After Kick-Ass’ (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) insane bravery inspires a new wave of self-made masked crusaders, led by the Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), the young vigilante joins them on patrol. When these amateur superheroes are hunted down by Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse)—reborn as The Mother F**ker—only the blade-wielding Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) can prevent their annihilation.
'This isn’t a comic book," someone cautions the eponymous, bespoke teenaged hero of Kick-Ass 2, the hapless high schooler Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). The line comes as he and a rag-tag group of vigilantes known as Justice Forever prepare to do battle against the equally knockabout forces of evil assembled by good-guy-turned-evil-mastermind Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who has changed his name from Red Mist to the easier to remember The Motherfucker. The moment is a typically heavy-handed grasp for a laugh, and is of course meant ironically. But as the profane and proud of it sequel to the then-startling 2010 action comedy, Kick-Ass 2 continues, by virtue of the courage of its convictions, a franchise that is perhaps the closest in tone and attitude to the pure anarchic spirit at the heart of any great comic book. Thus, as far as guilty pleasures go in the cacophony of contemporary popular culture, few can surpass these films for pure chutzpah. These are indeed comic book movies the way comic book movies should be made: loud, colourful, snarky to the point of obnoxiousness, hit-and-miss funny, and socially aware.
few can surpass these films for pure chutzpah
That last is important, as in amongst the carnage and cursing that has so polarised critics and audiences alike are a pair of films about young people trying to do good in a world where the deck is stacked against them on all fronts. They do increasingly silly things both online and in real time to stand out from the crowd of other kids in the same boat trying to validate their identities and make some noise.
The creators of Kick-Ass understand this, and embrace the crudity as a way of both spoofing this trend and taking it to its logical extreme. There’s a reason Dave wonders in both films why nobody ever thought of donning a home-made hero costume before, and an equally strong reason why, by Kick-Ass 2, so many other citizens, young and old, have followed his lead.
Perhaps the most inspired theme woven into the proceedings by writer-director Jeff Wadlow belongs to franchise superstar Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz). Forced to renounce her profane crime-fighting ways by the cop who took over as her guardian (Morris Chestnut) when her father (Nicolas Cage) was killed in the first film, she instead makes a concerted effort to run with the right crowd at school. That’s right: Kick-Ass 2 morphs, for a time, into an update of Mean Girls, and a clever, if overly familiar, one at that.
And speaking of Cage, the stunt casting here finds a virtually unrecognisable Jim Carrey playing the most flamboyant addition to the group, the baseball bat-wielding Colonel Stars and Stripes. Unfortunately, after a strong introduction, he’s not given much to do. Carrey has come out publicly condemning the film’s violence in the wake of the most recent American school massacre; many have seen this as a cynical ploy to create publicity, and that could well be true. Yet it is difficult to believe he didn’t know what he was getting into, though easy to imagine he was deeply affected, as were many others, by the real-life violence. It is far too glib a thing to dismiss his opinion with the familiar 'it’s only a movie’ sentiment, as there’s a good chance this pair of films will look, in time, if not visionary, then certainly an accurate time capsule of a challenging time in American culture.
So be brave and let us now praise Kick-Ass. And Hit Girl. And even the new guy, Colonel Stars and Strips. And especially Wadlow, who has stuck to the guns of the first film and made a film that honours the best and most anarchic spirit of the comic book even as it revels in its own lowered brow and relentless blue language. Whilst the soft opening stateside suggests the film’s target audience may have matured—well, okay, maybe just grown up—should Kick-Ass 2 represent the end of the line for this polarising, guilty pleasure-defining franchise, it sure was fun while it lasted.