dir: Jeff Wadlow
I know, I know, whenever you hear “It’s better than the first one!” regarding a sequel to an ordinary movie, the immediate response is "well, that's not saying much."
In some ways, though, ways that probably don't matter that much, Kick-Ass 2 is probably a better, or at least less repugnant movie that the first one, though not from want of trying.
The Kick-Ass stories falls into a sub-genre of hero flicks which are about regular people with no discernable skills or abilities wanting to be crimefighters. Also, of regular scumbags who want to be supervillains despite having nothing that makes them particularly super or villainous.
Kick-Ass himself is defined by a look, being a green-and-yellow wetsuit, the wielding of two batons, and no actual abilities. But he has the desire, the will to do good for the city, and he has inspired others to do the same.
And we're meant to applaud them for it. "Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing", is a line from someone more profoundly famous that myself, insofar as John Stuart Mills said it and not Edmund Burke, who everyone always attributes the "all it requires for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing" line, despite it not being true. I am and never will be more famous than either philosopher, but look at it this way, right now, at this very point in time, you're reading my writing instead of theirs, and that is a small victory indeed.
Different people interpret the call to public service differently. Some serve their community by working for charities, in health, as educators, or as cops, or firies, saving people and burning kittens from trees. Others put themselves forward as lawyers, either defending the innocent/guilty or prosecuting the innocent/guilty, either way keeping the scum in and out of jail respectively.
And some people just want to beat up other people. It helps if they're baddies, but they don't have to be, I guess. You just want to make a difference, is all.
Kick-Ass, or Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) as his father would know him, is pretty much just a regular "kid", who I guess is still in high school, since he goes to one. He still gets to see Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), who he met in the first film, and she endeavours to train him up to better fight crime in the city, since she's the only person in the enterprise with skills, abilities and equipment with which to fight crime, or kill a whole bunch of people, whichever comes first.
There is a tension, not between them, but between themselves and the various promises they've made to various people, living or dead. Hit Girl wants to be killing scumbags and drug dealers and other scum, like her daddy Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) trained her, but she's made a promise to her guardian (Morris Chestnut, what a pointless role) that she will lay down her arms and become a regular girl.
Of course she's a more interesting character than Kick-Ass, the film knows it, everyone knows it. Even the actors must know it. She's awesome, and Kick-Ass is still some bright green dick running around like a lunatic. When she pushes him and their divine work aside, she tries to reconnect with the world by experiencing the stuff the rest of her peers are meant to care about.
In other words, she has to go from being a kill crazy foul mouthed ninja to being a girl who cares about make-up, starving herself and boys. It sounds terrible, to you, dear reader, but that's because, unless you know who Chloe Grace Moritz is, you don't understand that something so prosaic can still be meaningful in the hands of an actress as good as her. She's young, but she's played a whole bunch of great roles in her time, including Hit Girl, but also the ancient child vampire in Let Me In, and one of the two leads in Hugo.
She imbues this flick with far more believability and pathos than anyone else, and she's the least believable character in it. You'd have to see it to see why. It's easy to say that the flick should really have been about her, but that would cut across the point of the flick, a point which is, I guess, deliberately ambiguous.
Isolated, Kick-Ass decides he needs to hook up with some other heroes in home made costumes. He connects with Justice Forever, lead by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). His presence was a tremendous red flag to me, but he ends up being a solid part of the flick. His performance is strange, but the character is strange, but grounded, so it worked a lot. The other members of the crew are completely ineffectual, even pitiful, but again that's perfectly appropriate.
The backstory on Stars and Stripes, and the hammy performance, makes for an interesting insight into the psychology (if there is any in something so gleefully juvenile) of the people on display in the film. As a former mob enforcer, Carrey imbues the character with something remotely close to a reason for what he's doing (being a Born Again Christian, he struggles with atonement), and does a good impression of world-weariness, somewhat appropriately.
