More Superheroes, But Less Super

Review of “Kick-Ass 2”

BY VINCENT ABBATECOLA

2013_kick_ass_2-wideThree years ago, director Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass” unleashed two young and daring superheroes into the mix of comic-book cinema: the teenage-nerd-turned-city-savior Kick-Ass, and the child weapon-wielding prodigy known as Hit-Girl. Based on the comic-book series by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., it was a superhero movie that presented a humorous depiction of amateur vigilantes.

“Kick-Ass 2,” directed by Jeff Wadlow, follows a different, but inferior approach to the continuation of the story. Where many superhero sequels should outshine their predecessors, this one feels more like an annoying sidekick to the first.

In New York City, there has been an increase of individuals who wish to follow in the footsteps of Kick-Ass’s latest valiance. Now, in his senior year of high school and not sure what to do with his life, Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) wants to create a superhero team with Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz). After Mindy is caught going out as Hit-Girl, against her guardian’s wishes, she is forbidden to continue her heroic deeds. As a result, Kick-Ass finds and joins a group of superheroes, known as Justice Forever. Meanwhile, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) sets out to form a team of super villains to avenge his father, who died at the hands of Kick-Ass.

Now that Taylor-Johnson’s character of Dave has grown into his ability to be Kick-Ass, both sides of his role exemplify a confidence that has helped him develop into a hero. He isn’t the timid, Peter-Parker like outcast audiences were introduced to in the previous film, but a more experienced superhero who can now bring some serious damage to the film’s many brawls.

Although Taylor-Johnson and Mintz-Plasse reprise their roles effectively, Grace Moretz gives the standout performance in the film. She has grown into a mature young actress, and is still getting better. Having evolved from a preteen from the first film to a shy high-school freshman, the viewer sees her gleeful ruthlessness when she dons her cape, but can also sense the insecurities she carries as she walks through the school hallways as a normal girl.

There’s a scene where her character learns to be herself, and this new-found confidence helps her stand up to the popular girls. Because of her strong personality as Hit-Girl, there was reason to hope that she would throw some of her scorpion-sting remarks to bring down the clique, however, her retaliation quickly turns into an embarrassing display of crude humor that seems to be above her character, as well as the movie, given how smart the first one was.

One would think that a sequel with more heroes to showcase would take advantage of the opportunity and flesh them out a bit beyond their brief origin stories, but many of them are fairly forgettable, even Doctor Gravity, played by Donald Faison, who was superbly funny on Scrubs.

The best new addition to the “Kick-Ass” universe is Jim Carrey, who plays Justice Forever leader Colonel Stars and Stripes. He doesn’t use his typical Carrey mannerisms and humorous physical movements, which is fine because they would have seemed awkward with his superhero character. *SPOILER ALERT* Unfortunately, what could have been a terrifically funny and different performance from him is cut short.

The screenplay from Wadlow, in what can be guessed as an attempt to top the previous film, as is the case with some comedy-franchise sequels, tries too hard to get even more laughs by employing gross-out humor in certain spots. There are also some issues with the plot concerning Dave’s love life. His girlfriend Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca) gets upset with him when she thinks he is dating Mindy, and then this issue is forgotten and never resolved. It’s frustrating because Katie is who Dave wanted to be with in the first movie, and they don’t even try to fix the problem. He then begins a relationship with a member of Justice Forever, which doesn’t go anywhere and is suddenly dropped before the end without any explanation.

The difference between Matthew Vaughn and Jeff Wadlow is that Vaughn struck an acceptable balance between the heavy violence and dark humor that reinforced each other in the first installment, whereas Wadlow emphasizes so much on the over-the-top violence that the humor is almost gone. There are even a couple of scenes where the violence gets so potent that it transforms material from being darkly funny to just dark, particularly a scene where the super villains take on a group of police in a local neighborhood.

“Kick-Ass 2” tries to do what most superhero sequels do, and that’s to add more action to top the predecessor. But, supplying more doesn’t always guarantee success. In most cases, all a filmmaker has to do is retain the spirit of what has worked before. It might have been fine if the fight scenes kept some of their wit, but it simply becomes too much at times that it’s almost jarring.

While there are many superheroes that deserve plenty of save-the-day adventures, Kick-Ass should probably just stay on the panels of his comics.

Final grade: C-