When it came along back in 2010, Kick-Ass was cool. It was a commercial hit. It was also controversial, most of said scandal dealing with a then-13-year-old Chloë Grace Moretz and her C-word dropping brutality. Like Chronicle and other revisionist comic book efforts, the main premise dealt with everyday high school kids who find themselves donning masks and capes and playing at the whole superhero/supervillain dynamic. Think of it as M. Night Shyamalan’s brilliant Unbreakable set in a salacious John Hughes universe and you kind of get the idea.
Now comes Kick-Ass 2, a sequel which hopes to amplify our enjoyment by giving us more of what we liked the first time around: more action, more cursing, more bloodshed, more characters. We even get a bit of projectile vomiting and explosive diarrhea thrown in for added anarchy. But with the addition of so much more, with the concept of having David Lizewski / Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Mindy Macready / Hit-Girl (Moretz) joining forces with a homemade Justice League featuring such other notable part-time protagonists as Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), Professor Gravity (Donald Faison), and Night Bitch (Lindy Booth), it borders on overkill… and we haven’t even mentioned spoiled rich kid with a vendetta Christopher Mintz-Plasse and his collection of evil minions.
Indeed, the former Red Mist (whose new nickname is NSFW) wants to kill Kick-Ass for blowing his mafia Don father up with a bazooka. Determined to use his newfound wealth to build an army of bad-asses, he recruits an oddball assortment of assassins, including a chunky hitman (Andy Nyman) and an Amazonesque Russian death machine (Olga Kurkulina). Meanwhile, the pseudo Justice League are facing blowback from the city of New York. It doesn’t like regular citizens taking the law into their own hands, and hopes to stop the rise in caped crusaders. In addition, Hit-Girl decides to “retire” and have a normal life as a high school freshman.
You know the old joke about needing a scorecard to keep the players and their positions straight? Kick-Ass 2 probably needs three of them: one for the good guys; one for the baddies; and one for all the ancillary, outside characters (fathers, guardians, confidants, etc.) thrown into the mix. There are probably no less than 20 important individuals present, each one demanding their moment to be integral to the plot. Some definitely shine more than others (Kurkulina’s Mother Russia is like a surreal combination of R. Crumb sexual fantasy and Rocky IV‘s Ivan Drago) while many are throwaways for writer/director Jeff Wadlow to wade through before getting to the punch-ups. Indeed, whenever Moretz puts on the tights and starts wailing on anyone around her, the movie picks up steam. The rest of the time, it just lays there, limp.
This is a film that clearly needed a firmer editorial hand, a way to weed out the unnecessary and the surplus to find a real reason to revisit this material. Having Mintz-Plasse’s character demand payback for his dad’s death is obvious, as is the desire of everyone to return to some kind of normalcy. But this is a property that celebrates breaking out of such strictures, of defining yourself by who you want to be, not who everyone thinks you are. Instead of exploring that idea, of getting deeper into Dave and Mindy’s wannabe mentality, Wadlow overwhelms us with minutia–and not in a good way. Carrey has maybe five main scenes. John Leguizamo, as Mintz-Plasse’s valet, has fewer. No one has a chance to challenge the viewer. No one has a real reason to be involved here.
In fact, Kick-Ass 2 may be the first sequel ever to reset a response to the film that came before it. Previously, audiences thought the adventures of these high school heroes was fun, subversive stuff. After seeing this take on their escapades, things won’t be so amusing, just aggravating.