Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Anna Karenina), Chloe Grace Moretz (Hugo), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad), Jim Carrey (The Truman Show)
Writer/Director: Jeff Wadlow (Never Back Down)
Runtime: 1 hour 43 minutes
Release Date: 14 August (UK), 16 August (US)
The first Kick-Ass was a breath of fresh air for the comic book movie genre. Whilst it took place in a grounded universe, it didn’t take itself too seriously. It balanced humour and ultra-violence perfectly, and Chloe Moretz’s breakout performance as Hit-Girl instantly jettisoned her to one of the most fun and original characters in superhero movie history. How can you even attempt to top it? Whilst I have been looking forward to the release of Kick-Ass 2, the lack of Matthew Vaughn in the director’s chair always made me cautious. That combined with the fact that the comic book version of Kick-Ass 2 was already an inferior follow-up. Were my worries put to rest, or does it feel like they kicked this movie’s ass out the door before it could put its trousers on?
Sequels always have a lot to live up to; they always have to be bigger and better but rarely ever succeed at it. Sadly, Kick-Ass 2 falls into this trap almost immediately. When the Universal logo popped up and the Kick-Ass theme began to play, I felt at ease; “This movie is going to be good”, I thought to myself. But not long after that, I found myself thinking something a little different. The plot moves way too fast at the beginning, leaving little time to re-establish the main players. I know that they expect the audience to have seen the first one and remember who everyone is, but they could have spent just a little more time reintroducing them and reminding us why we liked these characters in the first place. The opening scenes, as well as a few others scattered around, pay way too much homage to the first film to the point where certain scenes feel like pallet-swapped versions of ones from the original. Any opportunity to show a stock photo of Nicolas Cage or Mark Strong, they’ll take it. The plot of the film does expand on the world of the first film, introducing supervillains to the fold, and it does contain a lot more action, but other than that little feels improved. The stakes may have been raised and the tone darkened somewhat, but nowhere near enough to make it feel like a worthwhile continuation. Whilst the film looks almost exactly the same as the first one in nearly every way, it still feels obvious that someone other than Vaughn is behind the camera. Wadlow seems more interested in shooting fight scenes, which are executed well, but all other elements feel ill attended to. Kick-Ass wasn’t a good film just because it was irreverently violent; it was a great film because it had good characters, an interesting premise and a witty sense of humour to back it up. Speaking of humour, that has definitely has taken a step backwards on an intelligence level. Moretz spouting crass one-liners simply doesn’t cut it anymore; the novelty of a little girl swearing has worn off, especially since it is obvious she has…ahem…”developed” since the first movie. The jokes feel too sophomoric and lack the subtlety and wit that many of the gags in the first one had. They even resort to using toilet humour in an attempt for a gross-out joke, but that just ends up looking like a deleted scene from Movie 43 (ironic, considering Moretz and Mintz-Plasse were in that travesty too). That’s not to say the all the humour is bad; in fact, I did get quite a few laughs in the movie but most of the jokes just felt too in-your-face for their own good.
Taylor-Johnson (who was just Johnson last time he played the Wetsuit Crusader) slips back into the role as if he never left, and delivers an equally good performance. But much like last time, Kick-Ass ends up feeling like a second banana to a cast of colourful supporting players. Moretz again steals every scene she is in as Hit-Girl; it’s just a shame that she spends half of her screen time in a mostly pointless subplot that feels like an OTT Mean Girls with more cursing. Mintz-Plasse is again surprisingly good as the villainous Motherf***er, balancing evil with comedy to levels only surpassed by Biff Tannen and Lucas Lee. Jim Carrey is great as Colonel Stars and Stripes; his character is as fresh and as interesting a play on the costumed vigilante as Hit-Girl was in the first movie, but ultimately feels wasted. There are plenty of other big names in the movie such as Donald Faison, John Leguizamo and Iain Glen, but they are all criminally underutilized and again feel superfluous to the overall story. But most criminally of all, Lyndsy Fonseca’s Katie is tossed aside like a dirty rag. Her role is nothing more than a brief cameo that writes her out of the movie in a way that feels like a slap in the face to anyone who cared about her and Johnson’s relationship in the first movie (and I did).
As I mentioned before, if there is one thing Wadlow seems to be good at, it is staging a fight scene. Hit-Girl again gets all the best action, particularly a standout scene where she fights goons atop a moving van. The brawl at the end doesn’t match the ridiculousness of the end of the first movie, but works in its own way. The cinematography is mostly well done; the bright colour palette and lighting really fits the exaggerated nature of the film. The costume design is very creative, but I’m still perplexed by the decision to shorten the skirt on Hit Girl’s costume; they do still remember that she’s a minor, right? The editing is fast and fluid, but never impairs the flow of action. The score, whilst mostly slight alterations of themes from the first movie, is still awesome and their choice of soundtrack at points often feels just as brilliantly absurd as listening to The Banana Splits theme whilst watching a little girl eviscerate some thugs did in the first movie.
Ultimately, Kick-Ass 2 feels like a pale imitation. Whilst some glimpses of brilliance do occasionally emit from it, it never even comes close to the original. For every step they’ve taken forward, they taken several steps back. I get the feeling that whilst Wadlow clearly is a fan of the first movie, I don’t think he liked it for the same reasons I did. Wadlow seems to think that Kick-Ass was awesome because it had blood, swearing, and a jetpack with Gatling guns. Those were cool, but they weren’t ultimately why that movie worked. That movie worked because it had a genuine love for the genre and did its utmost to respect it whilst lampooning it. That movie worked because it knew when to slow down and focus on the characters. That movie worked because it never tried to play down to the audience and always strived to do something that no one watching it expected. Kick-Ass 2 is by no means a bad film, but it doesn’t do enough to make itself stand out from both its predecessor and all other superhero movies this year; even the somewhat controversial Man of Steel felt more distinctive than this did. It’s worth a watch, but I don’t see myself watching it repeatedly as I did with the first one.
FINAL VERDICT: 6/10