In 2010, Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass caused a stir with its depiction of violence, specifically violence meted out by a foul-mouthed 11-year-old. That diminutive dispenser of justice was Hit Girl, a vigilante crime fighter played by Chloe Grace Moretz, who returns here alongside Aaron Taylor-Johnson (the titular crime fighter) for a decent, if unspectacular, second outing.
Kick-Ass captured a sort of superhero zeitgeist when it was released: it felt appropriate that a film satirising and skewering the tropes of the genre would come along at that time. With Kick-Ass 2 there is an element of diminishing returns: we’ve already seen the tough schoolgirl spitting barbs while brutally slaughtering criminals; we’ve seen Kick-Ass having his ass handed to him while attempting to fight crime; we’ve heard the message that these superheroic shenanigans can and do have real consequences in the real world. That’s not to say there isn’t still interest in any of things, because to some extent there is, but the list of new ideas that Kick-Ass 2 brings to table is a fairly short one.
Thankfully Chloe Grace Moretz is more comfortable than ever in Mindy Macready/Hit Girl’s skin, and she’s the best thing in the film. New director Jeff Wadlow (Never Back Down), who also wrote the screenplay based on a collection of Mark Millar’s comics, guides her through a coming-of-age (ish) subplot in which she has to deal with bullies at school, which is distracting enough and gives Moretz a chance to show off the fact that she can play tough and vulnerable at the same time, but has a scatological denouement which I found to be a huge let-down.
With Hit Girl dealing with school issues, and temporarily out of the picture, Kick-Ass teams up with a group of other masked vigilantes (Justice Forever) lead by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), who appear destined for a showdown with an opposing gang of costume-wearers headed up by Chris D’Amico, whose alter-ego Red Mist from the first film has now transformed into ‘The Motherfucker’, a gimp suit-clad maniac intent on raising hell. As a result there are a lot of new characters in the film, but few actually make much of an impact. Carrey has physical presence as the group’s leader, but not enough screen time to make a lasting impression, while The Motherfucker’s gang of killers are defined only by the monikers he gives them. The exception to this rule is Olga Kurkulina as Mother Russia, a massive psychopath with abs of steel, who is at least a resonant physical presence.
There are moments in the film where the characters moralise over what’s happening, and these ring pretty hollow. I’m not sure if the film is going ‘full satire’ and attempting to show how deluded most of its characters are, but even if it is, it’s clear that it has so much affection for their vigilante actions that it doesn’t come across as particularly meaningful or satirical. There’s a ‘rape joke’ at one point that, while it’s obviously trying to criticise the perpetrator, and is therefore not as unseemly as it might have been, is still played for laughs. Unfortunately it, like a couple of gags in the film, isn’t that funny, and leaves the film’s tone languishing somewhere between offbeat and controversy seeking.
But thankfully, when it finds its tone and goes with it, Kick-Ass 2 is still enjoyable. The new ensemble is underused, but the central duo of Kick-Ass and Hit Girl are still likable, even if Hit Girl runs away with the film. Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s villain is a bit annoying, but actually more effective than you might think, and there are enough good laughs and competent action sequences to keep the interest. The comics will no-doubt find new stories for these characters, but the question of a third film will naturally depend on the box office. Kick-Ass 2 takes a ‘more is more’ approach that doesn’t always pay off, but it has enough spark to remain likable.