With Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey, Morris Chestnut. Written by and directed by Jeff Wadlow. Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, crude and sexual content, and brief nudity. 103 minutes.
It’s hard to explain the appeal of KICK-ASS 2 and its predecessor. In some sense it’s just another comic book superhero movie. What makes it different––besides the R-rated language, violence, and “brief nudity”––is that it’s about superheroes without any superpowers. Even Batman, after all, had the power of Bruce Wayne’s wealth.
Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a high school kid who simply wants to make the world a better place. He donned a costume, learned some moves, and became Kick-Ass, starting a trend of other costumed vigilantes going out to fight crime. In the first film he found an ally in the diminutive Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) who had been trained by her ex-cop father (played by Nicolas Cage) who died at the hands of the mobster who framed him. Kick-Ass and Hit Girl saved the day, but not before the mobster’s son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) vowed revenge.
The new story has the mobster’s son abandoning his fake superhero identity of Red Mist, which was just a ruse to get revenge on Kick-Ass, and deciding to become the first real super-villain. His identity alone would earn the film its R rating. Let’s just say it’s a compound twelve letter word, the first part of which is “Mother.” As he plots his revenge, our heroes embark on two separate paths.
After temporarily retiring, Kick-Ass is back in action. He becomes part of a team of other misfit costumed wannabes, including Colonel Stars-and–Stripes (Jim Carrey), an ex-mob enforcer turned born-again Christian who sics his dog Eisenhower on evildoers. Missing is Hit Girl, who has been grounded by her step-father (Morris Chestnut), and is trying to live life as ordinary ninth grader Mindy Macready.
Perhaps that gets at it: the primary teenage characters are trying to figure out where they fit into the world, and have started to get that the authority figures in their lives don’t always have the answers. In between the swearing and the violence––some of it cartoonish and some of it not––this is really an adolescent anxiety movie. At one point, Kick-Ass tells Hit Girl that that’s who she really is, and that Mindy is the mask. That’s not literally true, of course, but it is the key issue of our teen years: figuring out our own identities rather than have them imposed by others.
That provides just enough emotional heft to the proceedings so that we can laugh at Mindy’s revenge on the “mean girls” who humiliated her––it may be the only bodily function joke in the movies this year that earns its laugh––as well as the grotesque stereotyping among the villains. On the side of the heroes there are caricatures as well, but they are treated more sympathetically. The most problematic might be “Night Bitch” (Lindy Booth) whose costume is hardly sending a message of female empowerment, yet when we see the real person behind the costumed figure she turns out to be a nice girl acting out as, indeed, all the guys are doing as well.
Don’t let the serious talk here frighten you off. Like the first film, “Kick-Ass 2” is goofy, foul-mouthed at times, very violent, and both Kick-Ass and Hit Girl get to, well, kick ass. It is what the film promises, and it delivers.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.