“Well, that was better than the comic, anyway.”
So said my friend Nate as we left Kick Ass 2. At this point I’m pretty sure Mark Millar’s business card should say, “Comics that make decent movies in the hands of people with better story sense.”
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate his Superman Adventures run as much as anyone, but looked at against their comic counterparts, his original ideas adapted to film (Wanted and Kick Ass, at least) have been improvements over their source material.
Kick Ass 2 picks up a few years after the original film and, aside from a couple of unsatisfyingly thrown aside threads left over from the first movie, it provides a comparable experience. It could also test my ability to continue to write PG-13 reviews given what exists within its frames.
The first was a pretty clear case of the trappings of exploitation cinema being grafted onto an existing genre template, in this case the superhero film. Slapping the excesses of violence and other “extremes” onto a storyline that was clearly inspired by the highly familiar Spider-Man films resulted in a movie that was a fun counterpoint to the family-friendly violence of the Marvel films. What the name for it is, I don’t know, but since everything has to end in “-sploitation” (nazploitation, nunsploitation, blaxploitation) I think I’ll go with capesploitation. Admittedly I haven’t seen too many other American films outside this series that would fit into the subgenre except for James Gunn’s schizophrenically toned Taxi-driver meditation, Super. I’m sure some other folks could throw further examples at me.
With the original, it was really Hit Girl that made the movie. The purple-clad, uber-violent Mindy Macready has got to be my pick for one of the absolute most iconic, touchtone characters in film from the last ten years. (There’s a reason I have a British poster from the original release featuring her on my wall.) To some it was the sticking point that kept them from enjoying the movie. To me, Chloe Grace Moretz’s performance lifted the film to something special. Her relationship with Nic Cage’s “Big Daddy” (in full Adam West mode) basically stole the film right out from under the eponymous character who was, thankfully, more likable than Tobey Maguire and his glassy-eyed stare.
The sequel is smart enough to give equal time to Kick Ass and Hit Girl, following both of them as Dave (Aaron Johnson) tries to get back into the superhero game while Mindy does her best to leave it behind. Frankly, this film does a better job of explaining someone with a damaged psyche going into retirement than Dark Knight Rises. And make no mistake, while Hit Girl is shown as heroic, it makes no bones about the fact that she is damaged. Her attempts to integrate herself into high school society show that there’s little difference between the halls and the streets. It’s no wonder she wants no part of the “ordinary” experience as she goes from one extreme role model in Big Daddy to the another in the popular girls of her school. Compared to that clique, drug dealers are easy to figure out. I have to think it was purposeful that, while Grace actually looks to be the age of the character she’s playing, many of her classmates are cast to be the 20-somethings that regularly populate shows and movies set in high school and it just provides more contrast for this relationship. Is it going to be as shocking to see a 15-year old girl killing and maiming as it was when she was younger? No. Joss Whedon and all the “girl power” acolytes that have been slinging out the now well-established teen girl-as-badass archetype have taken care of that. But she continues to take the movie on her shoulders and for those that actually liked the character and didn’t simply like the first movie on the basis of shock value, it shouldn’t be an issue.
As it is, there’s still plenty of violence to be had, some dished out by Hit Girl and some of it from new characters.
Most of the new additions to the cast work well. For all his post-production whining, Jim Carrey’s Col. Stars and Stripes does a good job recreating some of the weird energy that Nic Cage brought to the first film, even if he doesn’t manage to be his equal. The new heroes and villains are all ridiculous and fun with varying degrees of success. Chritopher Mintz-Plasse is back as Chris D’Amico, making good on his threat at the end of the first film to come back, declaring himself the world’s first supervillain. The name he chooses is part of what threatens my family-friendly rating. Early on he abandons his Red Mist moniker and declares himself The Mother****er. I’m sure you can fill in the blanks. Surprisingly, John Leguizamo has a fairly major part in the film, grounding it in the early stages. This is somewhat important given the way it can’t seem to decide if it’s supposed to be taking place in the primary-colored comic book world or the “real world” that the characters talk about so much in the film.
And if there’s one problem I did have with Kick Ass 2 it is this. Sometimes it simply can’t decide what it is. It’s a blender full of ultraviolence, capes and teen comedy, but they also seem to be giving a half-assed effort to elevate the material with a message that can’t seem to quite get out; the old “violence begets violence” chestnut. This is at odds with how they present the other message of the film about regular people making a difference, however. As such, it’s confused about what the underlying theme is.
While I loved how the look of the first film seemed a direct response/send-up of Raimi’s Spider-Man (especially the original film) the second, while certainly striving to create a visual dynamic that matches the first, seems less interested in capturing that specific stylistic choice. I suppose that’s really what’s been lost with Matthew Vaughn being only a producer instead of coming back to direct this chapter. Vaughn simply was more interesting visually. One thing I can’t believe I haven’t seen before given how well it works is the use of word balloons as subtitles. On the plus side, the actions scenes, as they are, seem to be slightly improved and in terms of quality and inventiveness there are a couple of them that whooped the heck out of most stuff seen in this summer’s more expensive Wolverine film. I definitely found myself audibly expressing pain at how some of the characters meet their makers.
On this end the film is absolutely entertaining and I recommend that people who enjoyed the first one check it out. For those that found the first film repugnant or offensive, I can’t think of a single reason they would find the second redeeming. For me, it was well worth the trip.
(Three and a half damns given out of five.)