Synopsis: 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.
Upon it’s release Kick Ass swept into cinemas like a fresh, profanity laden wave, leaving a mess of aghast self proclaimed protectors of moral sensibilities in it’s wake. And while I am not one of those people who gets excited in the worst way by violence, sex or heavy swearing, it’s not hard to see how their pearl adorned ears may have felt a little bashed by the sound of a cherubic, blonde 13 year old calling people cunts before blowing off faces and slicing off limbs with gleeful ease. It was like someone took Mathilda from Leon and filtered her through Guy Ritchie’s lexicon.
It was this sense of something genuinely a little risky, a little daring to poke some fresh life into the comic book movie genre that I loved. Matthew Vaughan, a wonderfully consistent and often under appreciated British filmmaker, mixed enough gore, laughs, shock language and genuine emotion to create a cult hit that deserved it’s plaudits. So it’s such a shame that the much anticipated follow up falls so flat despite having so many of the same ingredients.
But on reflection that is in itself the biggest problem. It feels like going over old ground. There is nothing new, exciting or unexpected along the 100 or so minutes narrative. Like so many superhero follow ups the second installment forces it’s protagonists to reflect on the personal cost of their new found social responsibility. The problem is that there are so many peripheral characters dealing with their own issues that the central pairing of Kick Ass (Taylor-Johnson) and Hit Girl (Grace-Moretz) get lost in the noise. As a result their transition from well meaning children to socially aware adolescent adults feels glossed over. Hit Girl’s journey at points even feels like outtakes from Grace-Moretz’s recent turn as Carrie in Carrie. And don’t even get me started on the horrendous product placement Alt J video which essentially felt like an MTV advert break. Urgh. Gross.
It also sorely lacks a strong adult character anchoring the adolescent self doubt. Jim Carrey does fine with his all to fleeting cameo. It is the absence of a Mark Strong or Nic Cage though that makes you realise how important they were to providing the balance in the first.
That is not to say it’s all bad. The choreography of the set pieces are still slick and impressive, in particular some phantom ninja dance fighting . And when given the chance to share some screen time there is a gentle chemistry between Taylor-Johnson and Grace-Moretz that bubbles the right side of sickly. As previously mentioned Carrey is great as Col Stars & Stripes for the time he is on screen but he is underused ultimately. In fact most of the laughs come from the smaller supporting cast, most noteably Black Death (Daniel Kaluuya) and Dloph Lundgren’s female twin Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina). In contrast Christopher Mintz-Plasse is just too annoying as The Motherfucker to be funny. Although he does get to utter the name Toxic Mega Cunts, which is quite a glorious run of words.
Ultimately the loss of Vaughn behind the lens was more obviously felt than perhaps many thought it might have been. As he proved with Layer Cake and X-Men: Days of Future Past he knowns how to tell an emotional story in the context of carnage and mayhem. Kick Ass 2 though lacks the focus and direction to give it that grounding and wants to follow too many stories that in the end amount to little. Which is a shame because there are some brilliantly delivered lines that get lost in the noise of everything else.
It probably didn’t deserve to be the commercial flop it ended up being ($28m box office domestic compared to $50m for the first one). Some blamed that on Jim Carrey’s one man negative press campaign after he publicly came out against screen violence. Personally I think mixed reviews and word of mouth probably killed public appetite. Which in the context of it’s quality ended up being a fair assessment.
Conclusion: A disappointing follow up to one of my favourite surprise hits of the last few years. I just hope that if they do a third one, which it is all set up for, that they refocus on telling a tight story and less on trying to make it a sweary version of Mystery Men.
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Morris Chestnut, Claudia Lee, Jim Carrey, John Leguizamo