In 2010, “Kick Ass” was a surprise hit, overperforming at the box office in a tough month, which meant that a sequel was inevitable. I liked the first film, and looked forward to the second. But I think, in making “Kick Ass 2,” its creators (writer Mark Millar and director Jeff Wadlow) may have misunderstood why the first movie was a surprise hit. They thought it was because of all the raunchy, over the top humor, and the way the movie is both violent and a sendup of violent superhero movies. All of that is back for a second round, but here’s what they forgot: “Kick-Ass” also had an engaging, unpredictable plot. That part’s nowhere to be found in “Kick-Ass 2.” After the first twenty minutes of “Kick-Ass 2,” I could tell you exactly what was going to happen in the last twenty minutes.
The central premise is borrowed wholesale from Batman comics, and amounts to this: when a guy puts on a mask to fight crime, is he making the situation better, or worse? Gotham has the craziest bunch of nutjob villains in the world, and the Joker has always been fond of asking Batman if they created him, or vice versa. This plays out exactly the same way in “Kick Ass 2:” Our hero suited up to inspire everyday people to stand up for themselves, and that’s happening, but bad guys are suiting up by the bushelful as well. Suddenly everyone’s running around in a silly costume while carrying a deadly weapon. Is the city a better place?
After her Daddy’s death, Hit Girl (Chloe Grace-Moretz) makes a promise to never put on the costume again and slice bad guys up with swords again. Meanwhile, Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Why does everyone in this film have three names?) is bored with high school, and puts together a team of superhero wannabes, led by Jim Carrey, a born-again ex-mob enforcer. While Grace-Moretz tries to get the soulless cheerleaders to like her, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, formerly Red Mist, sets out to avenge his dead father. (His mother is also dead, but there’s only so much revenge you can get from a tanning machine.) Now wearing his mother’s BDSM gear and calling himself something unprintabl, he decides, after getting his ass kicked a few times on his own, that his superpower is being filthy stinking rich. He hires a couple of people willing to look silly and bust stuff up for money, gives them terrible, racist supervillain names (like Mother Russia and Genghis Carnage), and comes after Kick-Ass and friends.
With such a disposable plot, you’re left with plenty of time to take in the tone, and its flaws become more and more apparent. It’s not just uneven; it’s nothing short of schizophrenic. Grace-Moretz isn’t an naive young girl dressed up as a psycho killer, and she’s not the reverse of that either; we’re supposed to believe that she’s both. We’re repeatedly invited — nay, begged — by the film to laugh at Mintz-Plasse’s attempts to be a terrifying villain: everything about him is ridiculous and decidedly un-terrifying, from his terrible supervillain name, to his costume (and its origin) to the shark he buys for his batcave that appears to be dead. And then he goes and does terrifying things only villains do. So which is it — is he an inept wannabe, or the real thing? Who can tell? Further, it’s not clear what it wants to say about violence, or sexuality/gender roles. I am not a fan of analyzing summer blockbusters for their politics, because generally, they’re not trying to be political, and it’s an exercise in chasing shadows. But “Kick-Ass 2” clearly wants to say something, but seems to have no idea what or how to say it coherently (in that way, it truly is an adolescent film.) Is it misogynistic because of the rape scene, or empowering because of Hit Girl? Yes. Does it glorify or criticize violent answers to problems? Yes. It’s a mess. It hurts my brain to try and sort through all of its messiness.
Tonally, “Kick-Ass 2” is sort of the superhero equivalent of raunchy comedies like “Superbad.” There are a ton of sex jokes, of every variety imaginable. Also, there’s a very groanworthy vomit joke — and it gets repeated later. Almost all of the humor (and a lot of the action) is transgressive, with a shotgun approach; let’s shock the audience as often as possible, and maybe occasionally they’ll laugh. Sometimes it feels like “Mean Girls,” then suddenly it’s “American Pie.” It lacks, however, the sweet, earnest core that made those movies watchable. If “Kick-Ass 2” has a heart, it’s the same one as its bad guy. This is a film that breaks rules to feel giddy, and mistakes that for feeling/being happy.
Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s fidgety, hysterical version of acting, from the first scene to the last, makes him look like he needs to go to the bathroom really bad. I am not a fan of Chloe Grace-Moretz; she rocketed to stardom after “Kick-Ass,” and she brought a remarkable intensity to that role for such a young girl, but since then, all I seem to see is her annoying smirk. Jim Carrey, surprisingly, gives perhaps the best performance in the film, or at least the most unlikely; he plays a beefy, camo-clad patriotic superhero with a deep, growly voice and heavy Brooklyn accent. Ace Ventura is a thousand miles away, and a thousand years ago. “Kick-Ass 2” will have its defenders — they were sitting behind me in the theater, laughing at every joke, and sometimes when there weren’t any jokes — and as far as I’m concerned, they can have this one. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first film. But this film is like what happens when you invite a comedian out for an encore — he’s already delivered all his best material, and when the B-level jokes start flowing, you stop laughing, and start groaning. I was groaning a lot through this flick.