Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloë Grace Moretz, Jim Carrey, Donald Faison, Lindy Booth, Clark Duke, John Leguizamo, Olga Kurkulina
(Universal Pictures; US theatrical: 16 Aug 2013 (General release); UK theatrical: 16 Aug 2013 (General release); 2013)
Just make the Hit-Girl movie and get it over with, would you? Like Gru’s goofy minions in Despicable Me, audiences seem to love the black and purple spandex’s smackdown kitten, her barely legal likeability accented by an astonishing ability to kick major butt. She’s the only thing worth waiting for in the otherwise labored, overdone Kick-Ass 2. This unusual sequel to the marginal hit from 2010 does something so simple and yet so destructive that it turns the entire movie into a chaotic confused mess. By giving our hero and his female compadre a group of like-minded masked vigilantes to hang with, as well as a neophyte supervillain and his equally large gang of baddies, we end up with too many characters, too many subplots, and too many diversions from what made the first film so effective.
Indeed, the original movie was more or less a comic book geek’s coming of age. It centered on a young man named Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who decides to be a real life superhero. Donning a modified green and yellow track suit and carrying clubs, be patrols the streets of New York and gets his ass handed to him on a regular basis. Eventually, he meets up with Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her father, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) who give him serious lessons in crime fighting. Eventually, the trio take on mafia crime boss Frank D’Amico in a showdown which sees the newly named Kick-Ass kill the baddie with a bazooka. This makes his impressionable son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) insane with vengeance. Part 2 picks up with the boy altering his own pretend persona to that of an evil doer named The Mother Fucker. His singular goal - kill Kick-Ass.
In the meantime, our hero has partnered up with Hit-Girl, though she is thinking about giving it all up to be a regular teenager. Dave/Kick-Ass also joins up with a Justice League like collection of caped crusaders including Captain Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), Professor Gravity (Donald Faison), someone called Night Bitch (Lindy Booth), and school buddy Marty Eisenberg (Clark Duke), who goes by the alter ego of Battle Guy. Not to be outdone, Mr. MF creates his own army of bad-asses, including someone called The Tumor (Andy Nyman), another called Black Death (Daniel Kaluuya), and a statuesque Amazon straight out of a USSR propaganda poster, the lethal Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina). There’s also a good cop (Omari Hardwicke) who now looks after Mindy, a former D’Amico bodyguard (John Leguizamo) who Chris befriends, and a collection of spoiled school girls who are out to make Hit-Girl’s life Hell.
Phew. Talk about a packed house. Like the age old admonition that too many cooks spoil the broth, Kick-Ass 2 suffers from having too many characters and not enough time to deal with them all. Heck, an entire franchise could be built around Mother Russia and/or Captain Stars and Stripes alone. Each one has an intriguing backstory. Both are very efficient when it come to their calling, and each are essayed in a way which makes their particular personas iconic and memorable. Had Kick-Ass 2 just been about our hero and heroine, their new mentor the Captain, and their battles with Chris “Mother Fucker” D’Amico and his new Soviet sidekick, we’d be set. There’d be a nice callback to the previous film (a father figure to replace Big Daddy), some black hat/white hat symmetry (Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl vs. The MF and Mother Russia) and a real sense of moving the story along without going overboard.
Instead, Kick-Ass 2 turns all titanic on its viewers, violating the treatise that states almost exclusively that sequels shouldn’t compromise the franchise less the series is stopped dead in its potential tentpole tracks. Here, by incorporating so much ancillary stuff into the movie mix, we end up questioning our affection for the first film. True, this narrative moves away from the buoyant boy’s adventure tale of the original, but Dave is still a likeable enough lead. But it’s Mindy we really care about, and it’s why a Hit-Girl movie would be a good idea. Even when she’s downplaying her fighting skills to try out for the school’s dance team, she uses her knowledge of movement and defense to put the popular clique in their place. When they try to get back at her (in a sequence so silly you can see it coming from a Carrie White mile away), she’s got some high tech payback that offers up its own scatological delights.
It’s an odd aggrandizement when you consider that, three years ago, previous director Matthew Vaughn was having to defend the character from criticisms about her age, her violent propensities, her coarse, vulgar language, and the effects the role would have on young Ms. Moretz. All of that is still present, perhaps even more so. Now, the foul mouthed munchkin is the sequel’s main asset, a reminder of how fun the first film was without turning her portrayal into a moral issue. She’s a solid foundation upon which an entire separate storyline could be built, offering up the complexity and the completeness that others in this franchise fail to have. Even Kick-Ass, for all his hopped up adolescent longings, has become surprisingly neutered this time around.
In fact, for a film so overwhelmed by stuff and things, Kick-Ass 2 feels empty and hollow. It doesn’t help that Christopher Mintz-Plasse plays every one of his scenes as though he’s trying to talk to some dim deaf guy. He screams his lines, over enunciating as if that makes for a memorable fiend. You can see the difference in how Ms. Kurkulina or Mr. Carrey bring about their characters. Each one actually goes for depth and dimension, not high pitched histrionics. Elsewhere, moments build and then are tossed aside without much meaning or impact. A couple who name their crime fighting collective after their missing son has potential, but are left for a mere sight gag toward the end. A confrontation between Chris and his jailed Uncle might have the death of another character at its crux, but it fails to fully pay off, if at all.
Maybe Kick-Ass 2 suffers from middle movie syndrome. Perhaps this is all an elaborate set-up for a triumph trilogy return (the post-credits stinger would suggest there is more coming), even with Hit-Girl riding off into the sunset. Indeed, when you best character is making a break for some other scenario, you can tell your material has been milked for all its worth. While popularity can’t guarantee success, it’s clear that Ms. Moretz could make a solo Hit-Girl film work. Anything would be an improvement over the limp, unlikable results offered here.