Kick Ass 2 is a much more faithful adaptation of its comic book source material than its predecessor was. That’s not a good thing.
Kick-Ass the comic is a relentlessly cynical, psychotically violent affair filled with characters who react in unbelievable ways and dialogue so bizarre it makes you wonder whether the book was even written by a human being or a computer simulating human speech. What real high-schooler in their right mind would refer to sex as “taking a ride on a disco-stick?”
The first Kick-Ass managed to take the basic plot of the comic and turn it into something watchable by completely re-imagining the tone. Bitter cynicism was replaced with a little earnest hope; awkward pop-culture references and unbelievable slang phrases were sliced from the script. The result was a film that looked and felt as if it was directed by Quentin Tarantino. It had that heady mix of over-the-top action, dark humor, and surprisingly heartfelt moments.
Kick-Ass hit the mark in all the right ways. The sequel…doesn’t. It’s simply bad. And the worst part about it is that somewhere in there, buried amongst the ruins of the this once-great franchise, are the bones of what could have been, in more capable hands, a good movie. The plot—a punk kid decides to become a super-villain and get revenge on the wannabe superhero who killed his gangster dad—works on some basic level.
To be fair, Kick-Ass 2 does have its moments. For the first half an hour, I dared to think that the movie I was watching would manage to live up to what had come before. Though the scenes felt rushed and all-too-brief, at least they achieved a darkly comedic tone. Jim Carrey, as Colonel Stars and Stripes (leader of a band of would-be “superheroes”), proved a most welcome addition to the cast, managing to steal every scene he was in (about five?) Christopher Mintz-Plasse, as the nerdy villain the Mother****er, managed to elicit a few heartfelt chuckles. Mintz-Plasse seemed to be having fun with his role, and a little of that fun proves infectious. The music, while largely recycled from the first film, was more than serviceable. Chloe Moretz’ Hit-Girl was entertaining, as always—despite a shallow script that gives her little to do, Moretz does her best to imbue some sort of depth to her character, Mindy, a 16-year-old assassin who has been de-sensitized to violence and is now more terrified of the mundane slog of every-day life than of criminals with knives.
It’s clear at what point the movie was doomed, beyond hope of recovery. About a third of the way through the film, Mindy McCready (Hit-Girl) is forced to promise her foster father never to take up arms as vigilante Hit-Girl again. Instead, while titular hero Kick-Ass roams the streets with Jim Carrey and his band of (admittedly amusing) would-be superheroes, Mindy is forced to adapt to high-school life. What follows is the worst sub-plot ever put to film. The self-styled queen-bee that Mindy must contend with (and right there you have a problem—what real-life bully is so self-aware as to actually admit she is one?) is so vapid, shallow, and absurd that any scene she is in immediately withers and dies. For a moment I forgot I was watching Kick-Ass 2 and feared I had wandered into one of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer’s “parodies” (Scary Movie, Date Movie, etc.) Whoever wrote this sorry excuse for a story needed badly to watch Mean Girls or The Perks of Being a Wallflower—or really, just to have actually talked to a high-schooler. Any person who has ever been to high school—that is to say, most of this country’s population—could have told screenwriter Jeff Wadlow that this aspect of his script needed a desperate re-write. The whole plot culminates with a scene in which Mindy induces spews of slow-motion vomit in her rivals via some sort of phony scientific device of her father’s. Yes, a slow-motion vomit gag. In truth, the scene is a pretty cunning metaphor, with Mindy’s vomit-device representing the movie and the high-school mean-girls, the poor people who paid to watch the Kick-Ass franchise hit rock-bottom and then keep digging.
This scene would have been enough to ruin the movie all on its own, but it’s far from the only thing wrong with Kick-Ass 2. This film suffers from the most severe case of mood-whiplash I have ever found in a movie. It tries to have its cake and eat it, too as it tires to be everything at once and succeeds in being nothing at all. One moment, the movie’s villains is played for laughs as he dons his dead mother’s bondage outfit and attempts to rob a convenience store only to end up injuring himself with his own gun. The next he’s murdering dozens of cops, shooting up a funeral, and having his henchmen brutally decapitate one of the heroes. One moment we’re sniggering at his nick-name, only to watch literally five seconds later as a man gurgles to death in agony after he is stabbed through the throat. There’s one scene—involving an attempted rape and the murder of about ten police officers at the hands of villainous hench-woman Mother Russia—where I couldn’t even tell what I was supposed to feel. Horror? Amusement? Excitement? Revulsion? All I did feel was numb depression as I realized just how awful the movie had become.
Some of the things that happen in the second half of Kick-Ass 2 are terrible and gruesome enough to warrant the sort of dark, gritty tone that Christopher Nolan so perfectly nailed in The Dark Knight. But since the first-half of the Kick-Ass 2 established the film as a violent but humorous parody of the superhero genre, the second act just feels completely out of place. Perhaps the most insulting thing about the whole affair is that it wants—and repeatedly asks—to be taken seriously. “This is not a comic book,” Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl re-iterate numerous times. “This is the real world, with real consequences.” No—this is a movie where a giant Russian body-builder kills two cops with a lawnmower. There’s nothing real about it. It’s totally a comic book, just one with delusions of grandeur.
Kick-Ass 2 attempts to have things both ways with its message, too. It’s never clear whether we’re supposed to root for the superheroes or to see the darker side of their undeniably violent actions—never clear if being a superhero is supposed to be a good or bad thing. The eventual conclusion seems to be that being a superhero is a foolish, dangerous endeavor—unless you’re a badass, in which case, go for it. If that’s not the weakest excuse for a mixed message, I don’t know what is.
There’s more to complain about– a number of plot holes, for instance, or the irritating narration that plays during every dramatic scene—but honestly, what’s the point? Whereas in most films these things would be serious problems, here they’re little blips that barely catch your attention. The movie is so fatally flawed that clearing up a few confusing or inconsistent plot points would be, in essence, polishing the proverbial turd. While it’s got some good action sequences, a few witty one-liners and some genuine laughs, especially in the first half-hour, Kick-Ass 2 can never be called a good movie. In the immortal words of Michael Jackson, it’s bad, it’s bad, it’s really, really bad.