Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass was an extremely violent and surprisingly fun addition to the comic book movie genre when it came out in 2010, but when its box office numbers disappointed the chances of a sequel looked dim. Now that writer/director Jeff Wadlow’s Kick-Ass 2 is actually here, however, we have to wonder if maybe we should have left this franchise where it started
Telling three separate narratives within one big story, the sequel finds Dave Lizewski a.k.a. Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor Johnson) continuing his efforts to help the city as a low-rent superhero; Mindy Macready a.k.a. Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) leaving the violent vigilante world behind to try and be a normal teenager; and Chris D’Amico a.k.a. The Motherfucker (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) looking for revenge against Kick-Ass for killing his father, becoming the world’s first supervillain in the process. While two of these narratives manage to be modestly entertaining, Mindy’s story drags the whole film down. Kick-Ass’s efforts to join a team of fellow amateur crime-fighters called Justice Forever introduces some interesting, though underdeveloped, side characters like Jim Carrey’s born-again, ex-mobster Captain Stars and Stripes. Chris's transformation into The Motherfucker’s gives the audience a peek into how a supervillain kick starts their career. But Hit-Girl (who was the best part of the first film) gets screwed over by being stuck in an R-rated, half-baked version of Mean Girls. In the shadow of Kick-Ass’s crime fighting The Motherfucker’s chaos, watching Mindy go up against a Regina George rip-off just feels like a waste of an interesting character and a talented young actress.
The choppy structure holding it all together doesn't make these narratives mesh any better. The stories are really only connected whenever Kick-Ass tries to get Hit-Girl to put on her costume again, but outside of that the film just bounces back and forth, failing to establish any real rhythm. Up until the climactic finale, the three central arcs feel completely disjointed, which isn’t exactly what you want to see in a sequel that’s supposed to reunite the fun, interesting characters from the first movie.
Kick-Ass 2 has focused a lot of its marketing focusing on the movie’s gratuitous violence and shock value, but it weirdly doesn’t even deliver on that front. While there certainly is plenty of gore to go around – characters getting stabbed, shot and having body parts chopped off – but it isn’t anything you don’t normally see in an R-rated action film. Even the impact of Moretz’s Hit-Girl is lessened, as the actress has grown a lot in the last three years and isn’t the same adolescent we saw in the 2010 original. I’d even go as far as to say that the movie is far more graphic when it comes to language, but even that feels mostly forced.
Many of the film’s flaws originate in the source material from comic book writer Mark Millar and illustrator John Romita Jr., but to its credit the movie actually makes some very important changes. There are parts of the comic arc on which Kick-Ass 2 is based that are downright sadistic, with scenes of animal mutilation and rape, but not only are those elements dropped from the adaptation, Wadlow actually openly mocks how awful those ideas were in the first place.
There’s a good amount to like in Kick-Ass 2, including some manic performances from Mintz-Plasse and Carrey as well as some cool comic book flourishes by Wadlow (such as having subtitles appear in speech bubbles and new settings set up with yellow boxes in the top left corner of the screen). But the good stuff is continually buried in the things the movie gets wrong. The end of the film does set up the story for a potential part three, and while part of me wants to see if there’s any chance the series could be redeemed, it might just be smarter to let sleeping dogs lie.