REVIEW: Kick-Ass 2 [2013]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: R | Runtime: 103 minutes | Release Date: August 16th, 2013 (USA)
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director(s): Jeff Wadlow
Writer(s): Jeff Wadlow / Mark Millar & John Romita Jr. (comics Kick-Ass 2 & Hit-Girl)

“Act like a bitch, get slapped like a bitch”

I know a lot of people who hate Kick-Ass—definitely more than don’t. It’s always fascinated me because I thought it was a brilliantly funny actioner with a darkly comic streak of what logistically could happen if normal citizens decided to become superheroes. I loved it when I saw it in theatres and found myself validating that sentiment yesterday when revisiting it in preparation for the sequel. Well, let’s just say that about halfway through Kick-Ass 2 I think I discovered what those people saw in the first to make them less than impressed. The ideological concept of layman heroes was still present and the escalation of its blackened view of humanity was pitch perfect, but it all just plodded along devoid of the high-octane fun and heart I enjoyed three years ago.

A big part of the problem stems from the fact that the graphic novel writer/director Jeff Wadlow adapted was created concurrently with the script. I don’t know if Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. always had an inclination of expanding the story or not, but one can’t help think the success of the film played some role in getting things going. Rather than use one complete tale, however, it was decided that the movie would cull plotlines from both Kick-Ass 2 and the Hit-Girl spin-off published only last year. But while their respective titular characters are equally fascinating and worthy of a continuation in their sagas, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Mindy Macready (Chloë Grace Moretz) might have been better suited to receive standalone works instead because the constant shifting of focus is distracting.

Even though both were included in the first—alongside the genesis of Chris D’Amico’s (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) Red Mist—it was ultimately Kick-Ass’ show from start to finish. Hit-Girl and Big Daddy helped him, Red Mist used him, but in the end it was about Dave finding the hero inside. Kick-Ass 2 simply has too many characters trying to follow suit. Not only does Dave need a refresher—and to bulk up and learn how to fight correctly—but Mindy is adjusting to suburban life with new guardian Marcus (Morris Chestnut) while Chris copes with his father’s death and lust for revenge. Vantage points therefore change every few minutes while our being made to switch from one to another grows laborious. And the wait for their inevitable convergence takes way too long to ignore the tedium.

It’s even more frustrating because each of their evolutions is captivatingly authentic and crucial to where they’ll be by the finale. You just have to wonder if their journeys to that point were too truncated to truly give yourself over to their plight. Watching Kick-Ass join the Justice Forever team with amateurs (Donald Faison‘s Dr. Gravity and Lindy Booth‘s Night Bitch) and professionals (Jim Carrey‘s Colonel Stars and Stripes) alike is a welcome progression that juxtaposes Red Mist’s transformation into The Motherfucker flawlessly. As the good guys cope with the carnage inherent in taking up arms against villains, D’Amico only has to enlist psychopaths and homicidal maniacs looking for a reason to kill with impunity. It’s a police force’s worst nightmare and a hilariously pitch black commentary on mankind’s hero fetish needing evil to be relevant.

If Wadlow gave the film time to dig into this psychology deeper, I think things would have been better. These concepts help to understand where everyone’s motivations come from as well as the brutality matters of actual life and death consist of outside of a comic book page. Having to also deal with Mindy’s metamorphosis into a mean girl and back again means less time to commit to the bigger themes as well as one more backstory to keep straight. I haven’t read the graphic novels so I don’t know if Kick-Ass 2 and Hit-Girl do run concurrently, but finding a way to keep them separate might have been a service to give them room to breathe. Her saga of high school convention subversion is fantastic, but there isn’t enough meat to fully invest.

We know as soon as Dave looks for a team and Chris takes over the “family business” that a giant confrontation is on the horizon. Prolonging that inevitability by pushing it aside for long stretches of Mindy evolving into a character we already knew her to be in the first film is a mistake. Her Hit-Girl deserved a coming out party without distraction—much like Dave’s. Give her a new genesis free from the constraints of a larger plot and then do the team building/evil empire thing in Kick-Ass 3. Mindy’s flirtation with high school cliques and dance clubs rings false because we have Dave constantly interrupting her with the words we know to be true. That’s not her. She’s a superhero and the quicker she realizes it, the better for everyone.

Conflicting focus aside, however, the actors do a bang-up job reprising their roles and continuing their growth through more serious avenues. It’s assured to get messy when the adults disappear and leave the keys to their respective castles to their kids and Kick-Ass 2 doesn’t disappoint. Taylor-Johnson is still nerdy chic, Moretz a consummate badass, and Mintz-Plasse outdoes himself as the remorseless mastermind of death still prone to cowering when danger threatens. For the rest, actors like Steven Mackintosh and Monica Dolan add the compassionate humanity necessary to remain satire and not farce; Carrey reins in his shtick to embody the unhinged general needed; and Olga Kurkulina‘s Mother Russia proves a formidable force. There’s just too many in too short a time and instead of a culmination of greatness, the rousing finale merely shows what could have been.

[1] (L to R, foreground) Colonel Stars and Stripes (JIM CARREY) makes a plan with Kick-Ass (AARON TAYLOR-JOHNSON) in the follow-up to 2010’s irreverent global hit: “Kick-Ass 2”. Photo Credit: Daniel Smith Copyright: © 2013 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[2] The blade-wielding Hit Girl (CHLOË GRACE MORETZ) returns for the follow-up to 2010’s irreverent global hit: “Kick-Ass 2”. Photo Credit: Daniel Smith Copyright: © 2013 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[3] Self-proclaimed super-villain The Mother F%&*^r (CHRISTOPHER MINTZ-PLASSE) leads an evil army in the follow-up to 2010’s irreverent global hit: “Kick-Ass 2”. Photo Credit: Daniel Smith Copyright: © 2013 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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