We all have the capacity for violence inside ourselves. This is a persistent fascination of the human condition, and it’s interesting that, in a world still so full of violence, we choose to fill our entertainment escapes with it. Does it help us to process what’s happening, to deal with its effects, or does it numb us to its impacts, make the brutal reality easier to swallow?
Honestly I don’t know, but I enjoy violent films as much as the next person, not because of the violence itself, but because of the story it can be used to tell, the impact or emotional depth it can offer. Something like Saw or Hostel offers nothing to me, with excessive violence at the expense of story, character, nuance or the like. Films like Drive or Oldboy (the remake of which was trailed before Kick-Ass 2 and got me thinking about this) however, while brutal and graphic, use violence symbolically, to communicate themes and character or to make a statement. It’s a difficult line to find though, as Nicolas Winding Refn recently found with Only God Forgives.
Matthew Vaughn achieved this delicate balance with 2010’s Kick-Ass, which provided the original and shocking visuals of an 11-year-old girl ultra-violently taking out the bad guys with just enough realism mixed with knowing winks to the audience; a refreshingly alternative satire on the Superhero genre that has become an all-encompassing Hollywood juggernaut.
Unfortunately Kick-Ass 2 fails to match the original, despite retreading familiar ground, stumbling at crucial moments and totally overshooting in its use of violence.
Voice-overs in film are acceptable in very few circumstances (Sunset Boulevard being one), and its use is often an indication of larger problems within the film. Such is the case with Kick-Ass 2, where it’s used in an attempt to paper over the cracks of poor story-telling technique and ineffective direction.
Set a few years after the first movie, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) suddenly decides he wants to become Kick-Ass again, and tries to convince Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) to join him. Mindy is trying to keep a promise to stay out of the vigilante game to her dead father Big Daddy, while also attempting to fit in at high-school. Meanwhile, inspired by Kick-Ass, people are suiting up across the city and Dave joins the Justice Forever group of ‘superheroes’, while Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) styles himself as the first super-villain – ‘The Motherfucker’.
Director Jeff Wadlow attempts to string together all these plots, but whatever momentum he is able to gather is often halted by blatant exposition or wild shifts in tone, sometimes within the same scene. There are parts that just don’t work, such as Mindy’s foray into ‘Mean Girls’ high-school territory, which aims to subvert the cliché and fails, settling for a gross-out pay off that’s not as funny as the film thinks. In fact much of the film isn’t as funny as it could or should be, with the joke hit rate about 20%, the best of which you will have seen in the trailer anyway.
The main problem though is what I started with, the film’s confusing approach to violence. The first film addressed the absurdity of the superhero genre, questioning its empowerment fantasies and lack of consequences, and while Kick-Ass 2 purports to share the ideas and real world context of the original, instead it misses the point entirely. It takes all the wit and satire out of the violence and indulges the tropes it should be skewering, bludgeoning you into submission with its fights, epitomised by having a huge Russian woman gleefully murder ten cops on a suburban street for laughs.
This is not to say there aren’t some bright points. Interestingly, having distanced himself from the film due to its violence, Jim Carrey is one of the best things in it. He does some great character work as the leader of Justice Forever, Captain Star and Stripes, a born again former mob-enforcer. It’s something I haven’t seen from him before, and he offers a real presence and should perhaps explore some villainous roles in the future. Chloë Grace Moretz is the other highlight, able to do very good work with some frankly poorly written stuff for her character, and she is surely destined for better things than this movie.
Kick-Ass 2 fails to capture the spirit of the original in this totally unnecessary sequel, whose best parts are brought down by tired plotting and violence that has all the subtlety and intelligence of a nun-chuck to the face.
Kick-Ass 2 is released in Australia August 22nd and is now in cinemas across North America.
Directed by: Jeff Wadlow
Written by: Jeff Wadlow
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey
Distributed by: Universal