In an age dominated by blockbuster superhero movies and their sequels, it seems somehow fitting that 2010’s sly, subversive, emphatically non-superhero movie Kick-Ass –which memorably introduced the world to the pint-sized ball of sweary energy known as Hit-Girl – has earned a sequel of its own. The good news? Kick-Ass 2 still contains plenty of completely bonkers shenanigans, most of which will enormously satisfy its existing fan base while also amusing newcomers to the franchise. The less-good news? In shedding its director/screenwriter (Matthew Vaughn) and a key cast member (Nicolas Cage), the film loses some of its narrative depth and ingenuity.
Mild-mannered Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has inspired a host of ordinary people to suit up and take to the streets with his exploits as crime-fighting costumed vigilante Kick-Ass. Lonely on the beat, he begs the remarkably efficient Hit-Girl, a.k.a. Mindy Macready (Chloe Grace Moretz), to train and fight with him. But, trapped between grief and her guardian Marcus (Morris Chestnut), Mindy must instead try her best to navigate the truly dangerous landscape of high-school life. Just as Kick-Ass teams up with Justice Forever, a motley costumed crew led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) re-emerges, shedding his uber-nerd superhero guise of Red Mist to become the Motherf**ker – the world’s first super-villain.
Like the film it follows, Kick-Ass 2 is a blast of cheeky, foul-mouthed fun, containing bursts of black humour and excessive violence that are not for the faint of heart. In just under two hours, it gleefully assails viewers with copious swearing, casual racism and some truly inspired moments of lunacy – the best ones serving as satirical counterpoints to the clichés that typically riddle superhero movies. The somewhat tragicomic Justice Forever, which includes a couple on a crusade of remembrance for their lost son (‘Remembering Tommy’), is particularly funny in the wake of the blockbuster success enjoyed by Marvel’s Avengers - a superhero team made up of actual superheroes.
What Kick-Ass 2 lacks is a heart as big as that of its predecessor. For all its blithe insanity, the relationship between Cage’s super-weird Big Daddy and his assassin-in-training daughter Mindy provided Kick-Ass with unexpected but effective wells of emotion. With Big Daddy absent from the proceedings this time round, director Jeff Wadlow tries but doesn’t quite manage to pin down the tone of the film. It veers haphazardly from darkly horrifying (it’s honestly a much bleaker film with a death toll that far out-strips the first film) to painfully earnest (the identity crises experienced simultaneously by Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl and the Motherf**ker), occasionally trading biting satire for low-brow scatological jokes.
Wadlow’s cast is excellent, however, and are well worth the watch. Her shock value isn’t quite the same, but Moretz’s Hit-Girl remains an absolute delight: confident, empowered, and tough as nails, even when tossed into the stereotypical shark-infested waters of a high-school cafeteria. Taylor-Johnson takes a back-seat this time (his character’s invulnerability to pain is mentioned so briefly as to be negligible), but he remains charming, while Mintz-Plasse proves he can play dark and deranged as well as he can embody the endearing uber-nerd. Carrey is fine in his role, notwithstanding his public disavowal of the violence in the film some time before its release, but doesn’t quite manage to fill in the enormous gap left by Cage’s loopy madness.
To be honest, Kick-Ass had its flaws – but, ultimately, its big, beating heart shone through its snarkily post-modern trappings. It’s a quality that becomes even more evident when compared to its successor. Kick-Ass 2 tries manfully to resuscitate the same madcap adventures and characters. On occasion, it succeeds quite gloriously. More often than not, however, it just misses the mark.
Basically: This sequel is still fun and unapologetically foul-mouthed, but it’s almost unbearably dark at times and only occasionally captures the zippy magic and heart of its predecessor.