Kick-Ass 2 (2013)

Kick-Ass came out in 2010 and was a surprising hit. It was an ultra-violent, highly funny movie about what would happen if real life superheroes tried to exist, and succeeded chiefly because its light tone and extreme violence made for an interesting combination, and it also had a heart and a genuine affection for the superhero material, even though it often mocked the whole phenomenon. It was also quite inventive, was relatively shocking, and was entertaining for its whole running time. If you haven’t seen it, you should absolutely do so.

The sequel has some of these elements but is largely not as successful as the first film. Part of the problem is predictability, in that as soon as the plot really starts kicking into gear, you know where everyone’s going to end up. The digressions it takes are occasionally entertaining, but that’s all they are. They function as distractions so that the movie can eat up the 90 minutes it needs to play for in order for everyone to be happy. Realistically, Kick-Ass 2 could be 45 minutes in length and still tell the same story.

This time around, the film’s primary arcs revolve around its three surviving costumed characters from the first film. Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), also known as Dave Lizewski, has largely given up fighting crime, but is lured back into it once more masked vigilantes start showing up around town. Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), real name Mindy Macready, is still fighting crime but gets told to cut it out by her guardian, Marcus (Morris Chestnut), who adopted her after (spoiler alert) her father was brutally killed in the last film.

Finally, we have Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who was Red Mist in the last film and in this one is given a more profane name, The Motherf*****. He, angry about the death of his father — what is it with this series and killing off fathers, and only making their deaths matter? — decides to become a “super villain” and vows revenge against Kick-Ass. He assembles an army of hired thugs, Kick-Ass winds up doing the same, except with ordinary citizens each functioning as a stand-in for a real-life activist, and at this point we’re basically just waiting for the big showdown.

And wait we do. We have to sit through a lot of filler — often decent filler which has a point, but filler nonetheless — in order to get to this big showdown. Hit-Girl goes to high school now, and she does an abbreviated version of Mean Girls, while Kick-Ass and his new friends of costumed heroes bust a couple of small crimes. Meanwhile, The Motherf***** and his gang assemble and search the city for Kick-Ass, leaving few alive in their wake.

It’s all relatively entertaining, often violent, and if you liked the visual style of the first film, this one looks pretty much exactly the same. Kick-Ass 2 is being helmed by a different director, Jeff Wadlow — Matthew Vaughn moved from the director’s chair to the role of producer — but he’s maintained an aesthetic that closely resembles that of the first film. This movie looks like a proper sequel.

It also does what a sequel needs to do: it takes the characters in different directions. Sure, it’s predictable and the digressions are a little dull, but at least this isn’t just a copycat of the original. That takes some guts. When a formula works, it’s difficult to stray from it. Sure, the film is based on Mark Millar’s comic — although with a very different tone — but the story cold have been changed enough to make it fit a similar mold to the original, just without the origin aspect to it.

There are still some inventive action scenes, although it seems like there’s less violence — or at least, less extreme violence — than the last film. Remove the blood and make a couple of choice cuts, and you’ve seen more violent PG-13 films than this one. Granted, the film’s profanity still guaranteed it and R rating, but part of the joy of the first film was the violence, which played in contrast to what you normally expect from superhero movies. That’s negated here.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson still does an amazing job in the titular role. He’s got the voice and general demeanor down as Dave, and as Kick-Ass he’s … well, he’s not intimidating but you can appreciate his character’s effort, which is precisely what’s needed. Chloë Grace Moretz stole many scenes in the first film, and when donning the Hit-Girl outfit, she does again here, but some of the high school scenes she’s leading just don’t work. Christopher Mintz-Plasse doesn’t seem right in the villain role, but I figure that’s part of the point. Look out for Jim Carrey — who publicly denounced the film prior to its release — as an ex-mafia, born-again Christian, who is one of the people on Kick-Ass’ team.

Is Kick-Ass 2 worth seeing? If you liked the first one and want to see a sequel which takes these characters in new directions, I think so. Or, if you disliked the first film solely due to its violence, because this one tones down that aspect. But don’t go in expecting a film of similar quality because Kick-Ass 2 isn’t as good as the original. It’s too predictable and contains too much filler to match its predecessor.

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