The least I can do is be open with you guys. I’ll start with the straight facts about where I’m coming from on this one.
Kick Ass 2 is positively dreadful and depressing for me to watch. I didn’t care for the first one, thinking it was quite possibly one of the worst forms of male adolescent fantasy possible, but with a few interesting elements. I dislike Kick Ass 2 so much more that it makes me retroactively realize now that the first movie wasn’t nearly as bad as this one is. While Kick Ass 2 is certainly just as sexist, homophobic, and sleazy, the first film had a lot more going for it now that I think about it. Matthew Vaughn could actually write and direct. There were legitimate stakes involved in the first story. It wasn’t AS sleazy. This film has none of that. It only makes things worse.
Yes, I have read the source material. Both books that have been produced so far. It’s practically immaterial, but while I really don’t like either of them and I despise comparing films too closely to the source material, writer and director Jeff Wadlow has somehow found a way to make a Mark Millar comic even tougher to stomach. I feel physically ill right now.
Say what you will about Mark Millar as a writer and as a human being. Everyone has their own opinion about Millar. Everyone has their own opinion about movies. I’m not a prude or a moralist or someone with an agenda. There are two things that I will give Millar credit for. As much as I personally disagree with his tone, voice, feelings towards women, and casual racism, the man can tell a story and he can tell those stories with an unwavering conviction. It’s something that Wadlow simply can’t do. There isn’t a sincere bone in this film’s body. It’s completely soulless. It replaces Millar’s hard edge with entirely misguided jokes that make the material way more offensive and repellent than Millar ever could have made it.
I’ll get into why in a second, but I am going to stop right here to let some people get off this ride. If the only argument in the positive that you can make about this movie is that it’s a form of escapism or fantasy or wish fulfilment and that I should lighten up, stop reading. This review isn’t for you. I will not hold it against you. It’s not for me to judge a person based on what they like and what they don’t like. Arguing with such logic, however, is a bit akin to arguing with a religious fundamentalist, and anyone with that deep of a belief is the kind of person you don’t get into an argument with for the sake of your own sanity. Fantasy and escapism are subjective and we will never see eye to eye on this.
I bring this up only because I know what site this review is running on and how Millar has his rabid fan base that will defend him to the bitter end. That’s fine. I have friends that surrounded me audibly laughing through the film while I felt like I was in the final circle of hell. I don’t hold it against them. I know deep down they are more than the films they like, but I was so incredibly disappointed with the lot of them in that moment. I had to walk it off and calm down. I’m still shaking with anger from what I saw and heard people chuckling at. I wanted to ask them all how in they could enjoy something this unfunny, unoriginal, illogical, and devoid of actual thrills or craft. I thought better of it. I knew the answer I would get across the board was going to be “I don’t know, Andy, I thought it was fun.” And I knew if I heard that the film would have officially broken me.
Sometime after the events of the first film, Dave (Aaron Taylor Johnson) has hung up his Kick Ass tights more or less for good, until a band of masked crime fighters makes him intrigued enough to come out of semi-retirement despite still being a high school student. He begins training again with Mindy, a.k.a. Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), who now lives with her deceased father’s former cop partner (Morris Chestnut) as her guardian. They begin separate trajectories as Dave joins up with a vigilante squad comprised of masked everyday Joes and Janes known as Justice Forever, headed up by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), a former mob enforcer turned born again Christian. Mindy falls in with the cool kids who lie to her face and say they want to be her friends. They are forced back into battle by the reappearance of Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, formerly going by the superhero name Red Mist, but now sporting modified S&M gear inherited from his dead mother and rechristened as The Motherfucker), still looking for revenge following the death of his father and amassing a team of super villains to make Kick Ass pay once and for all.
Aside from not being well shot, edited, paced, or directed, the biggest problem with Kick Ass 2 is a noticeable discord between Millar’s tone and the tone of the film based on his book. Kick Ass is a decidedly white male adolescent fantasy designed for people who either have a hero complex or are interested in the inner workings of a hero complex. Millar inherently understands that such a worldview and lifestyle isn’t a particularly nice one. His version of Kick Ass 2 goes far beyond the pale in terms of violence and grit. It’s a place that the filmmaker here isn’t willing to go, instead substituting jokes where there should have been actual pathos, grief, and borderline madness. I won’t go into spoilers that compare the comic and the film because that isn’t my style, but with the exception of a tweaked ending I can think of and remember three precise moments where Millar’s work had an impact on the story – sometimes in morally and ethically reprehensible ways – that Wadlow twists around and plays for nervous laughter. To spoil one that particularly irks, I’ll just say that an attempted rape scene is not the place for an erectile dysfunction sight gag delivered by a character that’s a walking punchline instead of a credible threat.
