The costumed high-school hero Kick-Ass joins with a group of normal citizens who have been inspired to fight crime in costume. Meanwhile, the Red Mist plots an act of revenge that will affect everyone Kick-Ass knows.
What was most impressive about Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass was its impressive balance of tone. I remember laughing at Hit Girl’s first fight scene from the psychotic hilarity of seeing a little girl slaughter criminals. But the moment Mark Strong’s Frank D’Amico buried a backspin kick into Hit Girl’s face in the climatic fight, I was in utter shock having suddenly witnessed a young girl being brutally beaten up by an adult. Vaughn was able to track the audience emotionally, highlight the exact elements that he wanted the audience to feel in a given scene and lead them through it’s tonal shifts naturally. So the key question for the sequel is, will the filmmakers be able to maintain that balance in tone for Kick-Ass 2?
The Kick-Ass/David Lizewsk role is in a bit of a disadvantage because he’s physically inferior to Hit Girl, but Aaron Taylor-Johnson makes it up with a genuine goodness. You believe Dave sincerely wants to make the world a better place, even if it’s just cause he’s read too many comic books and has nothing better to do. The most interesting part about Kick-Ass is he is growing towards where the audience wants to see him, truly kicking some ass and succeeding at it. Chloe Grace-Moretz’s Hit Girl has a fish-out-of-water storyline that’s pretty interesting but it goes on a teensy bit long. We’re waiting for her to be Hit Girl and the story has to untie a lot of knots before she can do it. Christopher Mintz-Plasse is naturally funny and has good comic timing as The Motherfucker. He pulls off his ironic mustache.
Jim Carrey completely transforms himself as Colonel Stars and Stripes. There’s always been a creepiness to Jim Carrey’s manic expressions (I always thought he can play a good serial killer) and here he taps into that for proper dramatic effect. I couldn’t take my eyes off Colonel Stars and Stripes, as I was desperately trying to find “Jim Carrey-isms” underneath this performance. Suffice to say, I couldn’t find them.
In the end, Kick-Ass 2 is not as structurally sound as the first movie. I attribute this to the absence of adult characters like Mark Strong and Nicolas Cage, and the heavy duty of the three younger actors having to carrying the story. The central story is about these three teenagers finding their identity without parental guidance. Each character has their own separate storylines for a majority of the movie, which means the film is working harder tonally to balance all three.
The absence of the parental figures also affects the humor, as it means there’s no straight man reacting to the craziness coming from the teenagers. This explains the common complaint that Kick-Ass 2 is more crass than its predecessor. It comes off more crass because there’s no characters deflecting or commenting on that crassness, so the humor comes off more obnoxious because it’s directly playing straight to the audience. John Leguizamo, for example, is a good straight man to Christopher Mintz-Plasse, but he has too small of a part to make a resounding effect. So it’s easier to be offended by the humor and makes it harder to laugh at.
Even as crass and politically incorrect as it was, it was still funny. Two noteworthy scenes were The Motherfucker naming his henchmen and another in which one of his henchmen, Mother Russia, fights the police. The pop soundtrack is used effectively to punctuate the necessary comical beats. And yes, the fights are pretty violent.
So, is it as fresh and exciting as the first film? No, it’s not even as interesting, but it’s the natural progression of this story. Second installments are usually about the superhero contemplating about quitting. From a story standpoint, it is essential to see Kick-Ass, Hit Girl and The Motherfucker make their own choices about who they want to be and develop. So in focusing on the characters, there is actually more heart in this sequel. Admittedly, I wonder what would Matthew Vaughn would have done differently, but it’s fine as it is. I look forward to seeing where the story ends in part three.