By Blake Baxter (@bbax2)
During the spring of 2010, Matthew Vaughn’s ultra-violent superhero comedy Kick-Ass became a surprise hit as it shocked, awed, appalled and entertained the hell out of audiences and critics alike. It was based on a 2008 Marvel comic book series that asked, with a hint of self-awareness and a dash of seriousness: What would happen if a regular, powerless kid decided to become a superhero in real life? One of the answers that both the comic and the movie emphasize is that there would be no bloodless triumph over evil. On the contrary, regardless of the victor, copious amounts of blood would be spilt, and it would be that of criminals, heroes, and innocents. It’s an answer that has been touched on in other superhero storylines such as Batman and Spiderman, but what set it apart from those classics was its presentation.
Kick-Ass was unabashedly violent, gory and vulgar. Our teenage hero is brutally beaten and hospitalized, an 11-year old fiercely chops off limbs, while spouting crude one-liners, and countless bad guys are violently murdered. The film generated its fair share of controversy for its depictions of gratuitous violence and, of course, the unrelenting profanity, but it got away with it, because it was wildly fun and entertaining, and because it worked. If there’s one thing that Kick-Ass is not, it’s boring. Yes, it’s shocking, but of course it would be shocking if normal people actually dressed up, armed themselves to the teeth and tried to fight crime. It also has its humorous moments that arise from our hero’s unsmooth mishaps in his civilian life, as well as the overall level of ridiculousness that is present in some of the over-the-top action sequences. And another thing that the film does right is that it moves at its own pace to start the story. The main characters’ slowly developing stories build anticipation and suspense as the action feeds off of Vaughn’s and Jane Goldman’s evenly measured script, rather than feel rushed from it.
The script of Kick-Ass 2, on the other hand, is a complete disaster. Here, Jeff Wadlow, who last penned and directed 2008’s immortal Never Back Down, presents a script that feels rushed almost from the very start. When we last saw him, our hero, (and Kick-Ass’ secret identity) Dave Lizewski, had decided to give up his secret life of fighting crime; he’d killed the bad guy and inspired ordinary people to stand up for themselves so he considered his work done. But all of a sudden, he yearns to go back, only this time he wants to be properly trained so he doesn’t have to rely on his undersized, though no longer pint-sized ally, Hit Girl, as much (nor get his ass kicked as badly). He subsequently dives so hard into training with Hit Girl that he arouses suspicions from his girlfriend, Katie, that he’s cheating on her. Naturally, she dumps him, but unnaturally it doesn’t seem to bother Dave much because, you know, duty calls. But wait, not so fast — before she leaves Katie reveals that she had been cheating on him! And just like that, the movie nonchalantly disposes of a character that Dave spent so much time trying to woo in the first film, one that the film went to great lengths to establish that she was a good person. Anytime a sequel so eagerly and recklessly wipes the slate clean like that, you know it is a bad sign for what’s to come.
With that loose thread casually snipped, the movie progresses into the three main storylines that dominate the middle third of the plot before inevitably converging in the last act. First, Hit Girl a.k.a. the fifteen-year old Mindy Macready, begrudgingly agrees to give up being a superhero, at the urging of her adopted parent, Marcus. So what now, for a violent and vengeful teenager who was robbed of her childhood because she was too busy hurling throwing stars and getting shot in the chest while wearing bullet proof vests? Try to fit in with real kids her age, of course! The movie then descends into an embarrassing subplot; chock full of high school movie tropes and sad Mean Girls references. (It would be remiss not to mention that as ridiculous and disappointing as this movies turned out to be, the acting by its two leads, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloë Grace Moretz, is very strong.)
Kick-Ass, hell-bent on pursuing justice and desperate for companionship, teams up with other wannabe superheroes to form their own ragtag version of the Avengers. Similarly uncreative names like “Battle Guy” and “Night Bitch” make up their team, which is named “Justice Forever”. It is led by a reformed Mafia boss named Colonel Stars and Stripes. The Colonel, played by Jim Carrey, once used his powers for evil, but after he becomes born-again, he turns over a new leaf. (This is ironic, because in real life, Carrey pulled his support from the movie in the wake of the real life violence that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December.)
