(by Dustin Putman
2010's giddily subversive, confidently R-rated superhero satire "Kick-Ass" might not have been the breakout hit some predicted it would be, but, like most movies destined for cult status, its popularity has grown in the intervening three years. With ancillary sales strong and the first film's modest budget recouped, the eagerly awaited "Kick-Ass 2" has finally become a reality. With writer-director Jeff Wadlow (2008's "Never Back Down") taking over helming duties from Matthew Vaughn and most of the (surviving) cast returning, this superior sequel cranks the bloody beatings, gorings, and—most important—heart up to eleven while building upon a sort of mythology ambitiously operatic enough to hang with the big-boy crime fighters that are Spider-Man, Superman and the Caped Crusader. Article continues below
It's been two years since bumbling makeshift superhero Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) saved vengeance-seeking, then-13-year-old Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) by blowing up the billionaire crime boss who killed her father. Now attending the same high school together, Dave proposes that Mindy train him to be a better fighter so they can team up. She agrees, but when her godfather, Detective Marcus Williams (Morris Chestnut), makes her promise to hang up the costume for good and try to be a kid for once, he is left in need of a place to fit in. Dave finds just that in the form of an underground superhero league called Justice Forever, led by the fatigue-wearing, profanity-hating Colonel Stars & Stripes (Jim Carrey). As Mindy has a go at a normal teenage life, a devious threat moves Dave's way in the form of Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Still enraged over his no-good dad dying at the bazooka-firing hands of his former friend, a maniacal, leather-garbed Chris rechristens himself The Motherfucker and sets out to destroy everything Kick-Ass cares about.
Based on the comic series by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., "Kick-Ass 2" is leaner yet more wholly realized than its predecessor, a give-and-take between gallows humor, profane but rhapsodic dialogue, and a sensitive emotional side touching upon the search for one's identity, the desire for acceptance, and the importance of staying true to oneself. Touching upon plenty of coming-of-age hallmarks in the first half—Mindy tries to become social, must deal with a group of mean girls, and goes on her first date—the film initially seems like it is taking a while for the main thrust of the plot to get underway. When it does in the second half, with The Motherfucker and his henchmen going after Dave's new girlfriend, Justice Forever member Night Bitch (Lindy Booth), all bets are off and no one is safe. Writer-director Jeff Wadlow's fearlessness in approaching this material without the usual compromises that come with mass-market, PG-13-rated comic adaptations gives the film a punchy unpredictability.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson (2012's "Savages") is solid but unflashy as Dave Lizewski and his green-spandexed alter ego Kick-Ass, his most effectively modulated moments coming in the third act when the stakes are raised exponentially and he loses someone near and dear to him. It is a bit strange that his love interest from the first film, Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca), is so hastily written out after two early scenes; if her character had to go due to later plot developments, there are ways it could have been handled that would have seemed less like a throwaway. Reprising her role as the foul-mouthed, criminal-slaying Mindy/Hit-Girl, Chloë Grace Moretz (2012's "Dark Shadows")—the standout of the previous movie—does not disappoint, sliding effortlessly back into the part while going deeper with her character as she grows up and realizes dealing with adolescence doesn't come nearly as easily for her as beating bad guys to a pulp. If there was to ever be a second sequel, can we all agree it should be primarily about her?
Also back and positioning his privileged Chris D'Amico as Kick-Ass' new archnemesis, Christopher Mintz-Plasse (2013's "The To-Do List") continues to impress as he takes on different parts and expands his range beyond what most viewers likely expected of him when he made his screen debut as McLovin in 2007's "Superbad." Mintz-Plasse is, of course, very funny, but there is a darkness to the character that only gets bleaker after he accidentally causes the tanning bed electrocution death of his mom (Yancy Butler) in his very first scene. With nothing left to lose, The Motherfucker is born. "I will kill Kick-Ass with my bare hands!" he proclaims early on before adding, "I have to Tweet about this." As the release of "Kick-Ass 2" has neared, a lot of the buzz has been about Jim Carrey's (2013's "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone") turn as Colonel Stars & Stripes—not to mention the actor's rather ignorant decision to not do press for the film due to its violent content. While Carrey might be on to something when it comes to the death and destruction (and lawnmower attack) on display, he has gone way overboard in his grand-standing attempts at political-correctness. As for his performance, it is functional; the role is smaller than expected, undemanding, and could have easily been filled by a less well-known actor without anyone missing him.
"Kick-Ass 2" was made on a budget of $28-million, a relatively minuscule amount when stacked next to some of the summer's big—and far lesser—action releases. It should go without saying that a movie's cost has nothing to do with its quality, but it also ought to be mentioned that it has little to do with size and scope if money is used judiciously and there's a smart script waiting to be actualized. Culminating in a collection of rousing climactic set-pieces, one set atop a van zooming down the highway and the other a balls-to-the-wall battle that plays like "300" set in a warehouse—only more cohesive and involving a killer shark—the story reaches a conclusion that brings to a pleasing, audience-respecting close one chapter while intriguingly suggesting how it could go on with another. Until that decision is made on whether to proceed with the franchise, consider this notable nugget: "Kick-Ass 2" may be the first film in history in which the threat of getting one's ass ripped out their mouth is not only an offbeat term of endearment, but also unexpectedly sweet.