“This is real life.”

That’s the supposed lesson presented during the first Kick-Ass as Dave Lizewski is beaten to within an inch of his life and later tortured and almost murdered by a horde of mafia goons who kill Big Daddy, a former cop turned vigilante and loving, yet terrible father.

The stakes are real, there are consequences to playing make-pretend superheroes — this is the message, but then all of that is undercut when Dave aids Big Daddy’s daughter, Hit Girl, in her quest for revenge. In the end, the pair soars high above New York City, on their way toward a “normal” life after killing the bad guy with a bazooka.

It’s an ending that is basted in cliche, but it fits as a cap to a fun and empty collection of over the top action scenes that are tied together by the thin thread of a paint by numbers script.

Kick-Ass didn’t light the world on fire with its box office receipts, bringing in just $48 million at the US box office and about the same through international markets, but it was well received and studios seemingly love to be in the comic book movie business, hence, a sequel was born.

“This is real life.”

This time out, Dave actually says those words, spitting them out at the film’s conclusion after enduring yet another revelatory journey once he re-claims the “Kick-Ass” mantle, participating in a bit more make-pretend heroing with a group of other wannabe heroes that have names like Night Bitch, Battle Guy, Dr. Gravity, and Colonel Stars and Stripes.

Dave’s the one suffering through the losses this time, though. The Motherfucker (formerly Chris D’Amico and The Red Mist) is trying to tear apart his life, fueled by a hunger for revenge over the death of his father at Kick-Ass’ hands in the first film.

Kick Ass 2 review

As a villain, Christopher Mintz-Plasse is his usual somewhat awkward and irritating self, but as he hams it up, it becomes clear that he’s sorta perfect as a spoiled rich kid with a heart set on evil and a bank account that can buy him all the cool toys and wannabe supervillain flunkies that he needs to wage war on the forces of good and Kick-Ass.

As for those flunkies, they’re mostly for show, save for Mother Russia, an 11 foot tall Russian woman who looks like she is the love child of Dolph Lundgren, Brigitte Nielsen, and a cement column.

She’s a near clone of The Russian, Kevin Nash’s human in-human villain from The Punisher (though that character was hardly that film’s only problem), but she sticks around throughout the film’s final two acts, serving as the primary muscle and the character, through which, writer/director Jeff Wadlow trots out all of his most disturbingly creative and graphic violence.

In many ways, Mother Russia is being used in the way that Hit Girl was used in the first film, but here, Wadlow can’t do what Matthew Vaughn did. Wadlow can’t rely on the shock value of a child assassin, so instead, he goes bigger in a literal way that throws the film off stride as lawnmowers fly through the air and the notion of “real life” becomes a blip in the rear-view mirror.

Kick Ass 2 review

Speaking of Hit Girl, she’s not absent from this film, but she’s not fully present either. Despite an early jump back into old habits, Mindy McCready spends the bulk of the picture trying to behave on orders from her guardian, Marcus (played this time by Morris Chestnut, though not with any glory thanks to a poorly written character). That means that we get an embedded mini-Mean Girls sequel in Kick-Ass, some teen angst, and some gross out humor (wanna know what CGI diarrhea looks like?).

By the time Hit Girl makes her full return on the wings of a contrived “Be yourself” moment of defiance against Marcus and normalcy, it’s too late for her character to recapture and build on whatever glory she had in the previous film. Sure, she’s more vicious and hardened than all the others, but unlike last time, when she was something new that we hadn’t seen before — a fictional hero and misguided child soldier out for blood — this time she’s just another wannabe in dress up, one of an unimpressive gang.

Really, a lot of that goes for Kick-Ass 2 as well.

Kick Ass 2 review

The Good: Jim Carrey was fun, but he is far from as impactful as Nicolas Cage was in the first film in a character whose narrative purpose was similar. Carrey’s also not in this film that much. Was that why he bailed on promoting Kick Ass 2?

The Bad: Wadlow tries to make a light moment out of a planned rape. The Dissolve’s Tasha Robinson points out the error of this moment far better than I could.

As she mocks him, he turns away and desperately tries to stimulate his uncooperative penis; finally, he whines that he’s just not in the mood right now. It’s sort of a funny moment, a conscious satirical defanging of the “women in refrigerators” comic trope, in which heroes’ love interests are raped, mutilated, or killed to give the hero a little cheap motivating angst. Except that then, the villain tells his minion to viciously beat the girl instead.

End Result: Overall, I give Kick-Ass 2 two and a half stars.

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