Crass and tasteless, Jeff Wardlow’s Kick-Ass 2 apes Matthew Vaughn’s original without capturing any of its subversive grace.
Oh, the profanity and obscenities have returned, along with the strong violence — a touch less explicit this time, but more sadistic than ever — and the self-aware, knowing attitude about superhero tropes. The mocking has been replaced by sneering, however, and rather than punch holes in the machismo attitudes espoused in mainstream fare, Kick-Ass 2 embraces brutal misogny, as though it were a good thing. And for all its constant, nudging winks, the film cannot conquer the burning issue at its core: Why why why?
Mindy Macready, aka pint-sized, foul-mouthed, highly-trained, heroic Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) is now 15 years of age. Having lost her father, she lives under the parental care of Detective Marcus Williams (Morris Chestnut) and struggles to fit in as “a normal girl” at high school. Marcus insists that Hit-Girl give up her secret identity, while she harbors a desire to mete out justice to the villains of the world.
Fellow costumed hero Kick-Ass, aka Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is experiencing his own identity crisis. In the two years since his exploits captivated the general populace, a legion of ordinary folks has been inspired to don home-made costumes and patrol the streets of New York City at night, seeking to provide a measure of protection and security that the police cannot. Dave’s dad (Garret M. Brown), though, urges him to give up the fight, concentrate on his school work, and think about what college he wants to attend. Dave ignores him and accepts Hit-Girl’s invitation to train with her in secret.
The other key holdover from the first film, Chris D’Amico, aka Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), nurses a grudge against Kick-Ass for killing his gangster father and plots revenge as he seeks to become a real-life super-villain. To further his ends, he presses his reluctant bodyguard Javier (John Leguizamo) into service.
Shifting between the three main characters in a haphazard, often bewildering manner, Kick-Ass 2 never builds any narrative momentum, feeling much more like a routine series of unrelated episodes about Life In These Trying Times. Hit-Girl now swears much like any rebellious teenager who wants to provoke a reaction from more conservative classmates and teachers; her slightly delayed adolescence — ‘Ooh, look, boys! make-up! dresses!’ — is presented in the sleaziest manner possible; the film’s close-up ogling of another teen girl’s gymnastic gyrations is distressingly perverted rather than ironically, er, anything else.
We never get a clue as to what Kick-Ass himself wants to do — he’s even less sure of himself than in the first film, and more wantonly rude toward his father — and the former Red Mist pouts and postures like a petulant little child, an impression not countered by Mint-Plasse’s flailing about like a man drowning in syrup.
Wardlaw also adapted the source material, written by Mark Millar and illustrated by John Romita, Jr. Without any of the wit and panache that Vaughn and Jane Goldman brought to their adaptation, the film is left to its own devices, where it falls short as far as the slash/slash/slash editing of Mike Lambert’s action choreography and Tim Maurice-Jones’ often unflattering photography. Maurice-Jones shot second unit on the first film and appeared to do a fine job, so the excessively bright look may have been an intentional effort to differentiate the sequel from the original.
On that score, Kick-Ass 2 is definitely different from its predecessor. Unfortunately, it’s for the worse, which makes watching it a dispiriting experience.
The film opens wide throughout the Metroplex on Friday, August 16.