When you follow a film that attempts to make superheroes into real human beings with real issues and you have source material that’s sometimes as uncomfortable to read as Millar’s sequel, to blunt that suggests that either the audience would never be able to handle it or it would never get past the censors. If that’s the case, surely there are other ways to go about dulling the violence without making characters spout half hearted punchlines. If the purpose of a text is to shock and not worry about offending people, then just go for it. Maybe this really isn’t material that should have been handled by a major studio. It does a disservice. It makes the heroes weak and ineffective, their situations into a madcap romp, and the villain into someone who could never in a billion years be thought of as a credible threat to anyone.
The humour is entirely unwelcome considering that Wadlow has also drained the film of any sense of character. Johnson is given precisely one moment where he really has to emote, but otherwise, he’s a much blander hero this time out. Moretz still remains the franchise’s only real ace in the hole, but aside from an unendingly sexist, grotesque, and nasty Mean Girls styled subplot that ultimately adds and subtracts very little, she has remarkably little to do until the final third. If anyone gets let down the most, it’s Plasse, who can’t do anything more than awkwardly mug his way through a role that’s been retooled to be far more comedic and less threatening. His transformation from someone misguidedly seeking revenge to a bloodthirsty psychopath gets blown off pretty much in a single scene, only to lead to more cheap punchlines that rarely rise above the calibre of “Fuck you” or tired “I’m gonna go fuck your mom” styled jokes.
Even when the film attempts to counteract claims that it could be perceived as sexist, racist, homophobic or otherwise misanthropic, it immediately follows with a joke aimed squarely at no one else other than the bros who might be offended by actually being progressive about things. Take, for example, the noble idea of one of the superheroes being a bullied young gay man who refuses to wear a mask because it reminds him of being in the closet. That’s admirable. To follow that admission up with Stars and Stripes making a joke about sucking dicks kills any legitimacy that this character from a marginalized background was created out of any sense of altruism. Hit Girl calls out a group of thugs for the use of the word “fag” and how it makes them seem gay, but no less than seconds later takes an unfunny pot shot at Arabs. Chris refuses to admit that the names he gives to his posse are racist, but rather they’re “archetypical” accounts for yet another form of trying to explain away bad behaviour that’s as unwelcome as it is wholly false. It can be pointed to that Justice Forever does community service in a single scene, but that doesn’t make them saints or at all heroic. It makes them people who we really only see do one thing right before attacking a room full of Asian gang members (another ethnic group unceremoniously dragged through the mud here, even with the appearance of a useless villain who seems to only be there to die).
The assortment of villains and vigilantes are largely interchangeable, mostly just there to simply add to the film’s ever growing body count like it’s a slasher movie minus the charm. But in the interest of positivity there are a few stand outs. Carrey is pretty much a null set as the group’s de facto leader, not being given enough screen time to come up with a character worthy of his talents. John Leguizamo looks like he could fall asleep at any moment as Chris’ primary caretaker. Chestnut fairs far better and adds a considerable amount of warmth that the rest of the film lacks as Mindy’s genuinely concerned, if sometimes clueless, surrogate. Lindy Booth is certainly a charming presence as Dave’s new love interest Night Bitch, but the film quickly abandons a new, smart female role model to turn her into just another woman who needs saving. (It should also be noted that Dave’s previous girlfriend dumps him after a simple misunderstanding and proceeds to brag about the dick size of the man she cheated on him with, because every female in this universe that doesn’t shit talk people, dress in skin tight leather, and beat the shit out of bad guys is an inherently awful human being). Dave’s besties return, played once again by Clark Duke and Augustus Prew, but aside from joining in on the superhero stuff, Duke is useless and Prew is only on hand to deliver possibly the dumbest bit of plot moving exposition in a film this year. The only real chuckles come courtesy of Donald Faison (as a copywriter who thinks he’s a superhero and a physicist) on the hero side and Olga Kurkulina (in her big screen debut) as the behemoth villain Mother Russia. She’s only amusing because she’s essentially just Dolph Lundgren from Rocky IV.
Even worse is how the movie can’t answer one really simple question: How the heck can Dave be so daft that he ultimately doesn’t suspect Chris is behind all the wrongdoing until it’s too late and he has to suffer a tragedy equal to that of Chris? I mean, he had to know that Chris was still out on the streets and still pissed off. It almost acts as if the first film barely even happened. More importantly, how have the police not known this whole time?
And it’s that notion and carelessness that makes me actually admire the first film more and dislike this one so much. Enough points from the book are being hit, for sure, but at what cost? It’s so blunted and reeking of hedged bets at every turn that it’s hard to imagine why anyone would even bother in the first place.
Oh, right. It’s because some people find this fun. Well to quote Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, a movie I often get crap for liking myself:
“Some folks sure got a strange idea of entertainment.”