Kick-Ass 2 Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
The original Kick-Ass, based on the comic book miniseries by Mark Millar, was something akin to catching lightning in a bottle: impressive and surprising, but more than likely a one-off, never to be repeated again. However, with the release of two sequel series in comic book form and a third on the way, it was inevitable that a movie sequel to the unusual hit of 2010 would be made, and from that inevitability came Kick-Ass 2.
One of the elements which contributed to the success of the first Kick-Ass was the shock factor: not just from hearing an 11-year-old girl drop the C-bomb, but from the outrageous violence and the subversion of superhero tropes at a time when they were beginning to become more mainstream. The major challenge Kick-Ass 2 faces is how to recapture the uniquely surprising nature of the first film without treading over old ground, and in many ways it succeeds in overcoming this challenge.
Instead of simply continuing to play on existing superhero movie tropes, new writer and director Jeff Wadlow chooses instead to take familiar ideas from superhero sequels and subvert them somewhat: more outrageous villains, new comrades and an advancement of the typical superhero origin story. So where Kick-Ass saw costumed crimefighters largely working alone and taking on Mafia bosses, the sequel has them clashing with maniacal psychopaths clad in bondage gear, forming teams of superheroes and overcoming various personal crises to show their true colours as real, upstanding heroes.
However, a sequel trope that Kick-Ass 2 adopts rather than subverts is the idea of making the story ‘darker’: like The Dark Knight to Batman Begins, Kick-Ass 2 is a far darker tale compared to the original. While some of the violent excesses of the first film are toned down, and a couple of the more horrific sequences from the comic books neatly sidestepped in favour of jokes about the inadequacy of real-life supervillains, the film deals with violence on a far more personal level to the protagonists: Dave Lizewski’s family is targeted, and one of the heroes is brutally, and ultimately pointlessly murdered simply to make a point.
But that’s not to say that the trademark humour of the original is gone, far from it: Chloe Grace Moretz’s Hit Girl is just as potty-mouthed and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Dave is just as nerdy as they were in 2010, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse ramps up the political incorrectness with his supervillain identity as ‘The Motherf***er’ and his racially-stereotyped gang whose collective name is an outrageously profane surprise. However, it’s John Leguizamo’s put-upon ‘Alfred’ to the Motherf***er’s ‘evil Batman’ who gets some of the best moments as he reluctantly helps his ward assemble a crew and set up an evil lair complete with a shark tank, providing an effective realist foil to the comic book-inspired madness the rest of the characters are embroiled in. It’s only unfortunate that Javier is given somewhat short shrift and is unceremoniously dumped at the movie’s halfway point in favour of the more manic characters in the central ensemble.
Similarly, an almost unrecognisably grizzled Jim Carrey as Colonel Stars and Stripes brings some professionalism to proceedings and is taken out of action surprisingly early in the film. It means that the Colonel never quite becomes the Nicolas Cage substitute Wadlow wants him to be, lacking both a recognisable archetype for a casual audience to relate him to, like the Adam West Batman wrapped in the Christian Bale Batman’s costume that Cage’s Big Daddy was, and the screen time to emotionally connect with the viewer. But he still gets his fair share of moments as he trains the rookie team ‘Justice Forever’ and effectively takes down a prostitution ring with the help of his dog Eisenhower.
There are a few other standouts among the new supporting cast, including Lindy Booth as slinky superheroine and new love interest for Dave known as ‘Night Bitch’, and Donald Faison (best known as Turk from Scrubs) as ‘Doctor Gravity’; and on the villain’s side. Britain is well-represented by Andy Nyman and Daniel Kaluuya as ‘The Tumour’ and ‘Black Death’ respectively. However, the most formidable presence is bodybuilder Olga Kurkulina as ‘Mother Russia’, a frankly terrifying addition to the Motherf***er’s gang and more than a physical match for Hit Girl in the film’s climactic battle.
Elsewhere, the biggest change in the returning cast is in Hit Girl: having supposedly retired her superhero identity following the events of the first film, a large part of the sequel is devoted to Mindy Macready finding her way in life away from Hit Girl. In many respects, it wouldn’t have been an outrageous leap to call the film Hit Girl instead of Kick Ass 2, considering the amount of focus on the former character. The problem is that the story of a former ninja-assassin-superhero trying to fit in with the girly girls at high school isn’t as interesting as the storyline concerning Dave joining Justice Forever which runs alongside it, and yet far more focus is given to the former plotline than the latter. Admittedly, there are some funny moments, such as Mindy experiencing and being completely dumbstruck by her adolescent hormones for the first time while watching a ‘Union J’ (an obvious One Direction parody) video; and some crude ones such as the ‘Sick Stick’ scene which may have audience members of a weaker constitution running for the bathroom, but the overall story feels too much like a subplot promoted to a main plot.
But this is a relatively minor problem in what is otherwise a fun and action-packed, if not entirely riveting cinematic outing that is sufficiently different, by which I mean violent and sweary, to stand out from the usual slew of PG-rated, CGI-heavy summer blockbusters.
While it never reaches the heights of profanity or hilarity its predecessor did, Kick-Ass 2 is still an enjoyable romp and a decent twist on the superhero sequel, and a movie which remains refreshingly bloody in a market over-saturated with bland, toned-down movie violence.