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Movie review: Superhero satire sequel misses the mark

Posted: August 21, 2013 - 3:40pm  |  Updated: August 22, 2013 - 8:48am

“Kick Ass 2”

Universal Pictures

1 hour, 43 minutes

 

There are a lot of films out there that could justifiably be called morally reprehensible. Dark horror, drug-addled action, or raunchy comedy, films that let us vicariously step outside the normal standards of society are very popular. Most of the time, these movies just don’t really connect with me, but occasionally something subversively witty or crazily entertaining will slip through. “Cabin in the Woods,” was like that, as was the original “Kick Ass,” a darkly satirical, blood-spattered superhero movie that attempted to skewer the entire genre, with mixed results, but was wildly entertaining nevertheless.

It makes a kind of sense that “Kick Ass” would have a sequel, though it certainly didn’t need one. Unfortunately, what was once subversive, crazy and confused, is now simply confused.

“Kick Ass 2” begins some unspecified period of time after the finale of the original film, with the superhero vigilante Kick Ass, aka Dave Lizewski, still in high school, alongside recent enrollee, Mindy Macready, also known as Hit Girl. Hit Girl, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, was the runaway star of the first film, and is the highlight of this film as well, though, like everything else in the movie, feels like she’s on low volume. The entire production feels cheaper, shoddier, and even more confused.

Mindy wants to keep crime fighting, so she convinces Dave to skip school with her to train. Meanwhile, the villain of the first film, the son of a mob boss and a teen superhero wannabe named Red Mist, has redubbed himself a name not fit for the pages of a family newspaper, and is rapidly gathering an evil army in order to destroy the city.

And if that weren’t enough, other costumed crusaders have joined the cause, banding together into a super-team called Justice Forever, led by a former mob enforcer turned born-again Christian named Col. Stars and Stripes. The Colonel, played by an interestingly muted Jim Carrey, is one of the best things about the film, but still can’t seem to hold the entire production together. Eventually the evil team and the good team must meet and the result is a terribly cheesy warehouse battle that feels more like you’re watching a food fight at Comic-con than anything resembling “The Avengers.”

I wanted to like “Kick Ass 2.” I like many of the characters, and I appreciate the dark, violent, pseudo-realistic take on the genre, if only the filmmakers could maintain it. Previous director Matthew Vaughn has handed over the reins to Jeff Wadlow, and it shows. What were once visually sumptuous, brightly colored, highly kinetic scenes, now feel cheap and almost shoddy. The action of the first film, including the amazing choreography of Hit Girl’s fight scenes have largely been excised, with a few minor exceptions.

The worst part about the movie, however, is the tone. It’s like the creators had no idea what underlying story they wanted to tell. The first movie was, essentially, about what happens when the mentally ill and the socially inept take to the streets to make the world a safer place. It’s satire and, entertaining as it is, I don’t think we are supposed to believe that the superheroes, such as they are, are healthy people.

There are hints of that in the sequel, but many of the scenes involving the exploits of Justice Forever are so earnest, so ham-handedly goofy, that you can’t even begin to take them seriously. In the end, we are asked to root for people to remain costumed crusaders rather than normal, hardworking people. This is completely opposite of the theme of the first film.

As far as the violence goes, I was never sure what message was being sent here as well. At first, if feels as though the violence is seriously toned down, like that criticism of the first film actually hit a chord. An incredibly stupid character named “Mother Russia” blows up a police car with a propane tank, and through the flaming wreckage, we see the car’s occupants being blown, unharmed, to land roughly on a grassy lawn. Lame as this is, I was caught by surprise, when, just a few minutes later, the character throws a running lawnmower at another car and we watch it smash the windshield and messily chew up the officers in the front seat. Again, lame, and completely inconsistent to boot.

Rushed, uncertain, and wildly atonal, “Kick Ass 2” starts fine, and retains its balance at odd moments throughout the piece, but is mostly a major stumble. It’s too bad, because I had caught myself looking forward to the film despite my reservations. There’s talk of a Hit Girl spin-off, and that could be OK, though the screenwriters will have to spend more time examining that character than they did here, this film leaving us with the impression that a 12-year-old girl would be better off on her own, executing bad guys, than she would be living a normal life.

Were that a subversive point of view, some kind of deep society criticism, then maybe I could give it a pass, but this film feels more like a fan-fiction version of the first film, where the writer simply says, “I love Hit Girl. Let’s have more Hit Girl,” without really knowing the character at all. “Kick Ass 2” knows very few of its characters, and its a shame because there’s a lot of potential there.

Grade: C+

“Kick Ass 2” is rated R for bloody violence, nudity, and language.

 

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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