The original Kick-Ass is one of those masterpieces that, though ubiquitous, wasn’t quite the smash hit that it should have been. It was one of the best movies of 2010 and is safe as #8 in my personal top ten superhero hierarchy of all time.
Jean-Luc Godard had a saying: “The best way to critique a movie is to make another movie.” That right there is the magic behind Kick-Ass. The film functions as an absurdist parody of the superhero filmography, using basic low-budget technical filmmaking to show that superheroes in the real world are mostly just idiots in costumes. If they tried any crime-stopping antics, they’d probably get what happened to Kick-Ass himself in the beginning of the film (stabbed and hit by a car for those who don’t remember). And if there ever was a vigilante capable of superhero-like deeds, there’s a good chance that person would be a little…insane. It even functions as a lesson as to how Hollywood glorifies and treats the superhero – overly dramatizing his story while showing off his look, but if Christian Bale ever put on the Batsuit he wore in the Nolan movies, he’d look ridiculous…and not just because that suit was the worst thing in those films. But Kick-Ass manages to do all that while also just being a really good and highly entertaining movie.
So how’s the sequel?
Directed by Jeff Wadlow, Kick-Ass 2 is a movie where the mistakes it makes and the places where it trips up or falls shy of the excellence of the first film are plentiful enough to earn the movie a negative review from a snooty critic who wants to prove how smart and observant he is, and, if present in another movie, would more than likely sink that film to below-par levels. But it just doesn’t do that here.
It’s true that Dave and Mindy spend most of the film going back and forth on their commitments to super-heroism (to the point that they’re almost starring in two separate movies) until the threat of the bad guy calls. It’s also true that there are one or two troubling scenes that exist mostly to take the plot for a turn, one of which involves a character (played by a certain actor that will make every Game of Thrones fan go nuts) that we unfortunately never see again. It’s true that Katie is gone from the movie save for a single scene at the beginning that serves to show us that she and Dave are no longer together. And there isn’t anyone quite up to the task of replacing Nicholas Cage’s Big Daddy.
Kick-Ass 2 sets out to continue the same joke that the first movie did, more from Mark Millar’s comic book in order to do it. There are a lot of characters in this film, but it doesn’t feel particularly clunky or overbearing. The film lacks the subtlety of the first film, where the comedic bits (like the opening superhero gag or Hit Girl committing mass genocide in that apartment) functioned as surprise moments. This time, the humor is more raunchy and blunt – being more about topping itself. Does it work? Mostly, yes. Jim Carrey definitely pulls out all the stops for the short time he has in the movie to play the gun-fetishistic Colonel Stars & Stripes, whose personality is a combination of Rorschach and Captain America (and when you see the movie, you’ll be wondering just what the heck he was thinking when he started complaining about the violence in reference to Sandy Hook). Christopher Mintz-Plasse is playing a very different Chris D’Amico from the first film but grows into his role as the supervillain “The Mother F***er” quite well, even if his coolest henchman isn’t quite as funny as the black guy with the bazooka.
Unfortunately, the film – particularly Mindy’s arc is undercut by the lack of Nicolas Cage as Big Daddy, and there’s really no way around that. What they come up with her works, but not spectacularly. Dave is eager to try and do more good for his city, as is Mindy Macready until she is talked into giving it up by her new adoptive father in favor of having the normal life that she never got with her real dad. Unfortunately for her, a normal life in high school for a girl like her is Mean Girls but with a way funnier resolution. She can’t shake who she really is, busting out her martial arts when she’s asked to dance in a performance that gets her a standing ovation. But she isn’t sure that she wants to be a superhero again until everyone needs her back. Yes – her arc is basically the classic superhero second movie with her struggling to find that balance between the two worlds that she’s created for herself. Dave, on the other hand, is getting the hang of the superhero business, finding others just like him, and living it up when the villains make their move and he’s over his head again.
These are stories you’ve seen before, but the characters are still themselves and they’re still a lot of fun to watch. Otherwise, it has the majority of what worked in the first movie still going for it – including an action scene that taught me that Wadlow is a big fan of Indiana Jones. This isn’t a sequel that’s looking to redefine what Kick-Ass ultimately “is” or use the first film as a jumping point to take the story in an entirely different and fresh direction. It’s just a really fun action movie in an otherwise lame summer that you’re likely to look back on with a smile.
And for those wondering, given what happened in this movie, there probably won’t be a Kick-Ass 3. Take from that what you will.
The Good: The violence, the language, Chloe Moretz, the ending (which I think is actually good enough to save the film).
The Bad: It’s nothing you haven’t seen before.
The Ugly: Matthew Vaughn’s direction and understanding of using comedy for character development and using such characters to make an entertaining film that is also serious about something is missing here. And ultimately that’s why it doesn’t measure up to the first even if it’s an enjoyable film.
The first Kick-Ass is a film that never needed nor asked for a sequel, but given what they came out with, it could have done a whole lot worse.