Kick-Ass 2 is a good but not great followup to Vaughn's surprisingly smart, stylish and witty original.
Kick-Ass 2 picks up sometime after the events of the first film. We find Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Mindy Macready (Chloe Grace Moretz) trying to re-acclimate to normal life as high school teenagers, instead of prowling the streets as Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl, respectively. However, old habits die hard and Dave soon finds himself under Mindy's tutelage, as their circle of would-be vigilantes expands into a legitimate team, led by the wily Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey).
But every light has its shadow and Kick-Ass' newfound place in a league of do-gooders inspires his former adversary Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) to become the world's first true supervillain, The Motherf*cker. Chris eventually gathers demented psychopaths like Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina) and Genghis Carnage (Tom Wu) as his enforcers, and sets out to avenge his slain father by destroying everything in Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl's worlds - both inside and outside of their costumes.
With Kick-Ass, writer/director Matthew Vaughn took the deranged superhero origin satire envisioned by comic book creators Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr., and adapted it into a wittily satirical superhero deconstruction film, which was further enhanced by Vaughn's unique stylistic signature and technical flair. Never Back Down director Jeff Wadlow has stepped in to handle writing and directing duties on the sequel, which - from the comic book source material, to the movie script, to the movie itself - is a much less sophisticated (but still pretty enjoyable) followup to the first film.
On the directorial side, Wadlow is solid at creating a second-tier superhero movie experience on a modest budget (around $30 million). He manages to maintain the continuity, aesthetic, world and characters introduced in the first film, while expanding them in this second chapter. As stated, however, the direction isn't as fun or sophisticated as Vaughn's film (what with its many memorable sequences) - though only hardcore cinephiles are likely to take note. Everyone else in attendance for the action and Rated-R hijinks of the characters will get that - but some of that action is going to take place against some pretty flimsy-looking green-screen backdrops, and on the whole, there will be little that is epic or memorable about the film. "Suitable" is the word that best defines the movie Wadlow has turned in.
Similarly, the script is also a lot more straightforward and conventional than the wittily meta voice-over narrative of Vaughn's film. Combining the Kick-Ass 2 comic book series and the Hit-Girl spinoff series into one narrative, Wadlow's script tries to tell a tried-and-true story about self-realization and self-acceptance ("Be proud of who you are," etc...) and does so in decent enough (if not slightly cliched) fashion. There are standout moments and clear character arcs for each of the principal players (Dave, Mindy and Chris), as well as some nice supporting characters who add to the fun. Drama, when needed, is never too heavy or out of place, and the comedy is consistent and pleasing for the most part.
The dialogue is still a blend of Millar's over-the-top raunch prose smoothed down for the movie masses and punctuated by some great crowd-pleasing one-liners and banter. In adapting the comic, Wadlow does a nice job of picking and choosing what to preserve and what to jettison; for example: one of the most controversial moments of the comic gets a smart "reinterpretation" in the world of Wadlow's film. While clearly the work of a reliable, company-brand screenwriter, the screenplay retains enough of the comic book's DNA to please the hardcore fan crowd.
The returning cast all get right back into the swing of things, with Johnson once again bringing both nerdish levity and strong dramatic chops to his role - arguably elevating Dave Lizewski above what Millar and Romita, Jr. created on the page. Christopher Mintz-Plasse gets to venture out of his "McLovin" screen persona and tackle something a bit darker, and while this is no Heath Ledger/Joker performance, he proves to be a good comedic villain who knows how to utilize his geeky nature for the best punchlines. The standout (once again) is of course the now-grown Chloe Moretz, who kicks ass and curses with such aplomb that it's hard not to like her. This time, Moretz gets to explore the more "girly" and "vulnerable" sides of Mindy, and the result is some of the movie's best moments, both on the superhero and civilian side of things (see: a Mean Girls-style lunchroom showdown).
As stated, there is a nice cast of supporting characters: Donald Faison (Scrubs) adds some comedic relief as Kick-Ass' new pal, "Dr. Gravity." Morris Chestnut is a nice replacement for Kick-Ass actor Omari Hardwick as Marcus Williams, Mindy's caretaker - while no one will likely notice Augustus Prew's substitution for AHS star Evan Peters as Todd. Clarke Duke gets more to do (for whatever that's worth); Lindy Booth is fun as the questionably-named "Night Bitch"; while Olga Kurkulina is dementedly fun as "Mother Russia" and Jim Carrey steals the show whenever he's in the spotlight (which may not be as much as advertising would lead you to believe). By the way, John Leguizamo shows up in the film as Chris' henchman/confident, and is as reliably funny as ever (a nice addition).
Overall, Kick-Ass 2 is a "good" but not "great" followup to Vaughn's surprisingly smart, stylish and witty original. The sequel will be more enjoyable for those fans wanting to revisit the world and characters for another romp through a twisted version of the DC and Marvel comic book universes - but beyond that, all you're getting is a standard action film with a B-movie feel. If it wasn't Kick-Ass or Hit-Girl headlining, there would likely be little excitement and even less payoff from the Kick-Ass 2 experience.
As for what we ARE left with: As one audience member said while exiting the theater: "That was cool, but just make the next one a straight-up Hit-Girl movie. The rest is done with." Indeed.
[NOTE: There IS an after credits "button scene," so be sure to stay in the theater.]
Kick-Ass 2 is now in theaters. It is 103 minutes long and is Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, crude and sexual content, and brief nudity. If it makes you feel any better, the comic creators are already hard at work on the Kick-Ass 3 comic book.
Want to talk about Kick-Ass 2 without SPOILING the movie for others? Join our Kick-Ass 2 spoilers discussion. Want to hear the editors discuss the film? Stay tuned for our Kick-Ass 2 episode of the SR Underground Podcast.