Several characters in Kick-Ass 2 (opening today) can be heard saying, "This is not a comic book, this is real life!" Thus, the Kick-Ass franchise has entered the post Aurora, Colorado and Sandy Hook world. Still a fairly entertaining flick, this sequel to the surprise 2010 hit, Kick-Ass, is much more sympathetic and much more aware of itself. While landing in more politically-correct waters, Kick-Ass 2 loses the unique edge that it possessed the first time around.
This is a much less shocking film than the first. It picks up a few years after the events of the first film, where Kick-Ass's alter-ego, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is now a high school senior. Trained vigorously by the now orphaned Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), Kick-Ass can now truly kick ass. These two real-life super-heroes look to fight crime together, with Bid Daddy's arsenal of weaponry and armor still available to them.
But Mindy - Hit-Girl's real name - is now under the watchful eye of her father's former police partner, Marcus (Morris Chestnut). He is more sane (by leaps and bounds) than her previous caretaker and he pushes her to honor her father's wishes and live the normal life of a teenager.
Meanwhile, something sinister is brewing. Also orphaned due to the events of the previous film, young Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) gets inspired to become the world's first real super-villain. He modifies and dons a dominatrix outfit left from his late mother - whom he (accidentally?) kills - and renames himself "The Motherf$%@#@r," the world's most ruthless bad guy.
In the middle of these two storylines - the ascendance of The Motherf$%#%$r and the descent of Hit-Girl - we find Kick-Ass on a journey to team up with others like him. Finding a rag-tag group of fellow super-heroes, he joins "Justice Forever," a super-group led by former mafioso turned hero, Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). It also just happens to include his real-life friend, Marty (Clark Duke), who now calls himself Battle Guy.
In light of real-life tragedies such as the Sandy Hook massacre and the Aurora movie-theater shooting, Jim Carrey recently caught a lot of media attention when he chose not to participate in promoting Kick-Ass 2, because the events changed his perspective on violence. In many ways, Kick-Ass 2 is much less violent than its predecessor, with much more hand-to-hand combat than gun violence. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of guns and gun-fire in the new film. But overall, the degree of shocking violence and downright psychopathic characters (like Nic Cage's Big Daddy, for example) is almost non-existent here.
The result is a movie that feels watered down by its own awareness. We have seen few movies like the first Kick-Ass, but we have seen dozens of films like Kick-Ass 2. As mentioned, there is a strong, conscious effort in the film to make sure that we understand that this is real life. These come across as thin, mixed messages though, when every other scene seems to celebrate violence only to stop and warn us against its consequences in between.
Jim Carrey, for not wanting to be a part of the publicity, is one of the best parts of the film. Rarely do we see him on the big-screen doing supporting work, but his character blends in while simultaneously stealing each scene he's in. Hit-Girl's "learning-to-be-a-girl" storyline is quite lame, but it becomes passable on the strength of Chloe Grace Moretz's performance. And Mintz-Plasse? He was born to be The Motherf$%##$r.
Kick-Ass 2 needed a good kick in the you know where to reach the stylistic coolness of its predecessor. But even so, it didn't feel like a rehash for rehash sake. These are pretty enjoyable characters to spend a few hours with.
Where the first film was unapologetic, Kick-Ass 2 just seems sorry for itself. It lacks the confidence to double-down on what made the first effort appealing, choosing instead to walk the fence between responsibility and shock, and not really coming down effectively in either area.
Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime
Run Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Morris Chestnut, Clark Duke, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey, Augustus Prew
Based on the comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.
Written & Directed by Jeff Wadlow (Cry_Wolf, Never Back Down)
Opens locally on Friday, Aug 16, 2013 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time