The last storyline is the most overt effort at getting to the crux of the Kick-Ass universe. In the first film, Christopher Mintz-Plasse played Chris D’Amico, the whiny but amusing son of crime boss Frank D’Amico. D’Amico, desperately seeking validation, takes on the persona of “Red Mist”. As Red Mist, he is able to lure Kick-Ass and his friends to the clutches of his villainous father. He isn’t really a bad guy; he just wants to impress his dad, but after Kick-Ass kills Frank D’Amico to save Hit Girl, the young D’Amico vows revenge.
In this installment, he ditches his vigilante alter ego for the more overtly villainous moniker of “The Motherfucker,” and becomes the revenge-driven Harry Osborn to Dave Lizewski’s oblivious Peter Parker. D’Amico, in the guise of The Motherfucker, wants to become the world’s first real life super villain, except he doesn’t have any powers aside from being — in his own words — “rich as shit.” And so, the spoiled rich kid buys a team of killers and adorns them in ridiculous costumes so they can collaboratively wreak havoc as an organized team of evildoers.
In the original, Mintz-Plasse as D’Amico was appropriately pathetic, though a little sympathetic. Some of his follies made for some of the more humorous parts of the movie, but he was still a person and not just comic relief. In this half-baked sequel, he is a complete joke. He wants to be evil so badly, but he constantly acts like a totally unrealistic cartoon character. This is a critical misstep for a movie that is supposed to be about real consequences. The movie tries so hard to show you that he may be goofy, but he really is an evil scumbag. Although his army kills and terrorizes indiscriminately, Wadlow still can’t resist the opportunity to contradict himself by making “edgy” jokes such as when The Motherfucker appears to be threatening to rape one of the members of Justice Forever, but can’t get an erection. There’s another instance when it seems as if he is going to murder a dog and then says, “even I’m not that evil.”
The point that they are trying to make is consistently undercut by ill-advised attempts at humor. What they are trying to get at is that none of this would have happened if it wasn’t for Kick-Ass. Dave’s decision to put on a mask and fight crime set off a chain reaction that ultimately causes some big time consequences. The problem is that we’ve seen it all before and seen it executed better.
It directly echoes the themes of escalation present in The Dark Knight. A man puts on a suit to fight crime and inspires criminals worse than the ones that he was trying to fight in the first place, and on top of that, people he cared about get hurt and die. The Spiderman movies, comics and TV show all handled a son descending to the dark side to avenge the death of his father in a much more compelling and convincing way. And Quentin Tarantino has achieved the “gratuitous violence as art” angle that the first film put such an enticing and fun spin on time and time again. It just isn’t fresh this time because this sequel presented all the same bells and whistles and expects you to react the same way. It is striving so desperately to be provocative, but it contains very little that will actually get the people going. And to make matters worse, the film hypocritically trumpets the consequences of violence and vigilantism, all the while basking in the aesthetics of it.
In the comics, The Motherfucker and his cohorts actually do rape the girl, they actually do kill the dog and they slaughter many more than seen in the movie. The humor is dark, if it’s even there at all, and it’s far from campy. Creator and writer Mark Millar does not stray from his message. I’m not saying that that version is a movie that I would want to see either. But, to try to sermonize the message of the comic series, while backing down from the brutality when it comes time to get nasty and trying to make a joke out of it, defeats the whole purpose. And that is Kick-Ass 2 in a nutshell: A film that attempts to have its cake and eat it too, without actually having the teeth to chew it up.
Blake Baxter is a native of Illinois and a 2013 graduate of Eureka College. He currently covers the Carolina Panthers for Football.com and previously covered college basketball for ESPN Louisville during the 2012-13 season. He has also written about sports, pop culture and politics for The College Fix, The Wine and Cheese Crowd and an assortment of newspapers. Blake works in the communication and marketing field for Technical Solutions & Services, but aspires to write full-time someday.