Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Jim Carrey, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Rated: Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, crude and sexual content, and brief nudity
Runtime: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Bottom line: Double the characters, half the brains
Some sequels force us to re-examine what made us like the original film. “Kick-Ass 2” has that effect, because it shares many surface qualities with its predecessor but offers none of its impact.
“Kick-Ass,” Matthew Vaughn’s raucous 2010 adaptation of Mark Millar’s heralded comic, abounds with perverse joy and unruly energy. It’s hyper-violent yet ultimately a moral film. It exploits violence for effect but makes a powerful point about social responsibility.
“Kick-Ass” explores the antithesis of the dominant theme of the Spiderman franchise, that “with great power comes great responsibility.”
In the world of “Kick-Ass,” most people believe “with no power comes no responsibility.” Both the comic and film adaptation call out that belief for what it is, a cop out. Bystanders are not innocent if they see injustice but do not act, and none of us should wait for a superhero to solve our problems.
“Kick-Ass 2,” for all of its superficial similarities to the franchise starter, offers nothing so poignant, nor does it match its energy or arresting style.
Dave, aka Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), lives through a fascinating and hilarious arc in the first film that echoes and undermines numerous superhero tropes. His story, however, is extremely uneven this time out.
He teams up with a group of fellow costumed vigilantes who call themselves Justice Forever. They are an intriguing, endearing group, each of whom was driven to vigilantism by a past trauma or sense of responsibility.
Most notable among them is Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), a former Mafioso whose sidekick is a dog named Eisenhower and who becomes the de facto leader of the crew.
The Colonel reminded me how important Nicolas Cage was to “Kick-Ass.” Cage gave the movie its wild, eccentric energy. Carrey was presumably brought in to provide what Cage couldn’t since his character is now dead.
Carrey has the same ability to change the entire energy of a movie, and as always, he fully, fearlessly inhabits his character. But filmmakers didn’t give him enough screen time to truly replace Cage. And Dave’s storyline desperately needed that boost.
What really undercuts Dave’s story, though, is he doesn’t have clear motivation for becoming a vigilante again. There’s nothing at stake for him until very late in the film, and his whole story seems meaningless.
This film devotes equal focus to Mindy/Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), who now lives with her father’s ex-partner (Morris Chestnut) and is trying to survive the dangerous corridors of high school.
It’s a promising scenario, but the writers take the most predictable route. Mindy must deal with a small clique of mean girls who initially pretend to accept her as a sort of project but soon turn on her.
Mindy’s storyline does give us one great scene. Mindy tries out for the cheerleading squad, something for which she is completely unequipped. She is not a girly girl and has never danced.
However, during the tryout she pretends she is Hit Girl battling four attackers. Her routine blows everyone away, and it is a clever bit of filmmaking.
Soon, though, Mindy becomes the object of bullying.
Bullying among teens is worse than it has ever been. And demands to be treated with respect. So this would be a perfect opportunity for “Kick-Ass 2” to make its own relevant social commentary. Especially since the first film highlighted the responsibility of bystanders and a growing “no bystanders” movement intended to combat bullying.
Instead, the filmmakers have Mindy exact revenge. She does so in a way that not only could be considered bullying itself, but is shallow and gross.
The villain (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), meanwhile, goes by a name not fit to print and is simply ridiculous. He isn’t a believable heavy, nor a funny buffoon.
There are some funny and thrilling scenes, but there is nothing exceptional about “Kick-Ass 2.” It barely seems like a sequel, merely a movie wearing the “Kick-Ass” costume.
Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.