never gets old.
Dave, on the other hand, is just dealing with more of the same. His relationship with Katie doesn’t really feature (she only turns up long enough to dump him), instead focussing on his fling with another costumed avenger called Night Bitch. One of his best friends falls out with him, while his dad is concerned about his behaviour (again). All of which keeps the story moving, but it feels like the same story being retold in a slightly different order. Taylor-Johnson is fine, but is capable of so much more than this. Mintz-Plasse’s petulant Chris has a more interesting trajectory, taking over from Mark Strong as the villain of the piece, though his constant pouting feels forced at times. The underlying hints at incestuous feelings towards his mom (his new supervillain name seems apt in more ways than one) is at least in keeping with the series' willingness to explore areas other adaptations would fear to tread.
So it’s disappointing that the treatment of the characters lets the film down, for which only writer-director Jeff Wadlow can be to blame. In the absence of part one’s co-writers, Vaughn and Jane Goldman, Wadlow capably stages some good set-pieces but fails to top anything in the first film, while the pacing feels clumsily handled. The multi-character showdown at the end also underwhelms, reminiscent of X-Men: The Last Stand's slapdash attitude. It’s a sequel full of good intentions which at least tries to add something new, but can’t quite hit the bullseye.