I’m conflicted when it comes to Jeff Wadlow’s “Kick Ass 2.” On just a pure entertainment level the movie is fantastic and it’s probably the most entertaining superhero movie I’ve seen in quite some time. Why? Because it’s violent and vulgar, two words that aren’t usually associated with those kinds of movies. As of late—especially with all of the Marvel superhero films, like “The Avengers,”--we’ve been subjected to one CGI, PG-13 lite superhero flick after another, and frankly it’s getting tiresome. That’s why it’s somewhat refreshing to see such a ridiculous ultra-violent one like “Kick Ass 2.” There are no blatant uses of CGI, no buildings destroyed, just good old-fashioned ass kicking.
The original “Kick Ass” from 2010 was also fairly violent and vulgar, even causing some controversy, though “Kick Ass 2” takes the violence and vulgarity to the next level. Even being someone who’s seen his fair share of super violent movies, I was a little shocked at how over-the-top it can be at times. But at the same time, considering the fact that Marvel is going to keep churning out the same kind of superhero mumbo jumbo for years to come,“Kick Ass” is a welcome alternative to that. The movie is energetic, exhilarating and it relishes its ultra violence, providing the audience with giddy pleasure.
All that said though, is that enough? Is it enough for a movie to just be purely entertaining? While watching the movie I was never bored but if all it has to offer is pure entertainment then it can never rise to the level of cinematic greatness. And this is where my conflict lies with “Kick Ass 2.” It can be massively entertaining but it does have character and story issues (specifically in the third act) and therefore doesn’t completely work.
I wasn’t as taken with the original “Kick Ass” as a lot of other people were but something I did appreciate about the movie was that it introduced a new subgenre, the Wannabe Superhero. The film’s title character Kick Ass, aka Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is your typical high school nobody. He can’t score with the girls; he hardly has any friends, and spends most of his time reading superhero comics. However, one day he decides to do something with his life. He makes a superhero outfit out of green and yellow cloth and using two regular sticks goes around town stopping (or attempting to stop) petty criminals and becomes a YouTube sensation. Character clichés aside the thing I like most about Kick Ass is that he wasn’t an actual superhero, just a regular guy (who’s maybe read too many comics) trying to make a difference. Often times Kick Ass was the one who got his ass kicked instead and would end up make a fool of himself.
Wadlow, for the most part, keeps that spirit alive in the new movie. Dave has bulked up considerably since the first outing, making him appear a little less wimpy but he still gets his ass kicked more often than not. This time he joins forces with a group of fellow wannabe superheroes. To name a few there’s Dr. Gravity, (Donald Faison) a fake physics teacher by day, wielder of a baseball bat that’s supposed to be a Gravity Pole by night, as well as Colonel Stars And Stripes (Jim Carrey, in an amusing and completely unrecognizable performance) a born again Mafia hit man. Together, along with all of the other pretend crusaders they form an Avengers/Justice League type group called group Justice Forever to do good in the city. Justice Forever and all of the scenes involving their antics is by far the best thing about “Kick Ass 2” because, again, it embodies the spirit of the original movie. Like Kick Ass the members don’t have super powers and they didn’t train for months in the Mountains of South Asia like Batman did. They’re just regular people wearing shabby homemade costumes (two of the members, a husband and wife team who lost their young son, wear matching track suits and fanny packs) trying to make a difference. Is it silly? Of course it is, it has to be. And during the first half the movie embraces that silliness, like during a scene where the wannabe’s are about to take down a gang of sex traffickers and we’re informed that one of the Justice Forever members isn’t coming along because they have “Book of Mormon tickets.” This self-awareness paired with intentionally the over-the-top violence is what makes “Kick Ass 2” immensely entertaining.
So far in this review I have yet to mention a very important piece of the “Kick Ass” universe and the main reason why the first one was so popular. That piece comes in the shape of a fifteen-year-old girl named Mindy better known as Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) who, since a very young age had been taught by her father to be a ruthless assassin. Contrary to most everyone else I didn’t care that much for Hit Girl. I wasn’t morally outraged by her character like the late critic Roger Ebert was but I didn’t think she had a lot of substance to her. When I first saw her come on screen wearing her purple leather suit and cape along with a purple wig, I thought “that’s kind of cool” but as the movie went on she failed to impress me beyond that initial “cool” moment. She’s a thirteen-year-old girl that trash talks and can effortlessly beat up and kill people, big deal. To me Hit Girl didn’t embody that Wannabe Super Hero spirit.
In “Kick Ass” 2 Wadlow (who wrote the script, based off of the comic books by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.) tries to add more depth to her. She decides to give up the leather suit and wig and live a normal teenage life. She befriends a group of shallow popular girls at school (and these girls, by the way, are absolute monsters) and of course they end up humiliating her, so she decides to go back to her old life.
This is where “Kick Ass 2” starts to run into problems; on the one hand this needs to be in the movie because otherwise Hit Girl would still be one note but on the other Wadlow’s handling of it all is so cliché.
This problem exposes an even bigger flaw associated with the entire “Kick Ass” premise. For how profane and violent it is, the movie still feels geared toward teenagers; after all, the main characters are adolescents themselves. And this juvenility holds it back. Dave is a typical teenage loser who’s essentially going through the same teenage loser problems we’ve seen before. As for Hit Girl? She’s fifteen years old (she’s two years older than she was in the first film) and already a mass murderer. At the end of this film she says she’s killed six people and that’s not including the people she killed in the first movie. You expect me to believe that a fifteen-year-old girl could kill all of these people and commit these acts of violence and then just be able to brush it off and continue on with a normal life? I couldn’t buy her character in the first movie and despite Wadlow’s best efforts I still couldn’t really buy her character in this one.
Now to this you may say: “but ’Kick Ass 2‘ is a ridiculous and silly movie, so what if her character is implausible and underdeveloped?” I would agree with you had this movie kept that silly tone. However in the third act the movie abruptly switches from fun and entertaining to dark and serious. It wants you to take it seriously now and realize that there are serious consequences. “This is not a comic book, people are actually going to get hurt,” Hit Girl says to Kick Ass toward the end. Ah, but Hit Girl, in spite of this sudden mood change the action scenes are still ridiculous and comic book-y. The movie wants to have it both ways but it simply doesn’t work. The movie becomes too serious for its own good, copying other dark and gritty superhero movies like “The Dark Knight”; the wannabe superheroes turn into serious action stars, essentially abandoning the thing that made “Kick Ass” refreshing in the first place.
If anything “Kick Ass 2” provides hope that the Wannabe Superhero subgenre could be successful in the future, even though there’s still a lot of work to be done. The movie is flawed, that I can’t deny but I also can’t deny that I was entertained during most of the movie and it’s still a nice alternative to all of the Marvel and DC superhero films coming out.