With Kick-Ass 2 it’s impossible to pin something down and hold onto it for criticism because everything about the story, the script, and the acting is fluid. Things are satirical, things are referential to its comic book origins, and it gets jarringly dark with no catharsis for anything but the main story. It would be much easier to say this movie was good and call it a day but I can’t. That wouldn’t be my honest opinion. Even if right now honesty is a mess. So I’m sorry if my review snags on story elements or is inconsistent with the style of the movie. I may say something is being done in a serious way but it’s actually trying to be subversive. I have no general thesis or overarching reason for what I’m going to say beyond “What the hell?” because I found myself wanting to shout that at regular intervals for character choices, plot developments, and Seth MacFarlane-esque jokes (but with a different inflection because those make me laugh).
There is so much stuff wrong with this movie. But it also does some other stuff really well, and I can’t tell whether or not I would want to recommend it based on the glimmers of light through the darkness. I guess the best way to do this is if you didn’t mind that light/dark metaphor, go see Kick-Ass 2. If you saw it as a troubling cliché, you’d probably do better staying away from theaters showing it.
Here’s the long and short of it before delving into spoilers to describe just what’s wrong with it and what’s right. It’s got good action and a decent amount of laughs, and Jim Carrey is exceptional in this as Colonel Stars and Stripes, but Kick-Ass 2 doesn’t know how to really elevate the tropes and make them truly subversive of the medium it’s playing off of. For the most part the dialogue is too melodramatic and while it feels like over time this might become endearing, it doesn’t.
Okay, Spoiler Territory.
Taking place a few years after the last one, Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl have given up their positions as resident super heroes, sort of. Hit-Girl skips school to train and Kick-Ass has gotten bored with an average life. So little by little they edge their way back into the hero world. But as they get closer, Hit-Girl is pulled away by her foster father who convinces her to give high school a shot by introducing her to the popular clique. Meanwhile, Kick-Ass is pulled further into being a hero when the son of mob boss “What’s His Name” from the last movie has a teensy bit of a breakdown, puts on his mother’s S&M wear, and dons himself the supervillain known as (pardon me) “The Motherf*cker.” He raises all kinds of hell using his inheritance and his assistant, John Leguizamo, to centralize all the crazies of the city to his villainous cause, giving them supervillain names of the same quality as his. For the first half of the movie, this is where the laughs come from. Christopher Mintz-Plasse plays this over-the-top in a way similar to Steve Carell’s character in The Office, Michael Scott. Goofy and clueless but with enough influence to actually cause problems when he gets riled. The movie’s problems start at the mid-point when John Leguizamo gets killed. Michael Scott was a good character because his flaws were rooted in a surprisingly detailed and off putting childhood that he’s constantly trying to correct even into his forties. And in that way, for everything he does wrong, he eventually apologizes or finds a sincere moment for the audience to latch on to and relate with or at least sympathize with. Here, Mintz-Plasse’s (because I don’t want to say the character name again) annoyance level is simply jacked up to eleven and he goes completely off the rails. There’s nothing left of him to relate to. He’s just stupid. The jokes become cheap, his plan becomes nonsense and eventually you’re just waiting for Kick-Ass to come kick his ass.
Then there’s the good guys. With Hit-Girl trying out high school, Kick-Ass joins a group of similarly styled superheroes called “Justice Forever,” headed up by a born again Christian and former mob enforcer named Colonel Stars and Stripes. He is one of those lights in the movie I mentioned earlier. He doesn’t bring the same manic energy as Nicolas Cage (and this movie is worse for it) but the Colonel is one of the few multi-dimensional characters in the story and is really fun to watch for the fifteen minutes of screen time he gets before the bad guys show up wondering how a multi-dimensional, resolute character could exist in their world and immediately kill him. He was the only hero with any charisma since Kick-Ass became Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3 and they killed him off before he could do anything really good. There are some other heroes and they have some charm to them, but you’ll forget their names right after you walk out of the theater, instead thinking their names are Turk Turkleton.
Now that Hit-Girl is older, all the swearing isn’t so edgy but her Family Guy style run through a high school where students are stereotypical archetypes of a vicious caste system feels very relatable if a bit extreme. It does raise some questions however. Everyone is so clearly shallow, why does she face the indecision in the first place? From her perspective it should be clear that these people are awful from the very start. After they inevitably crush her spirit by driving her into the woods and then… just leaving. Why would that hurt her in any way? It’s not in any public venue where the school laughs at her and she didn’t even know the person she was going with. It makes her inevitable revenge feel both like it’s not enough for how awful they are and yet too much for how little they did.
More importantly though, where is the catharsis? John Leguizamo is killed so “The Supervillain” (Still not saying his name) can learn a lesson when the real people in charge of organized crime start getting pissed at him for making so much noise. John Leguizamo represented a lone voice of reason in his ear so it makes sense he dies. But instead of even a half-cocked plan for revenge, not because he was a friend but because someone went against him, “The Supervillian” just takes it. He walks right out the door and none of it is brought up again. Also lacking catharsis is the part where the kid who sells out Kick Ass, and is directly responsible for his father’s murder, for some reason doesn’t have his spine snapped in half for throwing a fit and getting SOMEONE’S DAD MURDERED all because he was teased a few times. I know that’s a trope for the heroes to cast off someone with arrogance and watch it bite them in the end but usually it’s for a stronger reason than, “I’m clearly not original calling myself Ass-Kicker so I’ll kill your dad.”
This movie gets especially bizarre towards the end. Good guys and bad guys stop making sense and choices become Nolan style rip offs when an army of superheroes who have established they can’t actually do much face off against the supervillains who have plainly murdered half of New York’s law enforcement officers and Jim Carrey, in addition to having almost raped Kick-Ass’s girlfriend. It’s not even some clever work around where everyone has unique abilities that can come together in a daring plan to save the day. It’s just a wall of heroes crashing into a wall of villains, as incomprehensible as when it happened in The Dark Knight Rises.
I understand how tropes work, taking an overdone idea and using it in a different way to subvert an original theme, but here they just don’t work because too many are used, and too often. Various characters used the phrase, “this is real life, not a movie or a comic book” no less than ten times (or at least it seemed that often). Vengeance against the mean girls at school is always fun to watch but here it doesn’t make any sense because the way it happened constitutes assault and it was done in a room full of witnesses. Foreshadowing a syringe to be used in a worst-case-scenario as deadly, when it turns out to be a helpful adrenaline boost was just annoying. Everyone goes through the ropes of learning responsibility, except with more severe consequences than one would expect, and having learned nothing from the broken promises that cause them. The Bad Guys have no plan besides to get paid and have no problem with killing everyone and everything despite there being no coherent plan or endgame. It’s comic book logic fused with the real world dilemmas of being a vigilante and it all falls in on itself when the movie tries to be serious and completely ludicrous at the same time, solely for the fact that they keep shouting at the audience that it’s real life! The previous movie worked so well because Kick-Ass fell into this ongoing battle between Big Daddy and the mob, who could have their own comic book story while Kick-Ass was grounded in reality until the end where they collided. Here, Kick-Ass inherits the comic book story and the grounding in reality which mix like oil and water. Sure the violence is ultra and some characters have color, but that isn’t all it takes to make a good movie. You need a coherent set of rules in the world you build and you need to stick to them.