Jeff Wadlow’s follow-up to Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass, the lurid 2010 film adapted from Mark Millar’s graphic novel, may have shed the franchise’s original director, but Kick-Ass 2 is just as bloody, funny, and awkward as its predecessor.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson returns as the bumbling Dave Lizewski, reprising the role which helped shoot him to fame. Dave, too, finds he must reprise his alter-ego, the titular Kick-Ass, in order to bring down the sociopathic Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who has fashioned himself into supervillain ‘The Motherfucker’ and is hell-bent on avenging the death of his crime lord father.
Despite the time elapsed since Kick-Ass’s release the narrative arcs of the two films are as closely tied as you’d expect considering the source material, and comic book influences are tangible not just in the plot but in Kick-Ass 2’s aesthetics. Comic-book style text is superimposed over shots, used to bridge from one scene to another in much the same way as text is used to introduce frames in printed comics. This is a far more original touch than the generic epic/action score, by Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson, which is effective although familiar.
The film’s hook is Dave’s friendship with Mindy Macready (Chloё Grace Moretz), AKA the tough-as-nails vigilante Hit-Girl. As Dave welcomes Kick-Ass back into his life, Mindy wrestles with the promises made to her surrogate father Marcus (Morris Chesnut) and the crime-fighting she is continually pulled toward. It’s Hit-Girl who’s the true hero of this film; she’s the superhero you want to see back in costume and in action, and her prominence is refreshing considering the prevalence of male superheroes brought to the big screen.
The script will keep you waiting here, but meanwhile Mindy’s experience of bitchy cliques is as well-played as similar angst in any dedicated high school movie (of course excepting Mean Girls). As Mindy is hazed by the ‘queen bee’ and her minions Moretz is poignant, although her considerable talent with painful emotion is far better demonstrated in Derek Martini’s Hick.
The apt and hilarious (though unoriginal) high school drama is oddly matched by the latter half of the film, where most of the blood is shed. Mintz-Plasse’s Motherfucker builds an army of ‘psychos and ex-cons’ to take on Kick-Ass’s superhero team ‘Justice Forever’. (Of course, Hit-Girl is the crucial missing piece needed to strengthen Justice Forever’s motley crew).
Those who kicked up a fuss in response to the ‘ultra-violence’ of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive were fighting the wrong battle; Drive may be brutal and bloody but all of the violence is in service of the gangster plot, and the body count is kept to a minimum. The same cannot be said for either Kick-Ass movie. Kick-Ass 2’s climax sends the body count into the hundreds, limbs are frequently slashed off and the floor is awash with fake blood and shards of broken glass.
It’s not only the violence that makes parts of Kick-Ass 2 uncomfortable to watch; allusion to sexual abuse is followed by an erectile dysfunction gag, and young actors receive plenty of voyeuristic attention. Queen bee Brooke (Claudia Lee) gives an inappropriately sexualised performance when auditioning for the high school dance club, but plugging/mocking of Brit boy band Union J ensures that males are just as objectified as females, and sets up for the film’s best joke. The audience are teased, however, and must wait until the final act before Taylor-Johnson’s toned torso appears onscreen.
Kick-Ass 2’s odd mixture of gore-porn, touching coming-of-age drama and gross-out comedy ends by priming us for another sequel, the concluding chapter which has already prompted speculative would-be spoilers all over the internet. Here’s hoping Kick-Ass will finally upgrade his costume.