Sequels are always a real tough thing to nail down aren't they? Often the stakes are higher with more money on the line, especially in the case of superhero flicks these days, but it can be a hard sell. Can we top the original while building on the foundation of what the original got right and, hopefully, dispel what it got wrong? Director/writer Jeff Wadlow attempted to do that in bringing us the sequel to 2010's Kick-Ass . The movie is often fun, extremely violent though lacking the impact that the original had, but suffers from shitty plotting, numerous pacing problems and, frankly, uninspired performances from a few of the film's stars.
There was, of course, the controversy over creator Mark Millar's statement of his artistic vision being compromised by certain changes made to the movie. The changes were necessary. The link above explains it much better than I could but let's just thank our stars we didn't get a direct adaptation of the comic. Ew. Seriously. This was, however, the follow-up to what was not so much a box-office success but an in-demand property.The original Kick-Ass had Matthew Vaughn at the helm with Jane Goldman working the screenplay. Both went a long way in adapting the deconstructionist work of Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. It was manic and quite a lot of fun. It was, at the time, a breath of fresh air in the genre that was already starting to feel stale. It was an under-performer domestically --it only made $48 million-- but received a strong enough critical and fan response there was hope for a follow-up. It took another 3 years to make it happen but Lionsgate did.
So, now we've got the inevitable sequel. The budget is bigger. Characters are established now. Wadlow, however, is not Matthew Vaughn. The message gets muddled along the way. We're told, rather constantly, that there are such dire consequences. This is "the real world". Yet the violence is so over the top and frenetic and results in so little aftermath that the entire core of the concept is lost. Three stories are told here: The struggle of Dave of being Kick-Ass, the revenge of Chris D'amico (who dubs himself The Motherfucker) and his attempt to become the first supervillain and Hit-Girl trying to adjust to being a normal teenager in very Mean Girls -esque sort of arc. The tales only come together, really, when Kick-Ass attempts to get Hit-Girl back into the hero business. Disjointed, cruddy and, frankly, just not great describes the entire affair quite well.
Wadlow, despite his ability to deliver some genuinely good comic book flourish and some decent action set-pieces here and there fails are making much of the attempted triple-tale actually worth watching. He truly wasted a VERY talented actress in Chloë Grace Moretz giving us an R-rated high school melodramedy. The reason for this was due to a change from the original comic but, still, it was just plain weak. Mintz-Plasse is actually the best of three and was my favorite part of the main meat of the film. His rise to supervillainy was entertaining as hell (it helped that John Leguizamo as his right hand man was great along with him). He was crazed and really possessed of the need to kill Kick-Ass.
But what of Kick-Ass himself? Much of what made the first movie work, for me, was the idea that we had someone just trying to do the right thing. He got his ass handed to him consistently because he's just a normal guy. Here he's more seasoned and has been in the game for a while. His training with Hit-Girl has made him much better at not getting the shit kicked out of him. That's well and good and the whole thing is nearly redeemed when he joins the Justice League-like society. Here he meets other people like him who wanted to make a difference or had their own varied reasons for taking up the cape and cowl. Here's the biggest problem: Aaron Tyler Johnson isn't great at acting. So, mostly, I was just bored by him throughout.
Jim Carrey shines as Colonel Stars-and-Stripes but isn't in the movie long as his former mob enforcer turned good guy. Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina) kicks a LOT of ass on the other side of the coin. Donald Faison as Dr. Gravity was great too. But see isn't this the problem? The ancillary characters were honestly much better than the main characters. We came to this sequel wanting to see these characters we knew reunited for more fun. We got, instead, one of them presented in an interesting way whereas the rest was just kind of boring (Kick-Ass) or downright bad (Hit-Girl).
The original felt so different because, frankly, it was giving us this level of violence we hadn't seen in superhero movies before. Now it feels like old hat. There's more swearing too but that feels just unnecessary honestly. Moretz being three years older also kind of diminishes the effect of Hit-Girl's entire character. Wadlow, thankfully, didn't adapt some of the worst parts of the original source (rape and animal mutilation) and even pokes fun at the ideas. It's far too little to redeem the film, though.