Thursday, August 22, 2013

Review: Kick-Ass 2

The original Kick-Ass was a fun, sharp, self-aware play on the superhero genre punctuated by humor, sarcasm, and over-the-top violence.  While the movie was not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, it was an anthem of sorts to anyone who has ever read a comic book, watched a Saturday morning cartoon, or plunked down cash at the cinema to witness caped vigilantes save the day.  Ultimately, because of its cult following (and of course its success in the home entertainment market), Universal decided to move forward with a sequel.  The result of this decision is a movie that hardly resembles (in look and feel) its predecessor, despite the fact that nearly every surviving character from the first movie reprises their respective role.

The plot of Kick-Ass 2 finds Kick-Ass ad Hit Girl moving forward with their leaves after the events of the first film and each is coping with the fallout in different ways.  With the increasing emergence of citizens taking up the role of costumed vigilantes, Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Dave feels compelled to once again put on his Kick-Ass costume and join a league dedicated to preserving justice, while Chlore Grace Moretz’s Mindy is convinced by her stepfather to leave behind that life.  Still thirsting for revenge, Christopher Mintz-Plasse's Chris D'Amico assembles a squad of super villains to hunt down and destroy Kick-Ass and his cohorts, thus setting up the ultimate faceoff between the two.

The first and foremost reason why this film fails is that unlike its predecessor, this film is not so much a self-aware tongue-in-cheek look at the superhero genre, but more a straight forward narrative.  Perhaps there is nothing left in the genre to be prodded or perhaps writer/director Jeff Wadlow’s script just isn’t as insightful, but the fact of the matter is that Kick-Ass would not have worked as a nuts-and-bolts credible narrative and neither does this one.  The plot is just too farcical and nonsensical to be played straight and needless to say that the absence of Matthew Vaughn behind the camera is glaring.

Another problem with Kick-Ass 2 is that it feels as though the film loses its way very early on in the plot.  Another strength of its predecessor is that even though it was set in New York City, there was a small intimate feeling to the story.  Everything felt very contained in a specific time and space and that kept the narrative taut and the pacing brisk.  With the expanded scope and scale of Kick-Ass 2, that sort of vibe and pacing that marked the first film gets lost and likewise, the plot holes and logic leaps feel that much bigger and much more egregious.

My last issue with this film has to do with the work of Aaron Taylor-Johnson.  Taylor-Johnson has turned in some good work in the past (Kick-Ass, Anna Karenina), but it doesn’t take too much screen time to realize he has outgrown this role.  The hair, the posture, his voice – it all seems so forced not unlike those last few years of Jaleel White as Urkel on Family Matter.  In fact, that is a perfect analogy.  It makes you feel like there is no credibility to his portrayal of the awkward teen protagonist and that breaks the “reality” of the film.

As for his precocious co-star, Chloe Grace Moretz, she continues to act beyond her years.  Unfortunately, the role is not up to snuff.  Her character’s assimilation into real-life seems so oddly detached from the film, playing out like scenes from Mean Girls 2 that were left on the cutting room floor.  It’s a story no one wants to see that does more harm to the pacing of the film than any good it might do for character development.  Since 500 Days of Summer, it’s been evident that Moretz can act, but with this and her upcoming turn in the Carrie remake, the question remains as to whether she (and her people) are choosing proper roles.

As for the rest of the cast, no one stands out from the collection of pedestrian performances.  Christopher Mintz-Plasse as super villain Chris D’Amico plays an iteration of pretty much every other character that he has ever played; ditto for Clark Duke and Donald Faison as Kick-Ass’ friend Marty and the likable but unremarkable Dr. Gravity respectively.  As for the more seasoned of the principle players, Morris Chestnut, John Leguizamo, and Jim Carrey do little more than go through the paces in limited screen time – presumably laughing all the way to the bank.  Ultimately, their performances fall in line with what looks and feels like a mediocre production from start to finish.

When you consider the film from top to bottom it’s impossible not to conclude that Kick-Ass 2 is a sequel that didn’t need to be made.  It’s slower and more violent than the first, but more importantly, not nearly as clever.  Only a small portion of the general public will mine some entertainment value from watching this film, so it is really difficult for me to recommend it.  At best, it’s a rental for fans of the action and/or superhero genre but even then it is not a slam dunk to entertain.  As for those of you who truly loved the first Kick-Ass, The Matrix rules should apply; meaning if you want to preserve your affinity for the first film, then avoid this sequel. 

Standout Performance:  Lindy Booth, since I have noting bad to say.


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