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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Kick-Ass 2

When my screening of Kick-Ass 2 got out, I couldn't put my finger on it right away, but it seemed like a very different movie from the first.  The original 2010 film was an edgy, extremely dark, hard-R action comedy that tried to put superhero movies in a somewhat more realistic focus. (This goal was somewhat betrayed by having an 11-year-old girl wiping out an entire room full of hired goons, and a major character meeting his end with a bazooka missile.) The sequel still has some very over the top violence, and yet, the movie seems a little bit lighter and kind of oddly sweeter than before.  It's almost as if writer-director Jeff Wadlow (Never Back Down) is trying to make the world of Kick-Ass into a live action cartoon at times.

This is also a very crowded sequel.  I understand that the basic idea of a sequel is to go bigger than the first, but Wadlow crams his narrative with so many characters, plots and ideas that it's a little overwhelming.  None of the ideas that make it in are bad ones, exactly.  They just seem to constantly be competing with each other for our attention.  I have not read the original graphic novel by Mark Millar, so I don't know if this is something that carried over from the source material or not.  All I know is that the movie kept on kind of drawing me in by bringing up an interesting plot or character, only to disappoint me with a half-assed conclusion.  I have a feeling that the filmmakers were trying for a somewhat more human and emotional approach than the first.  But due to the overflow in the narrative, it doesn't work as well as intended.

Let's start with our two returning heroes, Dave/Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Mindy/Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz).  In the three years since the events of the first film, Dave has seen a number of regular people taking inspiration from him, and taking on superhero personas so that they can help out others.  He's giving serious thought to adopting his Kick-Ass alter ego once again, and hitting the streets.  To do so, he turns to Mindy, who has been keeping the streets safe as Hit-Girl, carrying on the legacy and the name of her late father.  Unfortunately, right about the time that Dave and Mindy think about becoming a team, Mindy's concerned parental guardian, Police Detective Marcus Williams (Morris Chestnut), lays down the law with the girl he's been placed in care of.  He doesn't want Mindy throwing herself into danger, and would rather she have a normal teenage life as she starts high school.  Mindy must drop her Hit-Girl persona, while Dave fears he will have to hit the streets as Kick-Ass alone.

Fortunately, Dave's not alone for long, as he runs into an underground group of costumed crime fighters who call themselves Justice Forever.  Led by a former mob enforcer-turned born again Christian who calls himself Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), the team welcomes Kick-Ass with open arms, and even leads to a possible love interest when Dave strikes up a sexual relationship with fellow super heroine, Night Bitch (Lindy Booth).  Just as the legion of superheroes seems to be growing, however, Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the son of the mob boss that Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl defeated at the end of the first movie, decides that there should be a legion of supervillains to combat this growing superhero fad.  He modifies his mom's old S & M fetish wear into a costume, and gives himself a villain identity whose name I can't exactly say in a family-friendly review. (I'll give you a hint: It sounds like "Mother Trucker".) With an army of costumed criminals at his side, he vows to get revenge on the ones who killed his father.

Kick-Ass 2 seems to be a movie that is constantly sidetracking itself at times.  It keeps on taking its focus away from the main revenge plot, so it can concentrate on things like Mindy trying to fit in with the more popular girls at school, Dave's turbulent relationship with his father (who doesn't like that he's going out as Kick-Ass again), one of Dave's friends at school feeling left out since his best friend is leading a double life as a superhero and has no time for him, and you have the individual members of the Justice Forever team, who seem like interesting individuals, but never get a chance to stand out like they should, given the crowded narrative. (Even Jim Carrey, the biggest name in the cast, seems to mainly be making an extended cameo here.) Some of the subplots also work better than others.  For example, the plot about Mindy trying to lead a normal life to please her guardian has some very nice moments, and Moretz and Chestnut show good chemistry in their scenes.  But the plot about her trying to fit in with the popular girls at school feels like an uninspired remake of Mean Girls, and really serves no point to the story, as it simply leads to a gross-out gag, only to have it pretty much unceremoniously dropped immediately afterward.

Despite its obvious flaws, I was never bored while watching the film.  The performances are very good all around, and this is a well-made film with a lot of interesting visual approaches to try to make the film resemble a living comic book at times. (I like how translation subtitles were inserted in comic-style word balloons coming out of a person's mouth.) I even found myself caring about these characters quite a bit at times.  This is just such a severely jumbled and crowded movie.  Every time I would find something I liked, the film would switch over to something I didn't.  Kick-Ass 2 does have a shorter running time than the first one, so that may play a part in it.  Things simply seem rushed here.  Even the climactic final battle between the armies of heroes and villains seems more like an afterthought, rather than the grand finale that it should have been.

The ending seems to be leading up to a third film, but I'm not sure how the fanbase will react to this one.  While it features the same characters and cast, it does feel like a very different movie.  As for me, I can't view it as either a total success or a failure.  Just as the film itself seemed to be constantly struggling with its own focus and tone, I too find myself struggling with how I reacted to it.  I guess the best way to sum it up is I enjoyed Kick-Ass 2 some of the time, and was less engaged the rest of the time.

See the movie times in your area or buy the DVD at Amazon.com!

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