I never did get around to reviewing the first Kick-Ass film. I would have liked to as it’s quite an interesting film with a surprising amount to comment on despite its quite simplistic nature. It wasn’t art, but it had something. Kick-Ass 2 has a scene where Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) makes a rival at school vomit and poop CG fluids. It is one of the most embarrassingly inept and stupid scenes I can remember. Remember that I watched Transformers 4 the other day. The film isn’t all bad though. Click below for that review thing I occasionally do.
Kick-Ass 2 continues a while after the first film. Kick-Ass/Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has retired from crime-fighting after defeating the D’Amico family in the first film. Hit-Girl has promised her guardian that she will give up her vigilante career but is secretly carrying on with her villain slicing ways. Chris D’amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is still very angry at Kick-Ass, despite about 2 years passing, for blowing up his dad and plans to become the world’s first super-villain. Not sure if his decision to dress up in bondage and calling himself The Motherfucker was wise but hiring a load of murderers probably was. As The Motherfucker makes his plans Kick-Ass is compelled to return to action and teams up with various heroes who have appeared in his wake to form the team Justice Forever led by born again Christian Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). Then fighting happens and the film can’t decide how far it will go.
The first film managed to balance the conflicting tones of extreme violence with comedy to a near masterful level. Similar to how Raimi handles horror and comedy really. Part of the reason this worked was because the film balanced both tones in almost every scene. There was always a laugh to offset the violence. If there was no violence there was a similarly opposite tone to the humour to keep the films edge. Kick-Ass 2 seems to have a major difficulty balancing these two elements. Some performances are so comical, specifically Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s, that any serious moment they get involved with is instantly undermined. Now, Chloe Grace Moretz is fine, clearly understanding what film she’s in, but she is often visibly struggling to make the dialogue work. Aaron Taylor Johnson is just a total blank slate rarely managing to be the charming Dave he was in the first film. I have no idea what’s happened to his acting skills in recent years. He’s really gone off the bland end.
The side of the story that focuses on Hit-Girl and her attempts to fit in at school actually work fairly well for a number of the scenes. The juxtaposition of a borderline crazed murderer trying to fit in with cheerleaders provides obvious comedy. To be honest, a whole film based around this concept would probably have worked quite well. Except for two scenes. One being the previously mentioned vomit and CG poop scene, which is just awful. Seriously, the fluids spurting out of the bully look like they came from unused effects from that Reboot series in the 90s. The other awful scene is where they attempt to show that Mindy/Hit-Girl is going to start thinking about boys. In the scene a group of girls from school she’s been pair up with decide to stop the film to show us a Union J music video. I’m not kidding, the film literally stops as the camera zooms into the TV screen showing the video and it takes over for about 30 seconds. I’m sure prominently featuring a boy band like Union J won’t make your film feel outdated, let’s say, less than a year later. Mindy feels feelings in her belly in this scene. Later in the film she sees Dave with his shirt off and he’s all ripped and she takes a much more subtle moment to be distracted by this. That is all that would have been needed to get this plot element across but instead we have to listen to Union fecking J.
One thing the film does get right is the heightened comic book reality look of the previous film. Despite the shift in directors, going from Matthew Vaughn to Jeff Wadlow, the look is still consistently strong. The use of colour is as strong as it was in the first film and some effort has been maintained to ensure each location has its own palette. It’s a simple element but consistently switching up the visual colour palette of a film is a tiny thing a director can do to make sure the film at least stays interesting to look at. And it’s all done without any horrible colour saturation being placed over every scene. I have no real opinion of Jeff Wadlow as a director but he seems to be pretty capable. He clearly doesn’t have an eye for visual effects though.
Barely any effects in this film really work at all. Blood splatter is entirely fake and often pointless as a practical effect would have done the job much better. Some composites stick out against the background plates. The second worst offender, behind that scene I mentioned earlier, is the post funeral car chase sequence. When I read the comic version of this I had to wonder how they’d pull the sequence off with the sort of budget these films command. I imagined something shot mostly in a studio with a wind machine, green screen, computer generated vehicles mixed in with minimal real footage. I was not disappointed. By which I mean that’s exactly what happened and so I was terribly disappointed. I guess it was the only way to film Hit-Girl rolling about the various sides of a van in a high speed chase on such a restrictive budget but it all looks so fake and sterile. There is a few shots done on an actual highway, such as a brilliantly fake dummy being thrown under a car, but then it cuts back to Chloe in a studio with a wind machine blowing her hair about. At least the scene had the decency to not drag out too long though. And now I’m having flashbacks to that car chase in The Matrix Reloaded. Great.
If you have read the comic version of this you’ll know that it went a lot further in terms of dark, graphic content. I’m a little in two minds about the cutting back in the darker moments. On the one hand Mark Millar really did go very far into the realms of bad taste and shock tactics in the original comic. It gave the story a real sense of shit hitting the fan leading Kick-Ass to be in a world where his decision to wear a mask in the first really brings about some deadly consequences. Children were killed, Katie Deauxma was raped, a dog was beheaded and a whole block of New York was turned into a riot zone. The film hints at these events but often and verbally derides them as if even the producers and writers were disgusted by them. Really only a handful of the comic’s darker moments make it through. The side effect of this is that not enough weight is put on the shoulders of Kick-Ass. His responsibility for all the horrors that have been unleashed is only really dealt with in the funeral scene. Now, the comic didn’t do a brilliant job of dealing with this either, but that narrative thread ran through the whole story. Here it’s a little bit of story quickly pushed aside for an action scene.
It’s really a shame that the film did pull its punches in such a way. It’s not the pulling of the punch that is the problem but the dismissal of them in a comical manner. This means that The Motherfucker and his team are turned from being the horrifyingly evil depictions of criminality in the comic into a cowardly rich kid paying people to be comically evil for him. It diminishes the actual evil nature of The Motherfucker and makes his level of threat drop significantly. He was still a rich kid playing an expensive game with his villainous team acting as stand ins for his action figure collection in the comic but it felt like a sadist was controlling those toys there whereas here it feels like a 10 year old is in control. This also means a key scene of his descent into full blown super-villainy, the murder of Colonel Stars and Stripes, is made less evil as he doesn’t go to the extreme he does in the comic. If that scene had been as graphic than the later restraint wouldn’t have mattered quite as much because we’ve seen what he was capable of.
All in all Kick-Ass 2 is a disappointing film. It is entirely watchable and, much like the first, it ends off in a very different place to the comic. This can help the film feel like its own entity but its fumbling of tone, intent and darker themes mean it feels tame and lacking in a real edge that the first film owned so well. At times it even feels like a bit of a retread with similar musical queues utilised for similar action scenes. The film is competently directed and shot. Jim Carrey steals the show. Donald Faison, as Dr Gravity, is as pleasant to see as he always is in any film not called Skyline. Also, Night Bitch (Lindy Booth) is a character I’d like to see return. There’s potential for a counter to Hit-Girl’s revenge fuelled and psychotic killing mindset there. I’d like to say it was at least an average film but really it falls a little short of that. The thing is, I’m really not done with this universe. This sort of superhero film is much needed these days. Although you’d do better to just watch James Gunn’s SUPER instead.