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Review: ‘Kick-Ass 2’

Kicking Ass With Less Style And Substance

Above: Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) come out of their teenaged retirement in "Kick-Ass 2."

Kick-Ass 2” (opening August 16 throughout San Diego) does not equal or surpass its predecessor but it’s a solid follow up that continues the story in a logical manner.

In case you’ve forgotten, “Kick-Ass” was a comic from Scottish writer Mark Millar. It gave us Dave Lizewski (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the 2010 film), a teenager who decides to be a real life superhero. He quickly discovers, however, that vigilante justice is no easy job. He gets beaten, stabbed, hospitalized, and made into a YouTube star. He also dons the name Kick-Ass. But some more competent crime fighters see him more of a sorry-ass and end up having to rescue him. The embarrassing thing is that one of them, Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), is a pint-sized, pre-pubescent, purple-wigged chick that can literally kick his ass. Hit Girl works with Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) but in the first film’s dark conclusion, Big Daddy is beaten and burned to death. “Kick-Ass” ended with a showdown in which the bad guys get their just desserts, and dreams of being superheroes kind of get put on the back burner.

Credit: Universal

Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz) take a break from being Kick-Ass and Hit Girl.

“Kick-Ass 2” picks up with Dave and Mindy (Hit Girl’s real name) struggling to get by in high school. They both feel like they should be doing more than attending classes and doing homework. So they both don their costumes and masks yet again. There’s a motley crew of wannabe superheroes calling themselves Justice Forever and led by a born-again ex-mobster named Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey with a larger nose and bad teeth). Their new archenemy is Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who has rechristened himself The Motherf%&*^r. He’s building an evil army and he’s hell-bent on getting revenge on Kick-Ass and Hit Girl for killing his dad.

The first “Kick-Ass” was an anti-superhero film. It had a comic book look and feel, and definitely tapped into the superhero mythos but it delivered a tweaked superhero story. That was Millar’s point. Although more overt in the comic, the first “Kick-Ass,” did suggest that trying to be a superhero and administer vigilante justice is both dumb and dangerous. People get hurt, people close to you, and violence hurts and is messy.

Credit: Universal

Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) rechristens himself The Motherf%&*^r in "kick-Ass 2."

“Kick-Ass 2” tries to maintain the tone of the first film, which was an uncomfortable yet effective mix of pain and dark comedy. Jeff Wadlow takes over the helm from Matthew Vaughn, and he’s not nearly as adept at mixing the ironic humor and violence. He refrains from any of the sanitized violence Hollywood prefers to use so action films can get a PG-13 and bring in the younger kid demographic. He earns a hard R and reminds us that despite how violence looks on the big screen, it’s a painful, unpleasant business. And people you love and care for can be victims of that violence. That’s an important component that Wadlow tries to maintain. His shortcoming is that he doesn’t have any flair for shooting the action scenes and he struggles with the dark comic elements. But it’s the discomfort of this tonal mix that may make some critics and audience members pull back and gasp in horror. Vaughn was able to mix the tones with more finesse. Wadlow delivers the story in cruder fashion

The sequel doesn’t offer the same sharp commentary as the original in regards to social media, apathy, and the cult of celebrity. It brushes up against these ideas but Wadlow never convinces us that he understands the social criticism that fueled the first film. Vaughn showed how apathetic people could be by having witnesses to a violent crime be willing to whip out their cell phones to post a YouTube video but not to call 9-1-1 for help.

Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass” was hilarious and brutal but also provocative if you were willing to look beneath the surface. Wadlow’s “Kick-Ass 2” emphasizes the humor and over-the-top violence but without the smartness and without the stylish flair for action.

Moretz is definitely growing up as Hit Girl/Mindy, and Wadlow even has fun teasing the character about her growing sexual awareness. Moretz’s Hit Girl is still a strong, smart character that grows up and into her own person by the end of the film. But since she has gotten older, people will be less shocked by her language. The amazing thing about the first film was how many male critics were outraged by Hit Girl's use of the "C" word but seemed unbothered by the fact a grown man was beating up on a little girl.Taylor-Johnson plays Dave/Kick-Ass in the same manner as the first film and doesn’t show a lot f change. But he’s a likable actor. Jim Carrey worried me when I saw the first promos but mercifully his part is smaller than the trailers led me to believe and he’s not pivotal to a majority of the scenes. And I do need to highlight the physicality of Olga Kurkulina as the hench woman Mother Russia. She a massive, imposing force and comes across like a female Ivan Drago.

“Kick-Ass 2” (rated R for for strong violence, pervasive language, crude and sexual content, and brief nudity) is a respectable sequel delivering a watered-down and less stylish off shoot from the original film. I doubt I will re-watch this film as much or with as much enthusiasm as the first film but at least it’s not an embarrassment and it does entertain.

Companion viewing: “Kick-Ass,” “Unbreakable,” “V for Vendetta,” “A History of Violence”

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