Thursday, August 15, 2013
Movie Review: Kick-Ass 2
When the original Kick-Ass hit theaters in 2010, it was enigmatic to say the least. Its star was a then-unknown Aaron Taylor-Johnson and it was a hard-R comic book action comedy that featured an 11-year-old girl as a blade-wielding assassin who spews profanity between bouts of slicing off men's limbs.
It was a winking send-up of the traditional superhero film, triumphantly offering its bruised and bloody middle finger to the Hollywood bubblegum machine that produces innocuous popcorn fare like Sam Raimi's Spider-man franchise. Was it good? "Who cares?" the film almost seemed to say, "We're having a ball!"
Now three years older and in the hands of a new director, Kick-Ass 2 is a movie that doesn't know what to do with itself. The same irreverent humor and blood-splattered madness is still present, but a sprawling cast of secondary characters and an unpleasantly dissonant tone makes the fun stretch perilously thin, though it never quite breaks.
The balancing act is articulated at one point by Jim Carrey (a new entry in the franchise), who pauses before busting in on an room full of underworld slime and turns to smirk at the camera. "Try to have fun," he says. "Otherwise, what's the point?" Too true, Jim.
Kick-Ass 2 picks up relatively soon after the events of the first film, in which [Spoiler alert] our heroes defeated mob boss Frank D'Amico by blowing him out of a high rise with a bazooka (the franchise, it should be noted, is not one for subtlety). [/Spoiler alert] Since then, Kick-Ass has hung up his green wet suit and batons for the comparatively mundane life of an average high school senior.
But the ripples from his decision to suit up as the world's first superhero continue to spread, with an ever-growing number of citizen vigilantes donning homemade disguises to patrol the streets in the name of justice. And then there's the issue of Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who has sworn vengeance on Kick-Ass and christens himself the world's first supervillain, shedding his Red Mist persona in favor of a new moniker that can't be spoken in polite company (hint: it begins with the letter M and rhymes with Ice Road Trucker).
D'Amico begins gathering a team of costumed sociopaths and hired guns to take down Kick-Ass and wreak generic havoc on the city. Elsewhere, our titular hero recommits to his alter-ego, training with 15-year old assassin Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) and joining forces with a team of costumed heroes known as Justice Forever, which includes a new love interest named Night Bitch, Scrubs' Donald Faison as Dr. Gravity and Jim Carrey as the team's de facto leader Colonel Stars and Stripes.
It's disappointing that a cloud hangs over Carrey's otherwise gleeful performance now that the actor has publicly withdrawn his support of the film due to it's graphic violence. As the spangled Colonel, Carrey delivers his most enjoyable screen presence since 2004's Lemony Snicketts.
But Carrey's arc illustrates the fundamental flaw of Kick-Ass 2. The mob enforcer turned born-again Christian and his canine sidekick Eisenhower are the best additions to the franchise but because of all the spinning plates in the air they are relegated to a few scant minutes of screen time. There's simply too much to do and too little time as Kick-Ass and his nemesis assemble their respective teams while also competing with a third plotline that sees Hit Girl navigating the social bureaucracy of high school in a bizarro riff on Mean Girls.
Kick-Ass 2 is filled with enough action and jokes to maintain your attention through the 110-minute running time, but most of the film's strengths are squandered in hasty service to an overburdened story. You'll also be forgiven for having to remind yourself from time to time who the movie's star actually is, as the appearance of Taylor-Johnson is his green and yellow has a "Oh yeah, that guy" effect.
Then there's the issue of tone, as the movie never quite decides whether it wants to portray the gritty realism and consequences of a world filled with un-super superheroes or the casual tomfoolery of an action satire. That's a high-brow critique for a movie aimed at the blood and boobs crowd, but the sudden seriousness of one scene in particular left a bad taste in my mouth when squeezed between over-the-top gags about evil shark tanks and the threat of feeding a man his own genitalia. Or for a more specific example, there's a scene in which a female character is almost raped and naturally, that's hilarious, except for the fact that it's not.
And yet, Kick-Ass 2 is nothing if not entertaining. It's no-holds-barred irreverence and violence is shocking in the best ways among a contemporary landscape of bloodless action and family- and dollars-friendly slow-pitch thrills. There is something deeply satisfying about seeing the universal fantasy of suiting up as a DIY superhero in hand-sewn cape and cowl writ large on the movie screen, a fact that Kick-Ass 2 embraces wholeheartedly and allows to play out with all the bombastic indulgence of a fanboy's dream.
*Kick-Ass 2 opens nationwide on Friday, August 16