Kick-Ass 2 serves as a reminder that the line between clever and stupid is indeed incredibly thin. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have some great moments, there are many times when it approaches the fun and smarts of the 2010 original. But those moments are always fleeting, providing a brief sense of elation before we’re returned to the episodic drudgery of the script. When that happens we’re getting something that tries so hard to be “badass” and “shocking” that it comes across as juvenile and rote. It’s that “rebellious” 15 year-old sitting at your dinner table that you try your best to ignore, which is a shame. This movie is so close the the original, yet somehow so far away that it’s maddening.
The reality of Kick-Ass 2 is that it’s far too reverential to the source material, cramming two of Mark Millar’s graphic novels into one story but refusing to omit or streamline a series of redundant and contradictory beats. I lost count of how many times Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl decide to quit being superheroes before being talked back into it by whichever one of them had just quit and been talked back into it themselves. The enabling chorus formed by these two characters creates an ouroboros of “giving up the cowl” moments, packing the proceedings with enough resignation and eventual self-actualization to fill dozens of Spider-Man 2‘s.
I know this may sound like a minor complaint about a film that many of you will seek out for its fun, violence and mayhem – but it’s those very elements that suffer at the hands of such turbulent storytelling. Jim Carrey may have been uncomfortable with the amount of firearms in the movie, and Mark Millar may have oddly used that as a springboard to talk about the “repercussions of violence” the film supposedly examines, but Kick-Ass 2 is actually way less violent than its predecessor. Even if the body counts are in the same range, nothing here has the impact of the first film. Compare Hit-Girl’s climactic rampage in Kick-Ass with her green-screen van assault in this new installment and you’ll have the fundamental difference between the films laid out for you in a nutshell. Even worse, the action you do get veers wildly between being toothless and overly mean.
Kick-Ass 2 is also bogged down by its own schizophrenic feelings about vigilantism. It’s laden with speeches about how taking the law into your own hands is right, or wrong, but none of them are convincing. It doesn’t help that one of the film’s supposed talking points is “the consequences of violence,” which would be an interesting theme if it was implemented with any amount of consistency. Instead, it just pops up when convenient – and even then it’s audience manipulation masked as conversation.
What’s good? Aside from the frustrating van sequence, the action here is actually shot rather well – it’s just that it teeters between being toothless and overly mean. The performances are all fine, with Jim Carrey being a bit of a stand-out as Colonel Stars and Stripes, but the script’s need to tell two completely different stories means his screen time is limited to about 10 minutes (if that). Christopher Mintz-Plasse is fun as The Motherf*cker, even if we’re not completely sold on how he went from innocent to 100% evil so fast. Aaron Johnson is appropriately (and intentionally) milquetoast as Kick-Ass and Chloe Moretz actually excels when out of costume for the film’s protracted Mean Girls homage. Lindy Booth also carves a compelling character with her limited time as Night Bitch.
However, all of those pleasures are frustratingly temporal and, by the end, you sort of feel a sense of chintziness ringing through you. I found myself actively trying to like the film, a huge let down given the fact that the first one left me effortlessly soaring. If you’re a fan of the first Kick-Ass, you’ll certainly find some stuff to like – but not nearly as much as the last time around. If you’re a fan of Mark Millar’s source material, you might appreciate the film’s attempts to replicate it. But, if you’re a fan of good movies, you’ll be left high and dry.