Something of a surprise hit when it was released, “Kick Ass” was a ballsy, funny, violently subversive take on the superhero genre which was beginning to (and still does) dominate Hollywood’s output. The film’s unexpected mix of both celebrating and satirising the tropes and clichés of superhero origin stories while playing with the notion of people being superheroes in real life struck a chord and turned a modestly budgeted picture into a bankable franchise.
In the skilful hands of director Matthew Vaughan, the film took Mark Millar’s comic and became something greater thanks in part to the savvy casting. Likeable lead Aaron Taylor-Johnson faced off against a strong, chillingly intimidating villain in Mark Strong’s crime boss Frank D’Amico and his somewhat less fearsome son Chris, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse while Nicholas Cage channelled the spirit of Adam West into Big Daddy, father and mentor of Hit-Girl, played in a spectacular show-stealing performance by Chloë Grace Moretz.
Thankfully, all the (surviving) cast are back for the second go around and although he is absent, the spirit of Big Daddy looms large in “Kick Ass 2”. Taking over from Matthew Vaughan (who steps back to Producer Duties for this instalment), Jeff Wadlow infuses the film with an increased comic book sensibility and even the transitions and narrative sidesteps are accompanied by boxed captions lifted straight from the page.
Nominally, “Kick Ass 2” is the story of the revenge of Mintz-Plasse’s Chris D’Amico against Kick-Ass who he blames (not without justification) for his father’s death by bazooka while our heroes Dave Lezewski (Kick Ass) and Mindy Macready (Hit-Girl) struggle to adjust to a normal life, with varying degrees of success.
However, along the way, the film packs a whole lot more into its trim one hour and forty minute running time. Taking its cue from the first film, “Kick Ass 2” sets out to parody the conventions and formulae of superhero sequels and succeeds in spades. The action is edgier and more violent, the villain more unhinged and at every opportunity, everything is ramped up. There are fights galore, with the same heady mix of brutality and awkwardness. There’s the inevitable misjudged crackdown by the authorities on all masked vigilantes while seemingly oblivious to the increasing activities of the villains. You get the skewed Kick Ass take on the cliché of the hero giving up their “powers” to live normally and the increasing pressure for them to reluctantly pick up the mask again. But squarely in the film’s sights is the current vogue for superhero team ups. The tendency for superhero sequels to pile on the jeopardy by adding villain after villain after villain into the film is sent up in spectacular style in the frenetic finale. They even find time to accommodate a hilarious B-story which is basically a version of “Mean Girls” with Mindy in the Lindsay Lohan role. This B-story does, however, contain the one false note of the entire film: a jarringly bizarre bit of “product placement” for also-ran British boyband Union J. Yeah, that Union J. And they don’t even get a good kicking.
“Kick Ass 2” manages that rare thing of being a sequel which is arguably better than its predecessor. It’s certainly much, much funnier than the first film (which was no slouch in the jokes department itself) while still delivering on the thrills, the violence and the shocks – there are a whole bunch of laugh out loud moments and even some gasps to be had. The cast are all on great form and the newcomers blend in well, even Jim Carrey’s showy cameo as Major Stars ‘n’ Stripes which is a smaller role than you might expect given the fuss caused by his reluctance to publicise this film due to its violent nature.
As an aside, on that score, I couldn’t disagree with Jim Carrey more. Whatever else “Kick Ass 2” does, it does not glamorise violence. In fact, unlike the action packed blockbusters it’s lampooning, the violence in “Kick Ass 2” is shown to have real and lasting consequences. Fights hurt, people are injured and die and the film doesn’t flinch from showing that. There are no bloodless beat downs here, and the film is stronger and better for it. After a run of disappointing films, it suddenly feels like 2013’s summer blockbuster season has a bit of fight left in it after all.
“Kick Ass 2” delivers what it promises: action, comedy, violence and profanity. What more could you want?