The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Kick-Ass 2

I still remember the day I saw Kick-Ass. The movie, about a teenage boy who decides to become a superhero, was bold, daring, and more than a little shocking. It took chances in a way few mainstream films do, deconstructing the traditional superhero mythos in the process. I loved it. Although it wasn’t a box office hit (U.S. gross = $48 million), it did sufficiently well on DVD to warrant a sequel. Kick-Ass 2 is largely devoid of the things that made its predecessor beloved by its fans, no matter where or when they first discovered it. The film is a huge step backward.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson returns as Dave Lizewski, the high school nerd who moonlights as the titular superhero. We find him forming a partnership with fellow superhero Mindy Macready (Chloe Grace Moretz), a.k.a. Hit-Girl. She trains him in the ways of her late father, who died in the original. But then her legal guardian, detective Marcus Williams (Morris Chestnut), persuades her to give up crime-fighting and try to become a normal teen. A rejected Dave instead joins up with a squadron of other homemade superheroes, led by Col. Stars & Stripes (Jim Carrey). Meanwhile, Chris D’Amico (Chrisopher Mintz-Plasse), who was once Kick-Ass’s arch nemesis Red Mist, wants revenge for the death of his father, who Dave blew up with a rocket launcher. Giving himself a new supervillain name (not suitable for print here, but it rhymes with “Brother Trucker”), he assembles a group of thugs and sets out to destroy Dave and everyone close to him – including his costumed pals.

The original Kick-Ass - based on the acclaimed comic by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. – was a satire about the inability of young people to distinguish fantasy from reality. Or, more accurately, their perceived inability to distinguish fantasy from reality. Dave Lizewski discovered that fighting crime is legitimately dangerous. People get hurt and die, and there can be a lot of ethical gray area in vigilantism. He also discovered that living the fantasy for real is awesome. Having minors, especially the pre-teen Hit-Girl, engage in graphic combat was not just a tactic for shock value, it was a key element of the satire. Kick-Ass 2 dramatically softens the edges and dilutes the satiric content of the material. The few scenes designed to be “edgy” (like a whopper of an offensive rape joke) are, in fact, clearly artificial, while the satire has been replaced by pathos.

Let me just say that pathos is completely the wrong thing to insert into this kind of subject matter. It takes the sting out of the stuff that’s supposed to be provocative. As a result, Kick-Ass is largely marginalized in his own story. He has surprisingly little of substance to do. Instead, we’re treated to an inane subplot in which a stereotypical trio of “mean girls” take Mindy up as a charity case. They give her a makeover, try to get her on the cheerleading squad, and, naturally, end up humiliating her. This leads to an embarrassingly awful scene in which Mindy exacts a slapstick revenge scheme. Chloe Grace Moretz remains as talented and likeable as ever, but this whole sappy subplot completely undermines who Hit-Girl is. It almost feels as though Kick-Ass 2 briefly morphs into Pretty in Pink. Who cares about predictable teen angst when we could see her dealing with the death of her father and watching how it drives her desire to carry on with her alter ego?

Moretz is good despite her lame story arc. The same goes for Christopher Mintz-Plasse. The whole “avenging the death of my father” thing is old, but he at least brings a nice combination of humorous evil (evil humorousness?) to his character. Since the release of the original, both actors have become more famous than Aaron Taylor-Johnson, which may account for their increased presences here. Not that I mind, I just don’t care for what the movie does with them. Then there’s Kick-Ass himself, who wanders around the fringes, not really having much of anything to do. Whereas the first movie explored how his fantasy of being a superhero measured up to the reality, Kick-Ass 2 doesn’t know what to do with him. He’s got no inner conflict, no real struggle to deal with, other than stopping the bad guy. The loss of his POV ultimately saps the sequel of the thing that was most effective in the original.

Writer/director Jeff Wadlow (Never Back Down, Cry Wolf) doesn’t stage the action with as much flair as original helmer Matthew Vaughn, nor does he know how to bring out the satire inherent in Millar and Romita’s book. Whereas Kick-Ass was sharp and provocative, Kick-Ass 2 is rote and bland. Not even Jim Carrey’s terrific turn can pump the necessary life into it. I walked away from the first installment feeling dazzled by its nervy mixture of children, violence, and superhero conceits. I walked away from the sequel feeling that it had abandoned the very stuff that made Kick-Ass so, well, kick-ass. It’s a “safe” follow-up to a movie that rejected the very notion of safety.

( out of four)

Kick-Ass 2 is rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, crude and sexual content, and brief nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.

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