“As long as your heart’s in the right place, we don’t care what you put in your mouth.”
This pronouncement from Jim Carrey’s born-again mob enforcer Colonel Stars And Stripes is a neatly twisted summary of why Kick-Ass worked. There was a surprisingly big, self-aware heart to go with a 12-year old dismembering drug dealers and dropping See You Next Tuesdays.
Could a sequel repeat that balancing act between shocks and warmth?
Dave Lizewsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is itching to don the Kick-Ass mask but Mindy (Chloë Grace Moretz) is trying to fit into high school following an ultimatum from her guardian. Forced to look elsewhere, Dave joins up with do-it-yourself heroes Justice Forever. But Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) hasn’t forgiven Kick-Ass for killing his dad and begins his new life as a supervillain: The Motherfucker.
Although it’s three years later and there’s a new writer/director at the helm (Cry_Wolf’s Jeff Wadlow), continuity isn’t an issue here. The major cast have all returned, Matthew Vaughn has stayed on as producer and the spirit of Mark Millar is definitely still there. From the soundtrack to the swearing, Kick-Ass 2 is firmly in the same universe.
It’s also still very funny. Moretz may be taller, but she still knows her way around slicing up bad guys and creative euphemisms for genitalia. However, it’s Mintz-Plasse’ journey to supervillainy with the help of Javier (John Leguizamo), his faithful bodyguard, that provides the most laughs. This first half of the film is strong, as the three main storylines develop. Dave learns about responsibility and community, Mindy learns about peer pressure and being yourself, and Chris straps on his mum’s fetish gear and assembles a team of lunatics.
As important to Kick-Ass as the heart/balls balance was the juxtaposition of the outrageous and the plausible. The first film earned moments like the jet pack because there were characters who reminded us how ridiculous being a comic-book character in the real world was. When the film repeats that trick, such as Javier telling Chris the names he’s giving his henchmen are incredibly racist, it’s very funny. Moments like that ground the film, as does, interestingly enough, Carrey’s turn as the Colonel. The character doesn’t get many laughs but that’s not what he’s there for. He’s there to usher Kick-Ass into adulthood, where violence has consequences, and it’s a very strong performance.
The problems come from the fact that the filmmakers try to amplify everything that made the first film work and that balancing act becomes a see-saw. The emotional moments are much, much bigger; hammering home themes of responsibility and independence. To compensate for this, the jetpack moments get progressively more outlandish. It’s difficult to feel too deeply about a character death when the eyepatch-sporting, bikini-clad brick shithouse Mother Russia is striding about and putting lawnmowers through police cars.
There’s also a balance issue in terms of how much fun the leads have. Mintz-Plasse gets to scream and strut with his henchmen, Moretz plays out a punchy, foul-mouthed Mean Girls, but Taylor-Johnson is saddled with a Peter Parker journey that starts to drag as the film goes on.
Kick-Ass 2 delivers a lot of laughs, the performances are still good, and it’s certainly ambitious. But it’s also decidedly hit and miss and the constant attempts to compensate for steering too far in one direction finally end up with it dangling over the edge like Michael Caine’s bus in The Italian Job.
It doesn’t match the highs of its predecessor but, it must be said, it’s a fun ride.