Kick-Ass 2 (2013) Film Review, a movie directed by Jeff Wadlow, and starring Chloe Mortez, Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Lyndsy Fonseca, Tom Benedict Knight, Steven Mackintosh, Ella Purnell, Clark Duke, Lindy Booth, Robert Emms, Morris Chestnut, Yancy Butler, Andy Nyman, Garrett M. Brown, Daniel Kaluuya, Donald Faison, John Leguizamo, and Nicolas Cage.
When a film, TV series or musical act achieves a high enough level of pop-cultural reverence, there is always some concern about fan expectations for any sequel, or follow up act. Artists and producers have to decide whether to meet expectations, exceed expectations, or “flip the script,” making enough distinct changes, to the act/ product, to defy expectations. With Kick-Ass 2, the creative team attempted to “flip the script,” providing a solution to a problem no one had.
Kick-Ass 2 picked up some years into the ramifications of the first movie. After inspiring a popular movement, of costumed vigilantes and “concerned citizens,” Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) had walked away from his Kick-Ass alter-ego, only to find himself, near the end of High School, feeling at odds with regular life. Mindy MacReady (Chloë Grace Moretz), having deceived both her cop step-father, and the school, to play hookie as Hit Girl, found herself having just the opposite dilemma. Hit Girl is retired, but not before training Dave, who had decided to re-assume his Kick-Ass identity. Without Hit Girl, Kick-Ass sought out others to partner up with, eventually joining “Justice Forever,” a team of costumed vigilantes. Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), burning to avenge his crime boss father’s death, at the hands of Kick-Ass, but sheltered by his remaining family, emancipated himself to settle the score. No longer Red Mist, his alter-ego upgraded, to a more provocatively titled reflection of his new found extremism (I’m trying not to be profane, here), he set about to form a team of his own. His aim was not to target just Kick-Ass, but all costumed do-gooders. With events spiraling beyond their control, both Kick-Ass and Hit Girl were forced to rethink their previous resolutions. Kick-Ass 2, having started with the previous film’s theme of escapism, by individual costumed players, had now become a team effort, with idealists and psychopaths gravitating towards respective icons of order and chaos.
The original Kick-Ass was considered an under performer, at the box-office, but made something of a splash, in DVD sales and downloads, joining the likes of Fight Club as a slow burned hit, with pop-cultural longevity and a solid fan base. Under performer, or not, a sequel seemed certain. Naturally, fan expectation was high, and some of that fell upon the creators of the comic book source material, Mark Millar (writer) and John Romita, Jr. (artist). With the success of their print sequels, however, it seemed like the big screen sequel would be a sure thing. So here’s what I think happened….
Writer/ director Jeff Wadlow tried to incorporate material from not just the Kick-Ass 2 comic, but a Hit Girl series, that served as a bridge between Kick-Ass 1 and 2. It may have been too much ground for him to cover. Hit Girl’s pursuit of ordinary teenage girl life, while tragic and absurd enough (there was a Boy Band moment I really didn’t need), and culminating in payback justifiably mean enough, for the world of Kick-Ass, amounted to a distracting tangent. Keeping the focus on Kick-Ass, his nemesis (nope, not gonna say it), and their respective teams would have kept the momentum going; Hit girl’s journey to the action being covered separately– say, as an animated short, à la The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury.
I can say something, here, about lessons Warner Bros. should take note of, regarding throwing heroes together, for Justice League, before establishing them individually… but I’m not going to.
Worse than overloading on source material, was the adaptation of that material. The original Kick-Ass actually smoothed over quite a few edges from the book– most notably, the character of Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca), and her relationship with Dave. Of course, relatively few of its would be fans knew this, being initiated by the film, rather than the book. Well, anticipation for the sequel led many to gear up with the follow up books, and expectations soared because it was some really wild stuff. So, in addition to smoothing over even more edges, for the big screen sequel, Wadlow did away with some of the first film’s best elements.
Gone was the Katie-Dave dynamic, but more noticeable was a reduced adult presence. In the original, Big Daddy and Fank D’Amico helped drive the narrative; effectively creating the world Kick-Ass, Hit Girl and Red Mist would populate. For Kick-Ass 2, the grown-ups were props and sounding boards. Left unsupervised, the cosplay kids all lose something. Rejecting her adopted father’s (Morris Chestnut) dreams of a normal childhood, for her, Hit Girl discarded the playful, ironically innocent quality, that made her character so edgy and controversial, to begin with. Kick-Ass’ loss of loved ones cost him the odd quality that made him so relatable, namely fear. Chris D’Amico’s love and devotion for his dad, along with his affinity for Kick-Ass, in the first film, made him both a likeable and tragic figure (one of the changes from the book that worked), but his post-Red Mist incarnation lacked any redeeming qualities.
Compounding it all, Kick-Ass 2 just wasn’t as much fun. Beyond “Justice Forever” leader, Colonel Stars & Stripes (Jim Carrey), who doubles as both the overall father figure, for his costumed cadre, and the source of most of the film’s handful of yuks, it was a pretty sombre affair. That would be just fine, except the film only takes half-measures, in that direction. There was a promise of escalation, reminiscent of the ending to Batman Begins, but the villainous rampage falls far short of the carnage promised in print, with, again, only one member, Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina), really allowed to cut loose. The final showdown was on a noticeably small scale, and lacked the level of nastiness to be expected from such a collection (and concentration) of uninhibited egos– particularly on the villainous side.
There were also character inconsistencies, along with contradictory narratives and mixed messages. The real joy of Kick-Ass was its escapism– the audience compelled to ask “how could this possibly end,” as ordinary people aspired to the extraordinary, in the face of grave real world consequences. Well, maybe this was where “flipping the script” came in, because the narrative, for the first two acts of Kick-Ass 2, seemed to be: the extraordinary seeking normalcy, in a world now full of the extraordinary; prompting the question “where is this going,” before a deathbed conversion, back to escapism, in the last act. The overall theme, here, was revenge– no mistake; but there were moments of compassion that, while healthy and endearing and all, seemed inconsistent. Given that this was totally absent, in the first film, one can argue emotional growth of character; but I just found it out of place.
Ordinarily, I would argue the good points of a disappointing sequel as a stand alone film. Taken out of context, however, Kick-Ass 2 would most certainly confuse, if not repel, casual viewers. It was too dependent on shock value for its infusions of heart to have any real meaning, and too self-conscious to really push the envelope, with its efforts to provoke / offend. Ultimately, Kick-Ass 2 tried to provide equal parts gritty realism, and over-the-top spectacle– a feat achieved by its predecessor, but failed to deliver either. Whatever its merits, Kick-Ass 2 just did not meet expectations.
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