Throughout this busy summer blockbuster season, there have been only a few times where I’ve felt as if I was genuinely having a good time with what I was watching. It really is a rarity for the summer to prove to be such a bore for me, but I haven’t found much enjoyment from the underwhelming efforts that have been thrown up on screen, relying on either big budget effects or familiar characters to be enough and falling well short of satisfying time and time again. I had a great deal of fun with WHITE HOUSE DOWN surprisingly and got a kick out of FAST & FURIOUS 6, not to mention another yet-to-be released flick that I highly recommend in the coming weeks, but, for the most part, it’s been one film after another that has failed to grab me for an enjoyable ride over these past few months. Enter KICK-ASS 2, which is exactly the type of film I’ve been waiting for all summer. A big fan of its predecessor, KICK-ASS 2 contains something a lot of its summer company failed to deliver – a sense of joy. I can’t help but let a smile out across my face as Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) unleashes filthy one-liners along with a barrage of whoop-ass upon the city’s criminals. I laugh every time Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) puts himself in a position to try to be the hero, only to catch a beatdown, because he’s a superhero in name only with no powers or skills whatsoever. And now that their world is expanding to include a colorful array of new heroes and villains, allowing KICK-ASS 2 to stay fresh and not just rest on the laurels of the first film’s most popular characters, I had a blast with Jeff Wadlow’s vision for the R-rated comic book franchise. With all the superhero movies out of the way for the summer, KICK-ASS 2 is hands-down the one I dug the most from beginning to end, a statement I never thought I’d be making when May started. I guess that’s what happens when you allow your superhero movie to be fun and not incredibly dour all the time.
KICK-ASS 2 picks up not too far from where its predecessor left out. Dave Lizewski is training to make a return as Kick-Ass after he realizes that his life is incredibly boring and mundane without the thrill of fighting crime, while Mindy Macready is trying to adjust to life post-Big Daddy, struggling with the identity crisis that all superhero movie sequels seems to use as to whether or not she can be happy living as a normal teenager, retiring the persona of Hit Girl, which is all she’s ever really known. On the other side of town, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), formerly known as Red Mist, continues to have vengeance on his mind, seeking retribution for his dad’s death at the hands of Kick-Ass. With Kick-Ass looking to join up with other superheroes to form a team, league, association, etc., to fight crime, D’Amico, now taking on the name The Mother Fucker, decides to become to world’s first supervillain and create his own army of psychopaths, set on taking over the city.
From these ideas, we’re introduced to such good guys as Night Bitch, Insect Man, Battle Guy, Dr. Gravity and Colonel Stars and Stripes (played by Jim Carrey), a born-again ex-Mafia enforcer whose taken to vigilante justice to give the scum of the world what they deserve. On the evil side of the equation, The Mother Fucker assembles a team comprised notably of Black Death, The Tumor, Genghis Carnage and the scene-stealing Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina), a massive mountain of a woman who’d make Ivan Drago fearful. KICK-ASS 2 is, of course, barreling to an eventual showdown between Justice Forever and the Toxic Mega-Cunts – yes, that’s what they honestly call themselves – but not before we learn all about the consequences and sacrifices one must make along the way if they’re going to choose a life like this for themselves. The film plays with the superhero conventions we’ve seen countless times before, of putting loves ones in danger as a result of your alternate identity, of going down the path of either good or evil as a result of some pain or trauma that was experiences. While they may feel familiar as each is unwrapped in KICK-ASS 2, there’s a reason why they’re so tried and true in the genre, as they seamlessly work within the context of the story Wadlow is telling with these characters.
Even with Hit Girl’s transition into regular old Mindy Macready, Wadlow manages to do something different with her struggle to be regular. Rather than use the same tropes of the hero wanting something selfish for themselves – love, happiness, etc. – Mindy is trying to have something she’s never tasted. She’s been raised to be violent, trained to be lethal, and, as a result, she has no idea how to fit in with the rest of us. She is trading in being extraordinary for being ordinary, learning about boys instead of ammunition, trading in knives and throwing stars for fashion and make-up. She happens to get linked up with the most superficial, materialistic girls one could possibly dream up for Mindy’s integration into high school, which makes up for a bit of an interesting dichotomy of polar opposites that is sure to lead to trouble down the road. Mindy’s refusal to break her promise to hang up the Hit Girl tights gives Moretz the space to show she’s more than just a foul-mouthed girl with a propensity for ass-kicking. There is much more range to Moretz’s performance this time around, which is both good and bad. Yes, it prevents her from being Hit Girl for a great deal of the movie, bringing forward a much more grounded character… but it also prevents that character from getting stale. There is a fair amount of novelty to Hit Girl, drawn from the fact that it’s a 15-year-old girl spouting choice four-letter words every chance she gets while wielding some dangerous weaponry. Relying on that too much would take a lot of the shine off the character, rendering her as a bit of a one-note entry throughout the series. However, she’s used sparingly to keep the character crisp and make her appearances count.
The Mother Fucker feels like an eventual end rather than a worthy opponent for Kick-Ass, lacking the gravitas Mark Strong brought to the first film as its villain. The film is far more concerned with Kick-Ass and Hit Girl’s individual journeys to find themselves as it is that Mintz-Plasse almost feels like an afterthought, and one who is overshadowed by his own secondary characters. Mother Russia absolutely steals the show in KICK-ASS 2. With Moretz mostly sidelined as Hit Girl, Kurkulina is responsible for the jaw-dropping action that keeps the movie lively. As a hulking Russian woman whose backstory is ex-KGB, Mother Russia is the muscle behind The Mother Fucker’s budding empire of villainy and, in one brutal sequence with a squad of approaching police officers, showcases why she is an awesome force to be reckoned with. She speaks very little, but her actions are more than enough to impress and leave you wondering what she may be capable of next every moment she’s on the screen.
Jim Carrey also lends a fantastic performance to the sequel as Colonel Stars and Stripes, the elder statesman of Justice Forever. What makes the Colonel work as well as he does here is that it feels like Carrey is really going for it, giving himself entirely to a role that is very much unlike anything he’s done before. It’s the haircut, the New York accent, the moments of relishing a good violent outburst… it all allows Carrey to melt into the character, leaving all those familiar attributes he typically instills in who he plays at the door. Carrey is surprisingly earnest as the organizing leader of this superhero grouping, and, even if his part is smaller than I would have liked, when he is present, he helps make KICK-ASS 2 a better movie.
Wadlow does a solid job of keeping the franchise alive, having been handed the reins from Matthew Vaughn. While unable to elevate its game to the high bar set by the first film in the series, KICK-ASS 2 is a viable sequel that keeps its characters interesting and entertaining enough to continue moving forward. Wadlow is also able to bring some recognizable action to the screen, too. There may be a few cases of shaky cam here and there, but Wadlow frames it in such a way that you’re never confused or unable to see exactly who is doing what to whom at any given time. The action pieces are very clear, which has sadly become the exception and not the rule these days, resulting in some entertainingly brutal set-ups that will leave you both wincing and cheering simultaneously. KICK-ASS 2 is a ton of fun and fulfills the spirit of the summer that’s been desperately missing this year. Can it be offensive at times? Sure. Does it step across the lines of good taste in moments? Yep. But there are instances when that is right up my alley, and KICK-ASS 2 is one such case.