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I have read countless comments and articles about Kick-Ass 2 and I still have no idea what to expect from the film.
It isn’t because the movie looks like it might have a hidden streak of genius or because critics have written well-supported arguments both for and against Kick-Ass 2. No, my confusion is rooted in the type of commentary that has taken place. Everyone has focused on the rape scene and Jim Carrey’s refusal to do publicity for the film during the weeks leading up to its release. With violence and sexual assault awareness at an all-time high, many people seem to regard the film as simply the delivery mechanism for a dose of much-needed social awareness. My only real insight into the types of things you would normally look for in film – story, acting, cinematography – comes from the trailers. The rest of the criticism has been social commentary.
That is not to say that it is unwarranted or even to suggest that social commentary is not film criticism. There are darker issues floating underneath the surface of the spandex, and I applaud those film critics who are willing to wade into the deeper end of the pool and place Kick-Ass 2 in a larger context. However, to discuss the film on that level is to take it seriously, and I cannot bring myself to look at it as anything other than a mishmash of adolescent fantasies come to life. This film promises to appeal to the part of me that used to think Goldeneye was the best Bond movie because Famke Janssen crushed people to death between her thighs. It tries to connect with a high school Matthew who “discovered” an independent action film called The Boondock Saints and swore it was the best movie he’d ever seen, simply because there were gunfights and they said “fuck” over 200 times.
It took a long time for me to realize that style and substance were not the same thing when it came to filmmaking. For Kick-Ass 2, I propose an experiment – can I recapture the adolescent idiocy that once led me to believe that they could never make a better superhero film than Batman Forever? I am not saying that I am interested in or even capable of ignoring the depictions of sex and violence completely, but there still remains a part of me that can enjoy a stupid movie without worrying about the larger context. I appreciated the original Kick-Ass solely for the opportunity to see Nic Cage play Batman. I am not a complicated man – if there is a secondary character who is capable of that same level of camp appeal, I figure I will probably find something of enjoyment in the film.
Then again, whenever I have challenged the teenage version of myself to a taste test, I have found that it is not much of a fight. If I walk out of Kick-Ass 2 thinking that it was the sort of film that the high school version of me would have loved, then I have certainly damned the film with faint praise. Let’s face it – we all used to be a helluva lot dumber than we are now.
Unless Kevin Costner really was the right actor to play Robin Hood. If that is the case, all bets are off.
Stars: 2.5 (Out of 5.0)
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Some time has passed since the events of Kick-Ass and the world has begun to adjust to the steady influx of masked crime fighters. Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) balance their time between training and struggling through a typical high school experience; meanwhile, The Motherfucker (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) still mourns his dead father and vows revenge against anyone who wears a mask. When Kick-Ass returns to the headlines after joining forces with a superhero group led by the patriotic Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), Chris decides that the only sane thing to do in a world full of superheroes is to become the first true super-villain. His superpower? Money, and he will buy the allegiance of every psychopath and enforcer on the market.
The problem of the original Kick-Ass film, as noted in most reviews, is that it tries to have it both ways. The film walks the line between presenting audiences with escapist fantasy and trying to establish a context for what a genuine superhero in the real world would look like; it tries to be both Batman Forever and The Dark Knight, with a large dollop of CGI blood splatter on the side. We are never sure if we should be enjoying the antics of Big Daddy and Hit Girl as an ultra-violent take on Batman or Robin or appalled at a father’s decision to bring his young daughter into a life of killing.
Where Kick-Ass 2 vastly improves upon the original is in how the characters handle the violence in their lives. The addition of Jim Carrey’s character, despite his limited screen time, is a key influence on the tone of the film. Colonel Stars and Stripes is a paternal figure in the realm of crime-fighting, a superhero who views violence as a necessary evil and who takes a holistic approach to doing good. It is not enough to simply assault the men behind a prostitution ring; the Colonel also coordinates with authorities to have the women escorted to a shelter at the conclusion of the raid. The quintessential line in comic book history is Stan Lee’s take on great power requiring great responsibility, and to its credit, Kick-Ass 2 has moments where it eclipses its contemporaries in what true responsibility means.
This theme of maturation is present throughout the film, even in Mintz-Plasse’s role as the villain. For most of the movie, The Motherfucker is exactly what the name would suggest, an adolescent’s attempt to sound tough; it isn’t until a key scene with a member of a crime family that Mintz-Plasse’s character sees what it means to be truly evil and ramps up his activities accordingly. Meanwhile, Moretz’s character of Hit Girl is attempting to come to terms with the way she was raised and deciding if this is truly the life she wants. I was not a huge fan of Moretz’s performance in either the original Kick-Ass or the American remake of Let Me In, but Kick-Ass 2 represents a real step forward for the actress. She is no longer a child trying to impress us with how tough she is; instead, Moretz gives Hit Girl a sense of self-awareness that improves her character and allows us to view her as her father’s daughter instead of a profane girl with a knife that Mark Millar thought would make us comfortable.
There is a high degree of intelligence lurking underneath the gunfire in Kick-Ass 2. In focusing on the characters when they are out of costume, writer/director Wadlow has paired the best parts of a coming-of-age film with the “career” crisis typically found in superhero sequels. While the film still suffers from bouts of adolescent humor and typical bombastic violence, I was surprised at how many of the characters resonated with me. This is a big step up from the original Kick-Ass and moves the franchise in a direction where it actually warrants serious consideration. Kudos to all involved for trying to do something a little bit more the second time out.
Stars: 3.5 (Out of 5.0)