Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, crude and sexual content and brief nudity.
Running time: 103 minutes.
Two stars out of four.
Jim Carrey’s character in “Kick-Ass 2,” an ex-mobster and born-again Christian who’s transformed himself into a vigilante crimefighter named Colonel Stars and Stripes, carries a handgun on his person at all times. He keeps it unloaded, though, because he doesn’t actually want to use it — he just wants the bad guys he confronts to think he’s willing and able to pull the trigger.
This becomes a noteworthy plot point, which is intriguing for a couple of reasons. Since wrapping the film, Carrey famously has distanced himself from the finished product, saying he now feels squeamish about promoting it given the enormous amount of gun violence it contains. But the unloaded gun is also unfortunately a rather apt metaphor for the movie itself. “Kick-Ass 2” may look powerful, but doesn’t have much real pop.
Part of the problem is that the novelty of the original “Kick-Ass” is gone. The idea of a pint-sized, preteen, potty-mouthed assassin was exciting and daringly hilarious when the first film came out in 2010. Now, Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl — and Chloe Grace Moretz, the confident and likable actress who plays her — are a little older and a little wiser, which also makes this sequel a little heavier.
The larger issue is the direction, especially in the action sequences, of which there are many. The “Kick-Ass” world springs from the graphically violent comics by Mark Millar and John S. Romita Jr. While Matthew Vaughn brought the action to life with great style and verve in directing the first film — the whole thing had a thrilling energy about it, really — writer-director Jeff Wadlow doesn’t stage these segments of the sequel with nearly as much fluidity or finesse. Wadlow is entirely too fond of using shaky-cam during fight sequences; rather than upping the tension, this approach creates chaos, and it detracts from the intricacy and complex choreography of these massive showdowns.
“Kick-Ass 2” is actually more compelling in its relatable, real-world moments, as Mindy tries to navigate the many social perils that await any high-school freshman. It’s a precarious time under optimal circumstances, but she must endure the added burden of having recently lost her beloved father/crime-fighting partner, Big Daddy. And while many kids feel like they don’t fit in at this awkward stage, the fact that 15-year-old Mindy is a coolly efficient killing machine really and truly makes her an outcast — but a self-imposed one. And that makes her more interesting. Rather than longing to fit in with the cool girls, she tests the shark-filled waters on her own terms, then exacts her revenge when she gets bitten.
Mindy would much rather carry on the proud legacy she shared with Big Daddy (played by Nicolas Cage in the original) of righting wrongs and keeping the city safe. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who’s back as nerdy high school senior Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass, is eager to fight alongside her. (The title is “Kick-Ass 2,” but this really feels like Hit-Girl’s movie; the secretly sexy Taylor-Johnson doesn’t get much to work with in the character-development department.) Dave’s superhero exploits from the first film made him a bit of a celebrity around town, to the point that he’s inspired legions of wannabes to don homemade costumes, assume mysterious identities and troll the streets at night looking for their own asses to kick.
But Mindy’s been ordered to pack away her throwing stars and nunchucks and hang up the sparkly purple get-up for good; her father’s best friend, Marcus (Morris Chestnut), who’s now her guardian, promised to keep her safe, so he forbids her from fighting any more crime. This abstinence from ass-whooping becomes increasingly difficult when Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), whose father Kick-Ass killed in spectacular fashion in part one, reinvents himself as a supervillain called The Motherfucker to seek revenge. This essentially calls on him to bark out orders in a lisp while dressed in his mother’s domnatrix gear. It’s an amusingly ridiculous image at first, but as the costume becomes more elaborate, it feels like its sole purpose is to shock.
Just as The Motherfucker assembles an army of henchmen (and women) to take out Kick-Ass, Kick-Ass joins a ragtag team of good guys calling themselves Justice Forever. Their leader is the intensely earnest Colonel Stars and Stripes, a camo-clad crusader with a patriotic German shepherd by his side. Carrey is unrecognizable here, even once the mask comes off, with his buzz cut, gold teeth and gravelly New York accent. Millar was right when he said in response to Carrey’s detachment from the film that he’s great in the role; it’s a dialed-down performance but no less insane than his wilder, well-known work.
If it sounds like there’s a lot going on, with too many characters and subplots to keep track of, that’s probably because it is. “Kick-Ass 2” suffers from a lack of narrative focus as well as inconsistent pacing. It lurches into action frantically, noisily, then screeches to a halt for cliched conversations about finding the inner superhero hiding within all of us.
For a film that seems so subversive on its surface, “Kick-Ass 2” is really rather feel-good after all.