I'll just come right out and say it: I love the first Kick-Ass. The subject matter obviously isn't for everyone, but I thought Matthew Vaughn and everyone else did a superb job translating Mark Millar's story to the big screen. Despite being all kinds of ridiculous, they still managed to fill it with energy, emotion and fun. Naturally, I was pretty stoked to buy my ticket for Kick-Ass 2 and hoped for a similar experience or level of quality despite Vaughn stepping back to only produce. While it still delivers on some absurd action and laughs, Kick-Ass 2 doesn't seem to have much heart behind it and at the end of the day, nothing makes it feel truly special.
The sequel picks up a few years after the events of the first movie. Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) wants to step up his superhero game and seeks out Mindy Macready (Chloe Grace Moretz) for extra training. However, after her father, Big Daddy, was killed in the previous movie, she's now in the care of Detective Marcus Williams (Morris Chestnut). As expected, he wants her to put the mask away and strive for a normal life. Meanwhile, Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) loathes Kick-Ass for killing his father (with a bazooka, mind you) and wants revenge. Seeing as he's beyond loaded and completely twisted, he aims to become the world's first super villain and uses his mountains of cash to form an army.
When it comes to the performances, I have no real gripes. Despite apparently being on the super-soldier serum and all kinds of jacked now, Taylor-Johnson still comes off as a believable fanboy. That said, the writing of the character is a bit odd as he sporadically jumps from confident (stands up to a group of thugs) to startled like a child (shocked by the bouncer assault) from time to time. It's a minor criticism, and like I said, he still gives a solid performance. In spite of the film being named after him, he's by no means the star of this one. If anything, Moretz takes up a majority of the time (or at least it felt like it). The drama surrounding her is definitely drawn-out at times and, despite the film suffering from this, it still gives her a chance to show off her acting chops. In the movie, her character implies she's done more than most adults have in the 15 years she's been on this planet. The same could hold true for her acting abilities because she's definitely talented and it shows in this film.
Jim Carrey is the real treat. His take on Millar and John Romita Jr's character is a joy to watch, oozing cheese yet remaining so damn lovable and out there. I soaked up every charismatic moment he offered and the movie definitely could have benefited from giving him some more time onscreen. As for Mintz-Plasse, he's pretty much a more unrestrained and offensive version of himself (or at least the version of him we tend to see in most movies). If he's made you laugh before, he's absolutely going to do it again. Oh, and minor gripe: hiring a new actor as Todd and then trying to have him play the part just like Evan Peters was definitely jarring. It would have felt more natural to write Todd out and have him replaced by a new friend, but it is what it is.
When Hit-Girl busted into the room in the first movie with that upbeat music it was a totally unique experience. There's a little girl slaughtering these dudes in a horrific fashion.... yet it's fun. That fun seems to be lost this time around. They tried to duplicate that scene fairly early on, but aside from a few remarks and trying to keep things lively with a remotely similar track, it comes off as "been there, seen that." Now, I know some of you may think the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" saying could apply here, but it didn't for me. I wanted to love seeing Hit-Girl slaughtering these terrible people, but the action just came and went without any real oomph or energy behind it.
Mother Russia vs. Hit-Girl aside (which was quite awesome, but I'll get to that), the same lack of thrill and excitement holds true for the big showdown. You've got all of these costumed people dressed up with crazy weapons, ready for a super twisted take on West Side Story, yet it's a basic brawl and the finale (again, Hit-Girl vs. Mother Russia aside) feels totally standard. It never really delivers a "wow" moment. Yeah, the first movie took a super ridiculous turn which you either loved or loathed (I loved it, obviously), but prior to that, Hit-Girl vs. the Goons and eventually Chris' dad was brutal and engaging. Hell, even the laughable stalemate was a decent time. Here? It never really hits us with a standout moment, despite throwing a slow motion punch to the face our way.
Director Jeff Wadlow did utilize a pretty cool shot in one instance with Kick-Ass taking a leap, but the end result was anti-climatic and made me wonder why the slow motion was even used at that point. That said, he definitely delivers on Mother Russia versus Hit-Girl. It's tough to believe this 15 year-old girl isn't having her bones shattered effortlessly by this physical tank (especially since they keep reminding us "this isn't a comic book!"), but aside from that, it's an enjoyable battle between speed and strength and has the only real jaw-dropper when it comes to the finale.
With so much varied content, it should come as no surprise the tone skips around a lot as well. Sure, it did in the first too, but it felt more organized there and hit way fewer speed bumps. Here, interlacing the movie with the way slower-paced scenes involving Mindy's life felt a bit abrupt (again, despite her doing a fine job with her material). Unfortunately, Kick-Ass 2 also misses the mark when it comes to engrossing us in some of the really compelling and gut-wrenching scenes the source material had to offer. These are huge moments which should resonant but it kind of feels like they're glossed over to get to the next punchline or kill.
If you've read the source material (Kick-Ass 2, Hit-Girl), then you should have a pretty decent understanding of what lies ahead when it comes to the content. It's every bit as raunchy as Millar's writing but there are more than a handful of instances where it feels like they're trying way too hard for shock value (cafeteria scene, for example. Funny at first but then it reaches a "...really?" moment). As expected with any adaptation, some things are of course omitted or completely altered, but a good chunk of the story remains intact. They totally fumbled when it comes to the most controversial part of the comic book. They attempted to dodge a bullet with one of the most disturbing scenes in the source material, but the change comes off as even more offensive by simply playing it for laughs. I just don't get how a movie can imply killing a dog is too evil and then turn an attempted rape scene into a total joke. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of legitimate laughs to be had, but there's at least two moments where I couldn't help but groan.
Kick-Ass 2 has no problem bringing some solid comedy and able performances to the table, but everything else which made the first movie captivating just isn't here. I feel like it never does anything to truly rise above other titles in the genre and I wound up leaving the theater thinking the movie is alright. The emotional moments don't pack the strong punch they should and the narrative definitely drags its feet every now and then. However, if you just want to laugh and enjoy some decent action, then yeah, it'll most likely deliver for you.