Dir: Jeff Wadlow
With: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Runtime: 103 minutes
IT was three years ago that the first Kick-Ass, adapted from the comic book series by Scotland's Mark Millar and John Romita Jr, shook up the tired superhero genre like a fracking-induced earthquake. The tale of ordinary bods who loved their idols so much they dressed up as them and tried to fight crime, here was a movie that did not take superheroes too seriously, yet loved them just as much.
As with any sequel, Kick-Ass 2 inevitably has a whiff of staleness about it. Like a once wide-eyed 12-year-old who is now a teenager, the joke has grown older, the script has acquired some bad habits, and here and there its attitude stinks. As an action comedy it is still likeable - the performances of the three young leads ensures that - and there are moments when you can glimpse the kid that once was, but loving it is a stretch.
A game of movie musical chairs means Jeff Wadlow has taken the place of Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman as director and screenplay writer, though Vaughn remains as producer. Otherwise, the three main faces are back in Dave/Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who was Chris D'Amico and Red Mist in the first film but who acquires a new identity here. Said new ID can wait until all the easily scared horses have left for the day.
As Kick-Ass 2 opens, Mindy's dad (Nicolas Cage/Big Daddy) is off the scene and she is being fostered by his old amigo, a policeman. Mindy is at high school now, with Dave a few years ahead, and they remain pals. Chris is living with his mum in a mansion on a hill and nursing his sociopathic tendencies.
All three are at that awkward point in life when adolescence and reality are about to kick in harder than a Bruce Lee one-two. Mindy's guardian is worried about the risk posed by her continued crime fighting, ditto Dave's dad. Chris's mum has other worries. Life has to change for the trio, but how? When a person has been used to being a superhero, how can they revert to boring old teenagers? Who are any of us underneath the mask?
These are just a couple of the questions Wadlow's screenplay asks and attempts to answer. When the movie is engaged in this task it brings out the dramatic best in the young cast, and Moretz especially. Moretz gets to show here, as she did in Let Me In, that she will have no problem growing into older, chewier roles.
Taylor-Johnson shrugs into the part of an older Dave like it was a favourite jacket, and his American accent, once again, is as on the money as his Scouse accent was in the young Lennon biopic, Nowhere Boy.
As for Mintz-Plasse, his previous incarnation as McLovin in Superbad ensures he will not be able to step a foot inside a comedy without a great big gush of goodwill making its way towards him from the audience. Even when his character is being extremely bad, as he is here, it is hard not to warm to him because of the young actor playing him.
Up to a point, anyway. Wanting to shed his old persona, Red Mist decides to become a villain known as ... well, let's just say it is a 12 letter word that starts with M. Now, if you happen to be of an age with the age certificate, this might be worth a smile the first time of hearing, if only because of shock value. By the umpteenth time, though, the joke is collecting its pension and booking a round the world cruise.
The naughty language does not stop there. The first film became infamous for the Hit-Girl character dropping a curse bomb. The filmmakers clearly feeling duty bound to top that, it is just a matter of when not if an attempt is made. Again, the response is more a yawn than a howl of outrage.
In general, the tone of Kick-Ass 2, like the action, jumps around all over the joint. The humour is horribly near the knuckle at times, in one instance quite breathtakingly so, and when not being inappropriate it is gross-out.
Thank the god of the comic book universe, then, for Jim Carrey's brief appearance as Colonel Stars And Stripes, one of the new characters making an appearance. The mysterious colonel, who doesn't like bad language or guns, is a reminder of the first KA, when times were good, goofy and sweet. And he has a dog, which makes him a hero in anyone's book.
Carrey, post-production, decided the violence was too much for him to take part in promoting the picture. While the action is more hard core this time around, it is still comic book stuff and therefore hard to take that seriously. The wavering tone, though, and the loss of innocence are fairer cops.