|Hit Girl: observing helmet laws since now.|
The original Kick-Ass movie was independently made, picked up by Lionsgate after scenes shown at Comic Con received an overwhelmingly positive response, and felt like a big middle finger to the safe superhero formula – along with James Gunn’s Super, and to a lesser extent Watchmen, it marked part of a mini-wave of “anti” comic-book movies not unlike the boom in revisionist superheroes that happened among comics themselves in the late ’80s.
The sequel is distributed by Universal. Does it shock you terribly to learn that it plays things much, much safer? Granted, some things are inherently less shocking anyway – eleven year-old Hit Girl casually massacring bad guys with her mad ninja skillz is more eyebrow-raising than a fifteen year-old doing the same sort of thing. Still, when the most jaw-dropping thing she does is slice a mugger’s hand off, and that happens early on, it’s not like the movie itself is helping. Nicolas Cage shooting his daughter in the chest, only to have her turn out to be wearing a vest, was an amazing scene in part one, but having Hit Girl reenact the moment with her in the Cage role and Kick-Ass as the victim…plays like the retread that it is.
If you still love the characters, there’s enough to like here that you won’t be mad. Unless you think too long about their wasted potential.
For instance: we all loved Hit Girl, right? So what does this movie do? It makes her plain Mindy Macready for most of the film’s running time, after her guardian Marcus (Morris Chestnut) extracts a promise from her in her father’s name that she’ll stop. Meanwhile, Kick-Ass is looking for a way to belong, but after aligning with some masked vigilantes even dorkier looking than he is, he starts to wonder if there’s a cause and effect, and superheroes are just making things worse, eventually promising his dad that he too will retire. Yep, this is the standard superhero sequel template where the hero gives it up, only to inevitably have to return to defeat a threat only they can counter.
There is an irreverent joy to seeing the former Hit Girl trying to integrate into normal high-school life – it leads to one of the film’s truly transgressive moments, and undoubtedly takes some of the steam out of the sails of Chloe Moretz’s upcoming Carrie, since vengeance here seems a lot more fun for our heroine. I think it would have worked better if it had her maintaining the double-life, though, still training Kick-Ass to be a stronger fighter and getting emotionally closer to him on the side. It’s understandable that a major studio release is going to be reluctant to pull the trigger on any underage romance (unless it’s Romeo and Juliet, who were like 12 if you do it accurately), but it also feels like a cop-out away from the dangerous edge that we felt from part one.
Meanwhile, Kick-Ass himself has become a nondescript character with few defining characteristics – his girlfriend leaves him early on, and he’s quickly upstaged by his new friends, among them Jim Carrey’s Col. Stars and Stripes, a guy I wish we got to see more of. A former mob enforcer turned born-again Christian, this patriotic vigilante loathes bad language but loves to see his dog bite off baddies’ wieners – the inherent contradictions would be interesting to explore further, though they were apparently lost on the actor himself, who famously announced he could not promote this violent movie in the wake of Sandy Hook. Who knows if it was a retaliatory move or not, but the end result has the Colonel basically relegated to a cameo, with not much more screen time than you’ve already seen in clips.
Stealing the show is Christopher Mintz-Plasse, whose evolution from fake hero Red Mist into arch-villain The Motherfucker is some of the best acting we’ve ever seen from the former McLovin’ since his debut. His transition from nerd play-acting evil to genuine evil is believable, and his temper tantrums the epitome of online nerd-rage backed up with deadly force. (Be sure to sit through the end credits for one of his best moments.)
Director Jeff Wadlow (Never Back Down) shoots things uninterestingly and often-times in a kind of stutter-vision that feels like a cheat during the fight scenes – nothing here indicates much artistic vision beyond ensuring things stay in focus. At times it seems like the movie thinks it has something to say – about heroes creating their own villains, the importance of belonging to something bigger than yourself, and the need for family. In other words, all that stuff the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman films thought they were saying too. Most egregious, though, is the way Kick-Ass 2 blatantly and unimaginatively delivers its Spider-Man “Uncle Ben Moment,” because apparently seeing that onscreen twice in a decade wasn’t enough.
The first Kick-Ass was genuinely, unapologetically in your face and tasteless; this is marketing people trying to copy an original and not quite getting it, like the difference between a home silkscreened Sex Pistols T-shirt made in the ’70s and one bought from Hot Topic yesterday. Nothing herein is as interesting a choice as the way Nicolas Cage wore a Keatonesque Batsuit while enunciating like Adam West in the original, but to be fair, that’s a hard act to follow. Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful the rape scene in the comics didn’t make it in. I just wish more edgy humor had, or that the finale looked less like a restaging of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video (unless you’re actually going to put “Beat It” on the soundtrack and make it a deliberate thing).
And to also be fair, I do own shirts from Hot Topic myself. I buy them when I want to know exactly what I’m getting.