Your old friends are all there and they’re telling the same jokes that months ago would have made you poop, but somehow it’s just not funny – or even fun – anymore.
The real moment when Kick-Ass: The Comic fully transitioned into 2010 Kick-Ass: The Movie wasn’t in dispensing rocket-pack bazooka death on Mark Strong’s Frank D’Amico; it came when instead of rejecting Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) for posing as her new gay best friend, Katie Deauxma (Lyndsy Fonseca) launches herself at his face like a randy jack-in-a-box.
Hollywood rules took over in the split second just before the first movie’s final third, and in its wake all pretence to be telling a ‘real world’ superhero movie crumbled.
Three long years later, and that’s the world Kick-Ass 2 belongs to. It’s no longer a wickedly dismissive satire of the superhero-as-genre template lazily cranked out in the aftermath of Sam Raimi and Bryan Singer’s box office revolution, but a superhero-as-genre movie in itself, albeit one that’s also a bit sweary and satirical.
It’s an important distinction, because within this world all the framing narration about what does and doesn’t work in the real world lacks meaning. Lawnmower-chucking ultraviolence and deeply unsavoury attempted rape gags aside, Kick-Ass 2 follows a conventional sequel arc.
Like The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 2, a hero questions whether he’s needed and takes off the mask, and supervillain escalation abounds as the upgraded Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) – now The Motherfucker – gathers an army of largely unconvincing flunkies from BBC3.
But the satire of the rote super-sequel that exists in the comic is lost on screen when other clichés are embraced rather than avoided – Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) bounces around like Yoda in Attack Of The Clones, and drives off into the sunset after sharing a kiss with Kick-Ass, while The Mother-Fucker falls to his death, refusing our hero’s proffered hand like Scar in The Lion King.
Tonally, as much as conceptually, it’s an awkward mix.
Although it’s Lindy Booth’s Miranda Swedlow/Night Bitch who is the subject of sexual violence dressed up in the clown shoes of comedy, it’s really the once iconic Mindy Macready who is beaten around the head with the patriarchy’s big brass cock-baton. The relentless cliché onslaught renders not just Kick-Ass 2 less potent, but Hit-Girl no longer the glorious exception to every other female super-movie lead up to that point.
Where once she treated Kick-Ass with disdain, she’s now subject to trite romance that demeans her dignity and diminishes her integrity to somewhere around the dull and insulting baseline of Jennifer Garner’s Elektra or Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, sharing a kiss with a character who 40 minutes earlier was gleefully banging Night Bitch in a bathroom stall.
From a punk-rock icon who stole every single scene she appeared in and rabbit-punched gender conventions until they spat out teeth to Bechdel-violating story meat defined only by the men around her in less than an hour. If it wasn’t so shitty it would be kind of impressive.
Strangely then, despite the big dumb and loads of fun Justice Forever segments with a scenery-gobbling Jim Carrey as Colonel Stars And Stripes, it’s actually the bits that aren’t Kick-Ass 2 – the elements taken instead from Mark Millar and John Romita Jr‘s Hit-Girl miniseries – that are the most interesting.
The wickedly funny Mean Girls-inspired subplot that sends Mindy to a normal high school to showdown with Glee‘s venomous cheerleader from hell is far more entertaining than watching them all scrap in increasingly cheap-looking action set-pieces or delivering lumped motivational dialogue.
The harsh realism gels perfectly with the American Pie absurdity, and it’s by no means an exception – there’s jaw-aching laughs to be found throughout, perhaps even more than the first film – but there’s something very fundamental missing that relegates Kick-Ass 2 to the same end-of-pier league as Craig Mazin’s Scary Movie-style Superhero Movie.
It’s funny and solid entertainment, but it’s no longer the solution to played out blockbuster comic-book movies by numbers; it’s part of the problem.