Film Review | Kick-Ass 2

It may lack depth and moral fibre, but Jeff Wadlow's sequel to 2010's hyper-violent amateur superhero romp more than makes up for it in dynamism.

Prelude to gleeful carnage: Chloe Moretz, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Christopher Mintz-Plasse return to Kick-Ass 2.
Prelude to gleeful carnage: Chloe Moretz, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Christopher Mintz-Plasse return to Kick-Ass 2.

The Kick-Ass franchise is the cinematic (and comic-book) equivalent of Miley Cyrus's much-discussed 'twerking' over Robin Thicke's crotch during this year's edition of the MTV Video Music Awards.

For just as Miley's near-naked grinding exposed the glitz and glamour of MTV to be nothing but a thin veneer barely concealing the basest of human impulses, so does Mark Millar and John Romita Jr's comic book series about amateur superheroes (the first batch of which was adapted for the big screen in 2010) reveal the ever-popular American genre to be less about bona-fide heroism and going the extra mile to perform your civic duty. Instead, Millar and co. seem to suggest, superheroism is nothing but an excuse to indulge in violent vigilantism for its own sake (or, worse still: an attempt to ape comic book heroes purely to stave off high school boredom).

Taking over where director Matthew Vaughn left off in 2010, relative newcomer Jeff Wadlow stages the sequel to the original Kick-Ass as more of spruced up encore than a proper follow-up, maintaining an equal level of guts, gore and cussing that moves at a similar enough clip to its predecessor.

But the narrative does pick up almost exactly where the previous film left off: with the controversial supporting character of Mindy McCready (Chloe Moretz) - a 15-year-old, daddy-trained super-assassin vigilante - turning over a new leaf and attempting a 'normal' life at high school, mentored by her new guardian, the police detective Marcus (Morris Chestnut).

Her former partner in anti-crime, Dave Lisewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has other plans, however. Bored of laying low, he decides to don the 'Kick-Ass' costume once again, taking to the streets to fight petty crime (and attract the attention of social media) once again. Happily, he discovers that he's not alone, as a group of costumed vigilantes led by a volatile born-again Christian soldier - Col. Star and Stripes (Jim Carrey) - prove to be a godsend to Dave, doing more good than he ever could on his own, and on a larger scale too.

But when a scorned enemy from David's past emerges from the shadows - or rather, the confines of his mafia-moneyed family abode - to wreak his revenge, Kick-Ass's crimefighting honeymoon comes to an abrupt halt, as 'The Motherfu**er' (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) assembles an international evil cadre of his own to target those closest to our titular protagonist.

But will it be enough to push the most powerful superhero of them all out of hibernation? Will it be enough for Mindy to once again become... Hit Girl?

Wadlow's sequel will not make fans out of sceptics. Vaughn, working closely with Millar, had created a sometimes-controversial little cult hit that was very true to its source material and carved an instant niche for itself (think Tarantino does Marvel Comics). It's an 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' situation, and Wadlow certainly isn't going to rock the boat too far.

It's a cliché to say that a sequel is 'bigger and better' (in this case, 'wilder and wilder' would perhaps be more apt) but, much like a (literal) shot of adrenaline that comes in handy during the film's climatic mega-brawl, Wadlow pinpoints what exactly worked about the original with total precision, while also amplifying it to a point where every scene carries a memorable line or set piece.

To accuse him of shock tactics or superficiality would be to miss the point, because the original thrived on being deliberately shocking and cynical about our protagonists' moral make-up - to say nothing of the utterly vile antagonists they are forced to square off against. Mintz-Plasse scene-chomping take as the arch-psychotic brat is hard not to chuckle at, and his assembly of grotesques is amusing largely because of the deliberately stereotypical - and often just racist - codenames he bestows upon them (a black fighter goes by 'Black Death' (Daniel Kaluuya); Olga Kurkulina's Russian gulag survivor is, naturally, 'Mother Russia'...).

But although the devil-may-care attitude is retained, and definitely keeps the momentum sharp and prickly, having Hit Girl out of the picture for most of the film may actually be the franchise's best decision yet. Mindy's knee-jerk reaction towards anything unpleasant in life is to just kill it. Stripped of that right in the 'real world' and faced with a trio of popular uber-bitches that would make the meanest of the Mean Girls blush, her fish out of water story actually yields some character development... though let's not kid ourselves, it's also a delicious build-up until she dons the blades-and-costume once again.

Seeing Dave go at it alone also provides a fresh take on an otherwise flat character. Without Mindy - who was a crucial push for him in the original - he has to take matters into his own hands, and how he juggles the grotesque threat that faces him is a joy to witness in itself.

It's a shame that Jim Carrey has decided to disown the film owing to the amount of violence it contains (the star claimed he was uncomfortable about this, particularly after the Sandy Hook shootings). His barmy, all-out performance is probably one of the best things about this sequel: on a par with Nicolas Cage's going-for-broke impersonation of Adam West's Batman from the original.

But Kick-Ass has always been a take-it-or-leave-it shot of crazy. Cynics are unlikely to be swayed, but those willing to take the plunge will most certainly be rewarded. 

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