Those hoping for a repeat of the cool shock tactics of Kick-Ass might come away feeling rather short-changed after watching the sequel. Granted, all the key characters are back, in particular, Kick-Ass himself and the petite purple dynamo Hit-Girl that sees Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloë Grace Moretz take up their costume-clad roles respectively, verses Christopher Mintz-Plasse as grudge-holding Chris D’Amico – even the dearly departed daddies (played by Nic Cage and Mark Strong) pose in amusing pictorial reminders. The violence and coarse language is also abundant in a ‘bigger, badder and ballsier’ follow-up.
However, there is a combination of issues that make Kick-Ass 2 feel somewhat wanting. Admittedly, the shock factor that marked out the original is long gone, and like a one-trick pony, is sadly inevitable. The sequel also lacks the finesse of the Goldman-Vaughn writing style that married violence and humour amicably with thrilling, animated results, climaxing in an unforgettable, blood-drenched finale that put Hit-Girl firmly in the frame. This new offering, penned and directed by Jeff Wadlow – but still based on the Millar-Romita Jr comic book and produced by Vaughn, has lots more superheroes with justice on their mind against lots more baddies with malice to spend but ends up as one big West Side Story style punch-up with a touch of The Spy Who Loved Me that loses the slick comic-book pow-wow factor.
Three years on the story picks up where the 2010 film left off, seeing Hit-Girl/loner schoolgirl Mindy Macready living with her dad’s colleague and barely surviving a seemingly average High School life. Actually, Hit-Girl is skipping school to train and continue her late father’s ambition to rid the streets of bad guys, teaming up with Kick-Ass (school nerd Dave Lizewski) while coaching him to toughen up. After events get out of hand during a gang attack, Hit-Girl makes a promise to her guardian to hang up her costume and fit in with the school’s popular crowd.
Meanwhile, a frustrated Kick-Ass joins a bunch of superheroes, led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (an unrecognisable Jim Carrey) to continue the frontline fight. It’s only after news of the bloody rise of The Motherf****r – aka a vengeful D’Amico dressed in his newly departed mother’s bondage gear – and his bunch of vicious thugs, plus a bad experience with the school’s mean girls that Hit-Girl returns to what she knows best, and helps Kick-Ass and co wipe the floor with the new evil entity.
The first film had a tragic but admirable quality to it of ordinary folk turned vigilantes who wanted more out of life: to live the superhero dream under another, powerful identity and deliver justice the authorities haven’t/couldn’t. They were charmingly vulnerable and got royally hurt. They were also endearingly superhero comic-book and web and social media savvy. That’s all still apparent here. Nevertheless, it’s the worrying level of unstylish violence that oversteps the line of comic acceptability and is actually quite disturbingly gratuitous in parts, turning into a misplaced, grizzly Mafia-style thriller. In fact, there is an inferred failed rape scene played for laughs that leaves a very sour taste, especially given the lead protagonist is a young teenage girl. It’s all a tad disjointed, tonally, even if daddy vengeance is the supposed primary goal.
Where the film feels flimsy is ironically when Hit-Girl isn’t in the frame as interest in Kick-Ass and his bunch of oddball superheroes, roaming the streets at night in slow-mo like an eccentric pop band, wanes in parts as Wadlow tries to keep the original fantasy alive. Even the highlight sequence of the Colonel leading an attack on a local bunch of sex slave racketeers feels samey and unimaginative.
The film’s real stunts and thrills are reserved for Hit-Girl, as is the cool factor with her zooming along on a customised purple motorbike. Perhaps more could have been made of Macready’s fight against schoolyard tyranny – where evil originates from and cultivates, even if she sets the bimbos straight in a way that is both funny and ironic.
Moretz steals her scenes, which is hardly surprising as she is the obvious draw from the first film – Taylor-Johnson’s Kick-Ass being too wet and rather bland to compete, regardless of how much gym time the actor has put in to get his buffed bod. Although Mintz-Plasse’s The Motherf****r is hilariously foolish in a panto way, the film feels vacant of a real, meaty bad guy like D’Amico’s late father to test Hit-Girl. In fact, she squares up to another Amazonian female in the end face-off, the beef for which – apart from being another female and in D’Amico’s gang – is not adequately explained.
Wadlow is undoubtedly a fan that has perhaps got a little too enthusiastic and missed the essence of the first film with his sequel: less is more (it’s the average man at play that won over a wider fan base) and choreographed style is a necessity in all fights. Thanks to Moretz, the film is not a complete turn-off, as she saves the day (again), single-handedly offering enough entertain in what is a wayward follow-up in the name of vigilante justice.
By Lisa Giles-Keddie