“With no power comes no responsibility.” Gleefully riffing on the teen angst horse pucky of Spider-Man and Marvel’s other teen superheroes, Matthew Vaughn’s 2010 movie Kick-Ass took Mark Millar and John Romita Jr’s comic book about an ordinary, everyday comic book-loving nerd styling himself as a masked have-a-go-superhero vigilante, rounded off its nastier edges, courtesy of screenwriter Jane Goldman, and delivered a fun, violent, gloriously foul-mouthed shot of adrenaline that celebrated the superhero genre even as it satirised it and made a star of the wonderful Chloe Grace Moretz who f- & c-bombed her way into our hearts. Then Vaughn and Goldman turned around and ruined everything by making the po-faced X-Men: The Wonder Years.
Taking up pretty much where the first film left off, Kick-Ass 2 sees Dave/Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) still playing superhero while the orphaned Mindy/Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), now living with her father’s cop partner Marcus (Morris Chestnut), has retired from crime fighting to concentrate instead on fitting in, making friends and cheerleading. Dave wants them to team up and hit the streets as a dynamic duo to rival Batman and Robin but Mindy’s resistant, has promised her step-father her vigilante days are behind her.
Their exploits in the first film however have inspired a whole new breed of costumed crime fighter, among them the Justice League-style team Justice Forever led by ex-Mafiosi turned repentant Born Again Christian Colonel Stars And Stripes (Jim Carrey) who soon inducts Dave into the gang while Mindy is forced to battle her deadliest enemy yet – teenage mean girls.
Meanwhile, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the first film’s would-be super-villain Red Mist, plots to kill Kick-Ass in order to avenge his father and, after accidentally killing his mother in a sun bed accident, renames himself the Motherf*cker and recruits an army of evil minions, the Toxic Mega C*nts, to help him bring the city to its knees.
With the Toxic Mega C*nts targeting Dave’s family and friends things soon get bloody and the police declare war on masks, rounding up and jailing them to keep the peace. As the Motherf*cker sets in motion his evil plan to bring the city to its knees, it’s up to Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl to stop him…
Bigger, brasher, lazier and less charming than the first film, Kick-Ass 2 is still enjoyable almost in spite of writer/director Jeff Wadlow who jettisons everything that was smart and fresh about Kick-Ass in favour of a straight-forward, predictable, if rather potty-mouthed, superhero sequel. The action scenes are messy, lack the coherence and flair of the original and where once Kick-Ass was a delusional dweeb whose heart was in the right place, now he’s buffed-up and brawny, Hit-Girl having taught him in a montage reminiscent of Team America (played shockingly seriously) how to not only take a punch but to throw one and before you can say “Shazaam!” he’s doing one-handed pull-ups and throwing martial arts moves like he’s Bruce Lee. He’s no longer a satirical swipe at Batman; he is Batman!!! But that’s not what we liked about him. When trying to convince Mindy to team up with him, Dave compares them to Batman and Robin forcing Mindy to observe that while she’s NFL, he’s more Little League. The message is clear; Kick-Ass is no hero, he’s strictly sidekick material. He’s also a bit boring, a fact not helped by Taylor-Johnson’s yawning charisma vacuum, and the film only really comes to life when Hit-Girl or the Motherf*cker are onscreen.
The pint-sized best thing about the first film, Chloe Grace Moretz is again dazzling and her contribution as Hit-Girl has been considerably beefed up, the most enjoyable moments of the film – that don’t involve her kicking major ass or threatening to feed Andy Nyman’s mobster turned super-villain sidekick, The Tumour, his own penis with a pair of pliers – are those where she’s forced to negotiate the Heathers-style environment of high school, finds herself being bullied by the cool kids and fights back in her own inimitable fashion. Moretz is wonderful and while Kick-Ass 2 isn’t the Hit-Girl movie we all secretly would prefer to be watching, her performance whets your appetite for her upcoming turn as Carrie.
One spectacularly ill-judged rape joke (that’s the only truly offensive moment in a film that’s working very hard to offend you) aside, Mintz-Plasse is also great as the Motherf*cker, a cartoon villain with real pathos who’s a damn sight more sympathetic than the hero. There’s strong support too from John Leguizamo as Chris’ loyal bodyguard, Donald Faison and Lindy Booth as DIY heroes Dr Gravity and, Kick-Ass’ romantic interest, the Night Bitch while Olga Kurkulina is terrifying as Bridgette Nielsen-on-steroids villainess Mother Russia but Jim Carrey’s turn as Colonel Stars And Stripes is awful, his surrogate father figure not a patch on Nic Cage’s Big Daddy from the first film. It’s tempting to see his Twitter denunciations of the film as maybe having a lot more to do with the quality of his performance than his discomfort at the film’s explicit violence, which is actually pretty darn gobsmacking for a 15.
When Carrey’s Colonel tells openly gay superhero Insect Man (Robert Emms): “As long as your heart’s in the right place, we don’t care what you put in your mouth,” you can’t quite shake the feeling he’s talking about Kick-Ass 2. While it’s entertaining, boasts some great performances and has one stand-out, exhilarating highway battle, it’s a cynical, largely forgettable exercise that repackages the familiar, tired old superhero clichés it once subverted and whose heart most definitely isn’t in the right place.
Kick-Ass 2 is in cinemas from Friday.
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