If you’ve been following this site for at least a while, you’re probably aware of the fact that I’m an absolute sucker for dark comedy. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a blood-strewn Tarantino banter-fest or an American Beauty style ode to disillusionment, if a film maker can take something that normally invokes terror, suspense or emotional trauma and turn it into something that makes you laugh instead, I’m in. Over the past three or four years, there have been quite a few films that have tickled my twisted funny bone (Cabin in the Woods, Zombieland, In Bruges) but I’d be hard pressed to think of anything that did so in such an extreme manner than Kick-Ass did back in 2010. Few movies over the past decade have embodied the spirit of manic, gleeful violence quite like Kick-Ass, and when I found out that despite its luke-warm reception at the box office it would still be receiving a sequel, I couldn’t have been happier. Despite some concerns over the sequel’s change in direction and inherent lack of Nicholas Cage, I still maintained that level of excitement as I went into the theater last night (having managed to completely avoid all manner of critical opinion beforehand). Having now seen both the film itself and its cumulative critical reception, I believe I have a new top contender for the most underrated movie of the year. The originality and shock value of its predecessor is unsurprisingly diminished, but fans of the first film will still find more than enough crazed, hyper-violent to make Kick-Ass 2 worth their while.
The Plot: 7/10
The costumed high-school hero Kick-Ass joins with a group of normal citizens who have been inspired to fight crime in costume. Meanwhile, the Red Mist plots an act of revenge that will affect everyone Kick-Ass knows.
In terms of story-line, there are a few things Kick-Ass 2 does well and a few that it struggles to fit into the film’s overall tone. One of the aspects of the movie that the trailers have focused on is the fact that number of masked heroes and villains alike has been vamped up to meet the upped ante of sequel-hood. While this does have the unfortunate side effect of skimping on the development of many of these characters, it also opens the door to a lot of interesting new players. Seeing as one of the first movie’s biggest focuses was the transition from normal citizen to power-free superhero, I liked the fact that we got to see what that transition looked like from multiple angles this time around. Unfortunately, not all of the ways the film attempts to differentiate itself from its predecessor are quite as successful. The worst offender here is a Mean Girls-esque story arc that gets thrown in for Hit Girl’s character, which yields the occasional laugh but ultimately adds very little to the story or the movie as a whole. I understand the logic behind the story arc (after all, her father’s dying wish was for her to live a normal life) but that doesn’t make it any less of an unnecessary distraction.
The Writing: 9/10
When looking at general audience members, the writing and more specifically the tone set by the writing is likely to be the biggest factor in determining whether someone loves or hates this movie. The extreme levels of violence coupled with the indifferent-to-celebratory attitudes of the characters towards this violence will be a huge turnoff to a lot of people, but considering that the first film’s tone was nearly identical I can’t see this being much of a surprise for anyone. As someone whose sense of humor falls within the target range of the script, this was not a problem for me. While the character development is fairly limited compared to the first film, the amount of fun that I had during it was still perfectly intact. Frankly, when it comes to a movie like this, that’s all I really wanted in the first place.
The Acting: 8/10
In terms of performance level, the returning cast members are just a pretty much what you’d expect. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is still the same courageous dork and Christopher Mintz-Plasse is the same entitled douche, and in terms of their place in the story neither really needs to be much more than that. That’s because, if you’re anything like me, you’re not watching Kick-Ass 2 for either; you’re watching it for the the profane, hyper-deadly brilliance of Chloe Grace-Moretz’s Hit Girl (Jesus, was hyphenated names a requirement on the job application?). Even with her character’s unnecessary foray into high-school life, Motetz still shines above the rest of the cast and makes up for a sizable chunk of the film’s entertainment value. The more I see her in, the more confident I am that Grace-Moretz is the kind of actress who’s mere presence in a film can make it watchable at the very least.
There isn’t nearly enough space to cover all of the new additions to the cast, but there are a few that merit calling out. Despite his recent denouncement of the film’s violent content, Jim Carrey is still arguably the best new addition to the cast as Colonel Stars and Stripes. Carrey has proven on more than one occasion that he is part of a very small group of comic actors that is able to break out of type without much trouble, and the fact that so few people even realized it was him when the first trailers aired is on its own an impressive statement of the man’s ability to defeat his own typecasting. Aside from Carrey, I loved seeing some familiar faces behind the various ineffective masks including Donald Faison (Turk!) as Captain Gravity, Luther’s Steven Mackintosh as Tommy’s Dad (yes, that’s his superhero name) and the upsettingly foxy Lindy Booth as Night Bitch. Unfortunately, as great as these new additions are, none of them are quite able to make up for the absence of Nicholas Cage’s dorky yet slightly unhinged Big Daddy or Mark Strong’s permanently frustrated Frank D’Amico.
The Action: 8/10
One of the biggest factors that allowed this sequel to be green lighted in the first place was the fact that the first film’s low budget by action standards of about $30 million gave it a fairly low bar for success. The fact that the both films are able to deliver some of the best action of the past several years with a budget that small is a strong testament to just how impressive the fight-scene choreography is here. On the one hand, the premise of superheroes without superpowers makes it easier to avoid the sort of special-effects laden spectacles that dominate most mainstream action movies nowadays. On the other hand, that lack of spectacle puts a huge amount of stress on the direction of the fight scenes themselves. Rather than relying on the sort of unquestioned and unquestionable physics that allow Iron Man or Super Man to dispatch large amounts of enemies without blinking an eye, Kick-Ass is forced to ground its action in the real world and get a little more creative in its carnage. Nothing here is going to top the third act of the first film, but it’s still a refreshing change of pace from the action status-quo.
The Verdict: 8.0/10 – Pretty Damn Great
+ A sharp script that keeps the darkly humorous spirit of the first film alive
+ Another chance to see Grace-Moretz in my favorite role of her career
+ An increased scale that allows for the inclusion of an interesting set of new characters
– Hit Girl’s ill-fitting high school story arc
Rotten Tomatoes: 29 %
Black Sheep Reviews: 4/5
The Cinematic Katzenjammer: 7.9/10
Amonymous Reviews: 3.5/5
Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 6.5/10
The Code is Zeek: 3/5
Average: 7.2/10 – Good