A Little Less Kick, But a Bit More Heart
A Film Review of Kick-Ass 2
By: Lawrence Napoli
Mark Millar’s brain child, Kick-Ass, is a comic series known for its extreme use of violence, language and adult situations that would make most standard issue comic book characters blush. It is meant to be an over the top, some would even argue “depraved,” depiction of people trying to be super-heroes in the real world which means real consequences like pain, broken bones and death combined with a very irreverent, comedic tone that makes for some hilarious moments. Then incidents like the Sandy Hook massacre happen, and it instantly causes some people to reevaluate the use of violence as entertainment which led to Jim Carrey (Colonel Stars and Stripes in Kick-Ass 2) recanting his involvement in the project soon after. Mark Millar made a public response to Carrey’s comment that expressed disappointment over his second guessing, and that this film’s title demands a certain level of violence not meant to exploit tragedies in reality. When comparing Kick-Ass 2 to the original, I find a film that is much less absurd, random and reckless with its use of violence and adult content which definitely has a positive impact on the overall quality of this movie. I am uncertain if the final cut was compiled with Carrey’s comments and real-world incidents in mind, but it certainly feels like it.
Having said that, Kick Ass 2 picks up almost exactly where the first film left off two years ago, and the artist formerly known as the Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) has got an axe to grind with Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Although this plot is the primary conflict that unites every character in this film, there is a much more personal journey of discovery that is happening for Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Mortez). She’s growing up and seems to have more than her inordinately hyper (or masochistic) desire to protect the city motivating her life. Where Kick-Ass was the title character’s focus on the classic origin story, the sequel is more interested with everyone’s secret identities and how they inspire the alter-ego-vigilantism. The story promotes a strong theme of family and coming together as a group to achieve great things from both ends of the moral spectrum, but make no mistake; violence, inappropriate humor and a healthy amount of cussing remain as the principal tools to propel the plot forward which keeps the entertainment factor fairly high for the duration of the film. Writer/director Jeff Wadlow certainly took a more tempered approach on everything from plot points to dialogue to make this movie seem less like pornography and maybe that flies in the face of the comic books, but it does make for a better fiction on film. Character arcs (though pedestrian) pay off, the violence (though graphic at times) serves a purpose and the idea of the impracticality of real-life super heroes is constant.
The action in Kick-Ass 2 is carbon-copied from the first film. It is very focused on hand to hand combat and small arms gunplay, but stunt work is fairly light and explosions are few and far between. Special and visual effects are also relegated to mostly slow motion sequences, and with a budget of only $28 million dollars, you aren’t going to be witness to a grandiose spectacle this side of The Avengers, but of course, that’s the point. Kick-Ass 2 is a very efficiently produced action adventure that needs to be stingy with fights and compensates with dialogue. We’re talking about street level violence so there’s no real need for thunder gods and hulks. While the camera gets pretty close to the aforementioned action which delivers that staccato punch to the audience, let’s be clear that as overused as the word “epic” is tossed around anything and everything conceivably “Hollywood,” it can’t be used for Kick-Ass 2 in any way.
If anyone was curious what Aaron Taylor-Johnson has been up to in his spare time since 2010, guess what? He’s been living at the gym and slamming the weights, and the proof is the absolute beastly shape he’s in for this film. It actually is somewhat curious considering that his character, Kick-Ass, isn’t really the focal point for this story, but his efforts were not in vain. His action sequences are right on mark, and his performance is actually quite sincere and charismatic. He is every bit as loveable and naive as he was in the first film, and his onscreen chemistry with his costar, Ms. Moretz pays off for both actors.
You know who wasn’t hitting the gym? Christopher Mintz-Plasse. He continues to bank on the success of pseudo-acting thanks to a little character named McLovin, and if your production ever needs a scrawny smart-ass that spouts off random humor in a squeaky voice, Mintz-Plasse is your man. I’m not taking pot shots at the guy as I’m glad things worked out for his career, but roles like the one he plays in this film: The Motherf*cker, are custom built for his brand of comedy which isn’t too far removed from Jack Ass minus the painful pranks.
The rest of the supporting cast is a mixed bag of goodness. Jim Carrey, thankfully, doesn’t deliver a full-tilt “Riddler” performance as Colonel Stars and Stripes, and although this effectively caps the potential ridiculous nature of his comedy, he is still adequate in his role as the unofficial leader of “Justice Forever” and mentor to the younger heroes. The most underrated performance is that of John Leguizamo as Javier, the Mother F-er’s bodyguard, who attempts to dissuade his crazy quest for vengeance, but winds up enabling him all the same. Leguizamo’s performance is as serious and focused as Morris Chestnut’s who plays Hit-Girl’s guardian, and both men do a satisfactory job at being fatherly figures.
This film, however, is really all about Chloë Grace Mortez as Hit-Girl. She easily kicks the most ass (no pun intended) of any individual character as a combatant, but she continues to grow as an actress that has the ability to allow her demeanor and her words do the actual talking (as opposed to her fists). Despite being the youngest member of this cast, her leadership is undeniable in every scene. She has genuine chemistry with everyone, but she is the one who sets the tone. Every actor plays off her intensity so much so that it’s very easy to forget that this young lady was born in 1997.
Kick-Ass 2 is a film that keeps the exact tone from the original which is both good and bad. Familiarity is what allows a franchise to become a brand, but the sequel is a little too familiar at times leaving me starved for some form of evolution: higher stakes or bigger spectacles. This is a must-see for fans of the original, but please make note that this film isn’t quite as brazen an experience. It’s a fun little movie that once again visits the absurd notion of super-heroes in reality that are just regular people without training, unique abilities or resources. However, that too, is the point and a message concerning the real world’s desperate need for real heroes (i.e. decent people simply doing the right thing) is quite satisfying for the audience as they exit the theatre.