When released in 2010, the Matthew Vaughn directed Kick-Ass became something of a revelation. Surrounded by increasingly po-faced comic book superhero films the original film followed the story of a normal teenager donning a wet-suit to fight crime and took great big pot-shots at the genre. It successfully subverted every aspect of a superhero origin story with childish glee. A sequel was almost immediately green-lit and as before is based on the graphic novel series by Mark Miller and John Romita Jr.
Having retired from active crime-fighting, Dave 'Kick-Ass' Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) begins to find his normal life too boring. Enlisting the help of the orphaned Mindy Macready AKA Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), Dave begins to train himself to get back on the streets. After Hit-Girl refuses to join him as his partner, he discovers that there is a burgeoning team of heroes called Justice Forever, lead by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). After a few successful missions, Dave discovers that his former partner Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), rechristened The Motherfucker, has vowed to get revenge on Kick-Ass and has created a team of Supervillains to help called The Toxic Mega Cunts.
The subtlety has not been ramped-up in this insane, yet uneven sequel. There's still plenty of close-to-the-bone jokes and set-pieces that thrill and excite and in Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl and The Motherfucker, director Wadlow has been given a trio of actors who can carefully manage the required comic-timing, pathos and charm that helped make the original so successful. Unfortunately, with great power comes great responsibility and there is a sense that everyone involved in the script is somehow holding back, which creates a rather odd juxtaposition for the pacing and narrative.
Far from mocking comic book films Kick-Ass 2 falls into the same cliches that the first film roundly mocked. We are now given plenty if emotional baggage for all characters as well as constant references to fallen mentors that cheapen the impact of the satire. The extended subplot that follows Hit-Girl trying to have a 'normal life' doesn't work and while Moretz throws herself into the role with plenty of gusto, not to mention swearing and violence, it starts to become a bit of a drag. In fact the finale of that particular story, basically an out-of-place fart gag could well have come straight out of an Adam Sandler film.
To make room for Hit-Girl's new origin story, it is Kick-Ass who suffers, being reduced to a co-lead, which is fine in theory. If the goal was to bring her to the forefront they should have taken the truly bold step of making her the sole lead. Sadly the charm of the original film is that Hit-Girl, while crucial to the narrative, was far more entertaining on the outskirts occasionally dipping in to deliver some high-octane action. This at least remains intact and while the best scenes involve the imposing Olga Kurkulina as Mother Russia there's still some good old-fashioned hyper-violence on display. Meanwhile Mintz-Plasse unleashes his inner fetishist with the creation of The Motherfucker and his relationship with 'butler' Javier (John Leguizamo) provides some of the more subtle highlights.
But this doesn't appear to be the same World as before. The original worked beautifully because it showed the brutal reality of trying to fight crime with no training, and as an audience we really felt every broken rib and black eye. In Kick-Ass 2 however Wadlow and company fall to easily into the most cliched elements of the genre and the uneven tone this creates throughout really hampers the thrill-ride desperate to break-through. Luckily there's still enough wit and invention to make this a worthy addition to the most sweary and controversial comic book franchises going. Next time though, let's give Hit-Girl the lead.