Vigilante Teens Return to “Kick Ass”
What did we love about the first “Kick-Ass?” An 11-year-old girl trained to cut down a drug den with only a penknife, while slinging the not-so-nice names of “p—y” and “c–ts” at roomfuls of grown men three times her size. A chicken-armed, bespectacled teenager wholeheartedly taking up vigilantism, while wearing a vibrant green costume that bore little to no resemblance to the coat-of-arms of Krypton.
The first “Kick-Ass” was released in 2010 and was written, directed and produced by Matthew Vaughn who before then had directorial and producer’s credits for gritty, ironic and bloody stylish British gangster films, including “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” “Snatch” and “Layer Cake,” hot in his trouser pockets. This fact, however, escaped the rather ugly beast of expectation for “Kick-Ass.”
When it comes to emotional value and movie craft quality, though, the film ended up something of a dark horse to me, since it was promoted and marketed as a “Scary Movie 29341.3” of San Diego Comic-Con.
Accordingly, I apportioned and downsized my expectations for the inevitable screening. The film actually ended up being a gleeful shot of adrenaline, wit, satire and stylishness into the broody cheese of the superhero genre. It was compellingly complete with brilliantly-paced action sequences and well-placed emotional development of both the plot and the instantly beloved kitchen-sink heroes. Expectation, in the case of the first “Kick-Ass,” was joyously rocketed away.
Critical expectation and responsibility to the successes of the first film, however, were the real super villains of its sequel.
“Kick-Ass 2” is directed by Jeff Wadlow, whose directorial credits include “Cry_Wolf” and the MMA high school drama “Never Back Down,” with Vaughn taking on the role of producer.
The film predictably picks up a couple years after where the first left off. Aaron Taylor-Johnson reprises the role of Dave Lizewski, now a senior in high school and retired from his vigilante escapades as Kick-Ass.
In the two years since he first debuted his voice-cracked brand of DIY heroism, his Kick-Ass persona inspired a movement of masked vigilantism across the country.
Meanwhile, Chloe Grace Moretz returns as Mindy Macready, who was orphaned in the first film’s most poignant scene.
She continues living out her late father’s crime-fighting legacy in secret as the scene-stealing vigilante Hit-Girl of toddler foul-mouthed fame. In this film, she’s a little older and a little more economical about her language (for every uttered swear, she pays a dollar to the “Swear Jar”).
And there sure isn’t a swear jar big enough to contain what she has to say about the “normal” teenaged life her foster-father Marcus believes she needs. According to him, the vigilante lifestyle, especially when fueled by a grown-up’s vengeance, is no good for young Mindy’s psychology. When Marcus catches Hit-Girl attempting to renew her crime-fighting team with Kick-Ass, she is forced to trade in her mask and nunchucks for rehabilitative One Direction parodies, dance squad auditions and Queen Bee stings. Because a “real” and normal life, dear Mindy, is a “Mean Girls” knock-off.
Christopher Mintz-Plasse also reprises his role as Chris D’Amico, mourning his murdered mob-boss father from the first film.
Hell-bent on exacting revenge against Kick-Ass, he does away with his Red Mist persona from the first movie and is born-again as “The Motherf–ker”. The Motherf—er, costumed in his deceased mommy’s all-black wet leather bondage provocateur pieces, makes an amusing Freudian nightmare out of the spirit Marvel Comic’s rival: Batman. He even calls himself an “evil Bruce Wayne” and squeakily proclaims, “my super power is that I’m rich as f–k.”
These are his most memorable lines and moments in his lackluster fish tank of racist humor. In his quest to become the world’s first super villain, he purchases an international team of deadly criminals which includes Mother Russia — a freakishly hulkish, cannibalistic and deadly-strong man-woman with neck-breaking thighs and cropped peroxide blonde hair. And yes, really: The Motherf—er and Mother Russia on the same team is nothing short of one of the most enjoyable standouts of the film.
Ultimately, “Kick-Ass 2” falls short of its Vaughn predecessor. The most glaringly apparent flaw in the film lies in its incessant and strained panhandling for humor in the wrong places, from its lame over-dependency on sex and genital jokes to attempted comic relief in a near-rape scene: after goons forcefully pin down a DIY super heroine in the bathroom, and one super-villain fails to “get in the mood,” we are supposed to shriek with laughter at his “limp” character.
Whether or not this happened in the actual comic book version or not, moments like the latter example do nothing for the hackneyed work of subverting reality and fantasy violence when portrayed on-screen.
The film tends to fall back on tired genre conventions and DC Comics’ enmity in place of actual character development.
In portraying Hit-Girl’s conflict of submitting to finding a niche in high school hierarchy, the script insultingly consults “Mean Girls” and “Carrie” to eye-rolling effect. For much of the film, Hit-Girl/Mindy’s main antagonist is Regina George 2.0, who informs her at the cool kids’ lunch table, “you wanna get real Minky? In the real world, I win. I go to an awesome college, I marry a hot guy and I make adorable babies for my nanny to take care of while we vacay in Paree. My life is gonna rock!”
Commendation, however, goes to Moretz for charismatically committing to her badas–, self-actualized character. She still steals every scene they put her in.
And though she is forced to jump those banal and cliché plot hoops before she is finally allowed to jump walls and high-speeding cars as Hit-Girl, no love is lost. But crushing my hopes, there simply was not enough of Mindy as Hit-Girl — the soul of the franchise.
Other important character arcs and emotional climaxes (i.e. certain character deaths) of the film are rushed and cheaply passed off at an irritating pace.
Time and again, perfunctorily placed traumatic events and revenge plots are taken for granted as characterization — but no single character, except perhaps Hit-Girl and The Motherf—er, leaps out for audiences to cheer for or against.
Overall, the film retains the “fun” factor of its predecessor. It is a go-to for a playful romp of masturbation jokes, live action video-game gore and Comic Con gawking summer fun. It is the “Kick-Ass” follow-up us fans have always deserved, but did not want.
— By Malika Gumpangkum