The problem with Kick-Ass 2 is, fundamentally, the same problem that undermined Kick-Ass. The title character, a weakling teenage fanboy (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who reinvents himself as the “superhero” Kick-Ass, is a bore. In terms of audience interest, his predicament—lonely, comic-book-obsessed teenager dreams of being a superhero—runs the gamut from distracting to boring to annoying. In the original comic book—because, of course, this is adapted from a Goddamned comic book—it has been reported that the Kick-Ass character learns of the real-world consequences to vigilante violence. The movies, however, are a complete mess. The filmmakers revel in some bloody ultraviolence and then expect us to be horrified by some other senseless slaughter.
This worked a whole lot better in Matthew Vaughn’s original film, because Vaughn knew how to bluff his way through the incoherent material: keep things moving, and keep upping the ante on the violence. Jeff Wadlow’s sequel doesn’t use violence as a through-line; instead, it comes in bursts of shocking cruelty and often hilarious, over-the-top absurdity. Example: How on Earth did Wadlow think he was going to top a sequence in which a one-eyed ex-KGB agent nicknamed “Mother Russia” destroys half a dozen cop cars, and murders the cops inside them with everything from machine guns to a lawn mower?
What works about the sequel is the same thing that made the original entertaining: Chlőe Grace Moretz’s character Mindy, aka Hit Girl. Mindy/Hit Girl is a pint-sized Dirty Harry crossed with a ninja warrior, and whenever Moretz is on screen you know that something interesting is likely to happen. Just as in the original, the filmmakers are not sure what to do with the character; at one point, Kick-Ass 2 turns into Mean Girls, as Mindy tries to be accepted as a “normal” teenager in a “regular” high school. This is funny stuff—especially when she turns on her ninja skills to audition for the dance squad—but it seems like it’s out of a completely different movie.
There are two interesting adult characters introduced in Kick-Ass 2: John Leguizamo as teenage villain Chris/The Motherfucker’s (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) only friend, and Jim Carrey as a born-again vigilante who mentors Kick-Ass. Neither, however, is around for very long. (Yes, this is a film that needs more Jim Carrey.)
In the end those goofy, good-hearted vigilante superheroes triumph over evil in a predictably bloody showdown, and Hit Girl rides off into the sunset on her purple motorcycle. If there’s another sequel, let’s hope it follows Hit Girl’s lead and leaves Kick-Ass behind.