Of course, none of the stuff I've written thus far should give you the impression that this is a thoughtful, intelligent treatment of this idea of regular people stepping forward to fight crime, or regular people stepping forward to commit crime. This whole film, both these films, and the comics they're based on, are written from a place deep inside a horrible, horrible man. 'Author/Creator' Mark Millar's niche in the world of comics is producing the kind of stuff that crystallises the mentality you see scrawled on the walls of public toilets around the world, the nastier the better. Much of that has been toned down here, because a genuine display of the horribly id-centric part of people he tries to provoke would be beyond X rated.
But it's there, it's ever present, it leaves you swimming in it, drowning in it. The best way the flick has of combating that, or by showing it up for what it is (to some extent), is by letting us see that there is something inherently pathetic about both the heroes and villains in this piece. Kick-Ass isn't particularly special, and knows it, but feels special when he's being Kick-Ass, and doesn't want to give it up for anything. Hit Girl sees that the 'real' world is fraught with meaningless but severe social perils, and she also understands that her father's psychopathic behavioural conditioning of her took away her childhood and retarded her development (and, in the strangest scene, repressed her natural sexuality as well).
The villain of the piece is probably the weakest, most pathetic and whiniest part of the whole thing, but that's appropriate too. Christopher Mintz-Plasse looks like he's lived through some terrible times growing out of his teens, and so he looks like his path in life is following that of his character, Chris D'Amico, in that too much money and entitlement has made him something of a pathetic monster. Claiming to want revenge on Kick-Ass for killing his mob boss father, Chris accidentally kills his mother, transforms his mother's bondage gear into a villain's outfit, calls himself The Motherfucker, and then tries to wreck havoc.
It's almost too sad for words. There's not a person on the planet that will have, or should have sympathy for this shitty little pervert, and he's a horribly pathetic villain, but a movie about pathetic people fighting crime needs pathetic people being villainous as well. A quality, genuinely terrifying villain (think Heath Ledger as the Joker) would make the excesses of the 'heroes' justifiable here. Instead, he comes across more like a boy inspired by comic books and rap videos to prance around like he's Tony Montana in Scarface. And nothing's more pathetic than that.
He's even casually racist, which his loyal henchman (John Leguizamo) keeps pointing out repeatedly. But really, I think he's meant to be a stand-in for Mark Millar, the creator of all this fuckery. Who else, in these flicks, exemplifies the worst traits and impulses men of the comic-book world have been prone to for the last century? And who deserves their virtual fate more than that?
I can't approve of what the flick is saying, because it simultaneously says "being a vigilante is wrong and sad" and "being a vigilante is awesome and necessary", but I can approve of how it all comes together. I actually think this all works for what it needs to be, and doesn't either misrepresent itself or pretend to be more transgressive or meaningful that it ends up being.
When it does go transgressive, like when one of Motherfucker's henchwomen called Mother Russia (a terrifying woman called Olga Kurkulina) takes on a bunch of cops, it's hilarious and insanely over the top. I wouldn't have wanted the whole flick to be that insane, because there are only so many times you can watch cops being killed with a lawnmower before it loses its appeal.
I know that it seems strange that I would be very unimpressed with the first flick, and slightly more impressed with this one despite the problems I might have with it. The glaring absence in this flick is Nicolas Cage, who is insane, and terrible in lots of films, but was a great presence in the first flick, and he's sorely lacking here. I thought Stars and Stripes would take his place, but he isn't in it for long enough to have a similar impact.
Even with that lack, I enjoyed it. Maybe I was in a good enough mood, maybe I'm sick of the nobility of the superhero trope, or that I'm burned out on it after Man of Steel and Avengers and the three hundred others and such. Maybe it's just enjoyable watching Hit Girl kill a bunch of people, and struggle with mean girl anorexics at her school. Either way, it's what I found to be a bunch of pathetic fun, and I enjoyed it enough.
As much as someone can without shaming themselves, of course.
7 times it seems irritating that every other female character except Hit Girl is treated so shabbily in this flick, but then considering the source material it's not that surprising out of 10
"You don't have to be a bad-ass to be a superhero. You just have to be brave." - don't you also need some super justification, like, maybe, superpowers or something? - Kick-Ass 2