The superhero movie was given the punk-rock treatment in Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass,” an irreverent satire of the genre that scored with critics and audiences alike. But while the film was a mild success commercially, the chances of a sequel seemed pretty unlikely, especially for anyone who read the darker and more sadistic second volume of Mark Millar’s popular comic book series, which is borderline distasteful in its attempts to raise the stakes. Thankfully, director Jeff Wadlow (replacing Vaughn) tones down many of those more questionable moments by mining them for laughs instead of shock value, and it works for the most part, creating a sequel that, although it lacks the provocative originality of its predecessor, maintains the same sense of fun and over-the-top absurdity that made the first “Kick-Ass” such a blast.
Two years have passed since Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl took down mob boss Frank D’Amico, and in that time, hundreds of new superheroes have begun to pop up across the country. Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) continues to wage Big Daddy’s war against crime, but when her guardian Marcus (Morris Chestnut) makes her promise to stop playing vigilante and live a normal childhood as Mindy Macready, Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is left without a partner. As Mindy endures a “Mean Girls”-like nightmare at high school, Kick-Ass joins a superhero team called Justice Forever, led by a former mob enforcer turned born-again Christian named Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). Meanwhile, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) plots his revenge against Kick-Ass for killing his dad, rebranding himself as the world’s first-ever supervillain, The Motherfucker, and assembling an army of criminals and crazy devotees to wreak havoc on the city, which ultimately forces Mindy out of early retirement.
Wadlow does an admirable job of combining two volumes worth of source material into a more streamlined narrative – and like the first film, many of the changes are major improvements – but “Kick-Ass 2” is bursting at the seams with so much content that it becomes too much to contain in one film. With the exception of some early interactions between Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl (including a humorous callback to the original), all three leads are pretty much off doing their own thing for most of the movie. And while it’s nice to see more of Mindy and Chris this time around, Dave’s story suffers as a result.
Taylor-Johnson is still the heart and soul of the film, but the other two actors are so enjoyable in their respective roles that it’s really hard to complain about him being shortchanged. Moretz gets a lot of the best one-liners and action as expected, but it’s Mintz-Plasse who steals the show as The Motherfucker, playing him like a bizarre cross between the Joker and McLovin. The movie also features some amusing supporting turns from Donald Faison (as a fellow superhero called Dr. Gravity), John Leguizamo (as The Motherfucker’s trusted right-hand man) and an almost unrecognizable Carrey (donning a prosthetic nose and a thick New York accent), who shines in the Nic Cage mentor role. Carrey doesn’t get much screen time to make an impression, but he’s easily one of the film’s standouts thanks to his surprisingly understated performance.
The biggest problem with “Kick-Ass 2” is the tone, stuck somewhere between subversive satire and falling into the very conventions that it’s sending up. It’s a case of wanting to have your cake and eat it too, because although becoming more like an actual superhero movie is a logical evolution to the story, it nevertheless leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth. It also feels like Wadlow is trying too hard to be funny and irreverent with all the cutesy references and potty language (and don’t get me started on the vomit scene), but while “Kick-Ass 2” may not live up to the quality of its predecessor, the characters are so entertaining and uniquely charming in their own way that they definitely make Millar’s madcap universe worth revisiting a second time.