Film Review: Kick-Ass 2
In the sprawling world of cinema, too many sequels with real potential become croppers because of that simple folly: DARKER = BETTER. Mark Millar seemed to trade on this very idea in the Kick-Ass comic-book series, overloading his second collection with some incredibly brutal narrative swerves, most of which felt crowbarred in for the sake of shock value.
Likewise, the film adaptations follow a progression into murkier territory, yet – thankfully – the gradient is less steep than in the comics themselves. Kick-Ass 2 is more brutal in execution (literally) than 2010’s original, with several of its set-pieces bordering on the truly horrific (watch out for an attempted rape scene, and the assassination of a relatively significant figure), but the fight sequences themselves remain exhilarating in all their pulpy, bone-crunching glory.
Tonally, it’s relatively consistent with the original Kick-Ass, but writer-director Jeff Wadlow lacks the nimble touch of his predecessor Matthew Vaughn. Vaughn’s film was a thorough delight: a subversive superhero flick whose limb-slicing hyperactivity never once sacrificed its big, booming heart. Wadlow’s crack at the universe is serviceable, but too often lapses into the kind of ham-fisted clichés which the original so skilfully outmanoeuvred, and consequently, this sequel dearly lacks the infectious likeability of Kick-Ass the first.
An indeterminate amount of time following the fall of Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) and his empire, Dave Lizewski (played by the now-bruising Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has hung up his wetsuit to return to the monotonous existence of an everyday teenager. Bored stiff by the civilian life, he reconnects with Mindy MacReady (the dependably strong Chloë Grace Moretz) to retrain himself for the vigilante life. When Mindy promises her guardian to put an end to her crime-fighting ways, Dave joins Justice Forever, a ragtag gang of wannabe-superheroes led by the gruff-voiced Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). All the while, however, Kick-Ass’ downfall is being plotted by Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who – under the new alias of The Motherfucker – wants to avenge his father’s death by destroying everything Kick-Ass (aka, Dave) holds dear.
Even from the offset, it’s clear that this film has a lot of moving parts, and unfortunately, there are too many for Wadlow and co. to adequately balance across the lean runtime. It’s easy to forget John Leguizamo’s all-too-brief stint as Chris D’Amico’s subordinate, and a subplot involving Mindy’s time in high school culminates in a gag which teeters on the brink of self-parody. To be frank, the first third of Kick-Ass 2 is appalling, especially when clumsy exposition collides with horribly-executed shifts in plot. For instance, a crucial, tenderly-developed strand from the original film is cruelly done away with in about 30 seconds of screen-time, with minimal character development in the aftermath. Worse still, Chris D’Amico follows a truly repellent arc which begins with killing his own mother, and Dave’s father is given very short shrift in what should be the emotional fulcrum of the entire ordeal.
Naturally, nobody expects an in-depth character study from a film like this. But there is some seriously fertile ground for psychological exploration, which winds up being criminally undervalued and underused. The consequences of the actions of Kick-Ass and co. should have huge ramifications at times, but they’re all glossed over in a flurry to reach the finish-line. Admittedly, this does help maintain the pulse-pounding momentum of the set-pieces, but this ignorance of character study prevents Kick-Ass 2 from transcending into something truly resonant. Emotional bonds are forged from natural feelings of fear and concern, rather than from sharp characterisation. As an audience, we automatically like Lindy Booth’s Night Bitch for three simple reasons: she’s cute, she finds herself in danger, and she’s established as a love interest early on. But beyond that, there’s little to work with, and the same applies to most of the secondary characters, which gives the film a shallow, slightly superficial atmosphere.
In terms of plot, then, it’s a disappointment. But when it comes to supplying sheer visceral thrills, Kick-Ass 2 is an unbridled success. There’s a genuinely electrifying takedown on a prostitution ring which allows Carrey to dazzle, and after its awkward first act, the whole film pivots when Chris D’Amico visits his imprisoned uncle. From there on out, the stakes are raised tenfold, and a sense of real danger permeates the remainder of the film. Surprises are in store (both pleasant and truly shocking), and the second half allows some of the film’s stronger assets to shine. Donald Faison is wonderful as Doctor Gravity: a more personable hero than the Colonel, who gracefully brings a sense of wide-eyed excitement to the mix, and Olga Kurkulina gives Mother Russia a vicious brusqueness which works a treat.
On the whole, this is the very definition of a mixed bag, and one which will leave many viewers feeling conflicted. Its weaknesses are countered by a primal desire for mayhem: an equation which ends somewhere highly frustrating. It’s tough to summarise everything that’s right and wrong about Kick-Ass 2, but once the dust has settled and Millar’s next volume is released, perhaps we’ll be able to judge it more definitively. For now, though, take it for what it is: a skewed sequel which thrills, if not enthrals.
Giddily entertaining, yet horrifically brutal; underwritten yet arresting… Perhaps fittingly, given its subject matter, Kick-Ass 2 is a schizophrenic mess, as shocking as it is… well, shocking.
Posted on August 21, 2013, in The Film World and tagged Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Film Review, Hit-Girl, Jeff Wadlow, Jim Carrey, Kick-Ass, Kick-Ass 2, Lindy Booth, Mark Millar, Matthew Vaughn, Night Bitch. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.