Kick-Ass 2 falls into the age-old sequel trap of going bigger at the cost of convincing character development. We return to the world that director Matthew Vaughn (now a producer) wove out of the comic book miniseries by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., but writer/director Jeff Wadlow (Cry Wolf) struggles to hit the same tone. The result is an uneven, colorful, real-world superhero story that has too much to say and not enough time to say it.
Wadlow brings a softer touch than Vaughn did, shedding the first movie’s gritty, unflinching violence in favor of a cheerier atmosphere. Blood is measured in packets rather than buckets. You’ll see more vomit and shit than the red stuff, thanks to a gag-worthy running gag. The dark humor remains, but the unrelenting grimness is gone; instead, there’s a misplaced high school clique drama subplot.
If the original was a love letter to comics, this sequel is better viewed as a love letter to comic book movies.
There’s a broader scope in Kick-Ass 2 as our three main players deal with separate conflicts that are only thematically linked. Dave Lizewski/Kick Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Mindy Macready/Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), and Chris D’Amico/The Mother Fucker (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) struggle with the same identity crisis that most teens work through as they approach young adulthood, but the threads feel too disconnected.
Blame the sequel’s bigger stage for stealing time from the main event. Lizewski hooks up with the masked vigilante team “Justice Forever” after Macready gives up her Hit-Girl ways in favor of life as a popular girl in high school. Meanwhile, D’Amico’s lingering revenge lust prompts him to ditch his previous identity of the Red Mist and establish himself as a super-villain – “The Mother Fucker” – then form team of his own.
The story suffers with so many colorful personalities competing for screen time. Jim Carrey and Russian bodybuilder Olga Kurkulina are notable highlights, as mob enforcer-turned-do-gooder Colonel Stars and Stripes, and ruthless villainess Mother Russia respectively. There’s also added support from the likes of Donald Faison (Doctor Gravity), Lindy Booth (Night Bitch), Andy Nyman (The Tumor), and a returning Clark Duke (Marty/Battle Guy).
Between the newcomers and the added development for returning players like Duke, there’s a lot of story to cram into the 100-minute running time. Too much, in fact. It’s all intended to build toward the admittedly satisfying hero army vs. villain army conclusion, but the Taylor-Johnson, Moretz, and Mintz-Plasse threads feel diminished.
Kick-Ass 2 is at its best when it channels the successes of Vaughn’s earlier effort. Moretz remains a captivating presence once her Hit-Girl fighting instincts take over – even during a particularly memorable and unconventional high school dance team tryout – and the newly ripped Taylor-Johnson is better equipped to hold his own this time around.
Unfortunately, the plotting isn’t strong enough to fully recapture the magic of the original. Kick-Ass 2 is an entertaining movie, sure, but too often the story is content to lean on tropes rather than play with them. If the original was a love letter to comics, this sequel is better viewed as a love letter to comic book movies. The wit remains, but the self-referential acknowledgment that made the 2010 film so appealing is absent.
Fights are fewer in number but bigger in scope, with more garishly attired toughs trading blows than in the original. The thrill of meeting new comic book heroes, learning about their abilities and particular schtick, is never dull. Wadlow lets some printed art style seep through here – though not frequently enough – with individual villain introductions pulled directly from the comic pages, and subtitles appearing in stylized word bubbles. Perhaps more of this flair would have helped to negate the rote chunks of story, but that’s not the direction Wadlow went.
The musical score from Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson is also powerful, highlighted by appropriately epic fanfares that build on the themes from the first movie. This is the sort of score that you find yourself humming days later. Its melodies are as intrinsically linked to the overall feel of the Kick-Ass movies as Danny Elfman’s score is to Tim Burton’s ‘90s work on his Batman movies.
What’s missing most is the heart; where Kick-Ass felt vital, with its sharp send-up of comic book tropes and clichés, Kick-Ass 2 feels more like a full-on embrace of those same repeating patterns. It’s an entertaining sequel, and one that effectively adapts and unfurls more of Millar’s world, but it doesn’t have the same memorable quality that made Vaughn’s effort such a success. You’ve got plenty of punches, but the punch is absent.
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