Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, John Leguizamo, and Jim Carrey
My rating: ★ 1/2 stars
Hit-Girl storyline shows promise, but film is dragged down by lack of development of Kick-Ass and by excessive violence.
Kick-Ass 2 picks up two years after the first Kick-Ass. In that time, ordinary people, inspired by Kick-Ass, have taken to donning costumes and patrolling the streets as superheroes, Kick-Ass himself has been in retirement, and Hit-Girl has been adjusting to life after the death of her father and mentor, Big Daddy.
My first thought upon seeing Kick-Ass 2 was that it seemed like two different movies. One narrative continues the story of Kick-Ass aka Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), following his attempts to join a superhero team, a la the Justice League, and his being pursued by his archenemy, The Motherf***er, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). The other storyline, the more interesting one, involves Hit-Girl aka Mindy Macready (Chloë Grace Moretz) seeking to determine what kind of person she will be as she grows up.
This second narrative lives in classic coming-of-age story territory. A young person must confront the questions “Who am I?” and “What is my place in the world?” This isn’t unexplored territory, but it’s fun to see a unique character like Hit-Girl, an ultra-violent pubescent superhero, make the trek. And if the movie had been all about her journey of discovery it would have been better film.
The problem with the storyline that focuses on Kick-Ass is that he has no journey to make. His character doesn’t grow or learn anything in this movie. He’s essentially the same at the end as he is at the beginning. Although he vows to put away his superhero costume at the end of the film, it’s not clear why he needs to do that. Nor is it clear what change in his character led to that decision. The growth arc of the Kick-Ass character was complete at the end of the first movie, and the filmmakers don’t know what to do with him in the sequel. Thus, the active force in his narrative is the villain, The Motherf***er, who has a character arc: he grows from a spoiled rich kid into a supervillain. He drives the action. Kick-Ass merely reacts.
However, Kick-Ass needs to be the main character. The loyal fanboys who make up the audience for a movie like this would be less likely to turn out for a movie about a pubescent girl. Yes, films with female protagonists have been making money in recent years, but those films target a female or a mixed-gender audience. The target audience for this movie and its predecessor is decidedly male. The Kick-Ass movies draw much of their appeal to their audience from fantasy wish-fulfillment. In the universe of this story, an ordinary comic-book-loving nerd can be a superhero. Sure, he may take a few beatings, but he wins in the end. (By the second film, however, Taylor-Johnson has a muscle-bound physique that would be out-of-place on the average high school doofus. He looks more like a traditional superhero than the ordinary guy Kick-Ass is supposed to be.)
Both Taylor-Johnson and Moretz are charismatic and appealing performers, and, here, they are surrounded by a plethora of good supporting performances. John Leguizamo, as The Motherf***er’s factotum, and Jim Carrey, as Colonel Stars and Stripes, the leader of a league of superheroes, stand out, and I had to wonder what went wrong in their careers that they ended up as supporting players in this movie.
While the violence in the first film was widely noted, the second film garnered more controversy for the extreme violence, largely due to Carrey’s refusal to promote the film after developing second thoughts about the violence in the film in the wake of the Sandy Hook incident.
Mark Millar, the writer of the source comic books, also provided controversy around the time of the film’s release by stating that he used rape in his stories as merely a plot device. In the comic book, Kick-Ass 2, The Motherf***er and his gang rape Kick-Ass’s girlfriend, Katie Deauxma, in order to send a message to Kick-Ass, another tired retread of the sexist trope of making the sexual assault of a woman primarily about the impact it has on a man in her life. The film makes significant changes in the scene. Firstly, Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca) breaks up with Kick-Ass early in the movie, appearing in the film only briefly, as if to fulfill Fonseca’s contract obligation. Thus, the assault victim is changed to Kick-Ass’s new girlfriend, Night Bitch (Lindy Booth). Secondly, and more significantly, instead of a brutally violent gang rape scene, the film plays the encounter for comedy when The Motherf***er fails to get an erection and orders his gang to beat Night Bitch instead. Although the sexual assault is forestalled, the film still presents a scene where violence against a woman is once again used as a plot device designed to impact the male character, and, perhaps more disturbingly, this scene is presented as humorous.
None of these issues with the violence, regarding either its level or nature, is likely to concern the core audience for this movie. Perhaps, I’m underestimating them, but I believe that they would rather enjoy their entertainment uncomplicated by such criticisms. However, these audience members are likely to be bothered by the technical problems of the film, particularly the shoddy special effects. I haven’t seen a rear-screen projection scene as obvious as the van scene in this movie in at least a decade. The overuse of hand-held camerawork also becomes quickly irritating. The film was directed by its screenwriter, Jeff Wadlow, instead of by the director of the first film, Matthew Vaughn (who was a producer on this film), and the decrease in the quality of the direction is obvious.
I’m not the best judge of Kick-Ass 2. I’m not the intended audience, who may enjoy the very things in the movie that I find objectionable—the extreme violence and the crass humor. Yet, I found myself intrigued enough by the Hit-Girl portions of the film to wonder if a movie could have been made centered entirely around her character, leaving Kick-Ass out entirely or making him nothing more than her sidekick. After all, both Hit-Girl and Kick-Ass refer to him as the Robin to her Batman. Ultimately, I don’t think so. The incongruity between a girly coming-of-age story and the tone of this franchise would prove too much over the course of an entire film. The two aspects would probably prove too divergent to be appreciated by audience members. Viewers who enjoy one aspect would be turned off by the other. But I wonder if a female superhero could sustain by herself a less iconoclastic movie, one more suited to a broader audience. The world may never be ready for a movie about just Hit-Girl, but maybe Wonder Woman will get her name on the marquee.
NOTES: 1) This movie has an essential post-credit scene, so make sure to watch it to the very end. 2) The character of Todd, who was played by Evan Peters in the first Kick-Ass, here is played by Augustus Prew.