Kick-Ass 2, reviewed
Reviewing a terrible book or movie is usually pretty easy; if it's really terrible, one can have a lot of (cheap) fun doing it. Great films or books are harder; you want to do justice to the work in question, not just gush about how awesome it is. The pleasures to be had from successfully reviewing of a work of art can be considerable; I like to think good criticism at least inhabits the same block as good art.
Finding something pithy to say about mediocre work, on the other hand, is not particularly easy, nor is it often very satisfying.
Which leads me to Kick-Ass2, an entertainment for which I'd managed enough hopeful enthusiasm to see in a theatre instead of waiting for the video release, despite the absence of the original's director and writer Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman from the new movie's credits.
Yes, I should have known better. I did know better. But after all, I told myself, some sequels manage to match the original, and sometimes even to surpass it. Wasn't The Wrath of Khan a much better movie than it's predecessor? And The Empire Strikes Back a better film than Star Wars, despite ending in the middle of the story? (I'm tempted to throw The Godfather Part II into this digression, but the truth is, it's been a lot of years since that night and my friend's living room was awfully smoky. So, onwards.)
Kick-Ass (which I reviewed here) managed the difficult trick of knotting together a brutally violent, grossly profane and extremely funny story with a relatively complex and even emotionally moving narrative whose penultimate climax even pulled at the viewer's heartstrings with the betrayal and subsequent murder of Nicholas Cage's brilliantly under-state Batman-doppelganger Big Daddy.
Kick-Ass 2? Not so much. Not so much humour, not so much blood, not so much story — not even so much profanity, the villainous Red Mist's re-naming of himself as The Motherfucker notwithstanding. Though Jeff Wadlow has both the writing and directing credits, the movie feels like art-by-committee, a sequel designed only to cash in on the original.
Kick-Ass 2 is no more nor less than a generic action movie, albeit one with an over-complicated narrative that drags and characterizations that are weak, in large part, because writer/director script tries too hard to be "realistic" — a ludicrous ambition when the story's driving force is a 15 year-old girl with a body-count in the dozens to her name.
Worse still for an action movie, the action itself is flat when it isn't downright confusing. Kick-Ass was a balletic celebration of bloody physicality, a joyfully obscene collage of severed limbs and punctured torsos, of slit throats and exploding heads, of swords and guns and improvised spears (not to mention one bazooka), all accompanied by a tongue-in-cheek soundtrack perfectly suited to its material. And always, Matthew Vaughn's direction ensured the viewer knew what was happening, so matter how fast-paced the carnage (see video at right — probably not safe for work); there was always a narrative in the madness.
In this ham-fisted sequel, Jeff Wadlow's action sequences replace narrative and humour and pointed music with frenetic collages of confusing jump-cuts and loud but generic "action" music in a bland audio-visual stew signifying very little at all.
The story itself is not so confusing, but it is bland, a dumbed-down version of Mark Millar's comic-book sequels, which lost none of the original's gonzo humour and over-the-top super-heroics.
An example of what's lost in adaptation: Following on the death of her father, Hit-Girl is now living with her mother and her late father's former (police) partner. In the comic, she drugs her elders in order to continue her life as a super-hero undetected; in the movie, she just sneaks out her bedroom window, a far less daring narrative choice.
Same with the movie's climax, which makes no sense, as a drama or as characterization.
That final battle features a rag-tag band of well-meaning but basically un-trained "super-heroes" taking on a similar number of very experienced killers — maybe not a well-trained army, but much more than a mob. Unlike Hit-Girl and Kick-Ass's carefully-planned assault on mob-boss Frank D'Amico's urban fortress in the first movie, this involves nothing more than on the a knock on the front door of the super-villain's lair and a subsequent and very confusing melee, as if two mobs of drunken hockey-fans took to the streets after a Stanley Cup final.
Even worse, Hit-Girl breaks character by deliberately engaging in a one-on-one frontal assault on a much stronger opponent, and winning that fight only with the help of a magic elixir (adrenaline) after first pointlessly allowing herself to have the shit beaten out of her.
Suspension of disbelief strains when presented with a slight, 15 year-old girl as a dangerous killer; lame plotting cuts its threads as with a very sharp knife.
Kick-Ass 2 isn't a terrible movie, but it is decidedly mediocre movie, whose best scenes are more or less directly lifted from its forebear. Besides Chloe Grace Monrenz, who is proving to be a real actor (though there are times one suspects even she has trouble believing in this script), the principle performers are adequate at best; even Jim Carey (who did what he could to promote the film by publicly calling it out as too violent post-Sandy Hook) seems to have mailed in his turn as Colonel Stars and Stripes.
If you're a fan of action films, Kick-Ass 2 will probably entertain you enough not to feel ripped-off. But you would do far better to have a night in and rent the original than to step out and pay movie-theatre prices for the sequel.