(Note: there is a post-credits scene at the end of the movie; the closing credits don’t last very long, so don’t worry about the wait.)
Films like Kick-Ass and its new sequel, Kick-Ass 2, weren’t made to set examples on how to act in real life; it’s escapist entertainment that uses the medium of film to explore possibilities, one being that people might decide to emulate their comic book superheroes by dressing up in costumes and fighting crime. There have been a number of news stories regarding a few masked crusaders doing community service in our neighborhoods, but Kick-Ass takes it to a whole new level. Based on a comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr., Kick-Ass details the life of Dave Lizewski, a high school student who takes up the mantle of masked vigilante Kick-Ass, determined to try to make the world a better place. The comic book series (currently hitting shelves with its third story arc) and the resulting critically-acclaimed film adaptation in 2010 has spawned a filmed sequel based on the second chapter in the Kick-Ass saga, reuniting Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Mindy Macready (Chloë Grace Moretz) as they take on one of their biggest challenges yet: growing up.
When we last checked in with Dave and Mindy – a.k.a. Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl, respectively – they were headed for high school, with Mindy attending the same school a few class years behind Dave. Orphaned as a result of events that happened in the last film, Mindy has left behind her life as Hit-Girl due to a promise made to her foster father, Marcus Williams (Morris Chestnut) and to her deceased father, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage, seen in photographs only). Now that she’s not fighting crime, she has to deal with a whole new set of problems stemming from her lack of an ordinary life – boys, crushes, hormones, boy band fandom, and fitting in at her new school. It’s in her journey that Kick-Ass 2 seems to invest most of its time, as we see how she buries her former self to trade up for a life of suburban malaise.
By contrast, Dave has just encountered a league of masked crimefighters called Justice Forever, a group spearheaded by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey at his scuzzy best) featuring several crusaders from different walks of life. There’s a couple whose preteen son never came home; a homosexual man who refuses to wear a mask (as he claims that it’s too much like being in the closet); and Dave’s friend Marty (Clark Duke), who’s joined the league under false (yet honorable) pretenses. Finally finding a home with people who have his back, Dave joins them on patrols and raids, occasionally garnering attention for the good he’s doing.
Unfortunately, he’s also noticed by Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Dave/Kick-Ass’ nemesis, left fatherless after the first film due to Kick-Ass’ handy use of a bazooka. Ditching his Red Mist persona and renaming himself The Motherf**ker, his quest to wreak violent revenge on Kick-Ass grows to insane heights, including shootouts at a funeral and the destruction of at least four police cars in a quiet neighborhood. Aspiring to be the world’s first real supervillain, he creates an army for himself that includes a seemingly indestructible ex-KGB agent who snaps necks between her legs with no more effort than she expends to breathe.
Kick-Ass 2 doesn’t play nice; in fact, it’s downright violent and often disturbing, as we see Chris sink further into his revenge-fueled dementia, leaving a path of destruction and terror in his wake, no matter how inept he is. Mintz-Plasse plays Chris as a petulant child, lashing out at everything and anybody that stands in his way, even his own blood relatives; you almost feel kind of sorry for him, as he’s lost complete touch with any semblance of reality, which further gets compounded by the fact that he’s weak and immature. He is the comic relief in this film, but a super-dark comic relief, at that. Taylor-Johnson is the cool voice of reason in the movie, eager to take his actions to the next level while still being able to appreciate the sinister seriousness the story takes midway through.
The real star here is Chloë Grace Moretz, as she navigates Mindy from being an unstoppable fighting machine to being a meek cheerleader at tryouts. It’s to her credit that she plays Mindy as someone who’s trying so hard to forgo her violent past in search of a peaceful life, but that peace comes at a price of losing her own self. And when she prefers patrolling the streets and beating up criminals over the catty high school life in which she finds herself embroiled, you know that her world isn’t like the rest of ours; she was made to be greater than she is, and the constant conflict that she portrays throughout the movie as she tries to reconcile both sides doesn’t go unnoticed. The name of the movie may be Kick-Ass 2, but it’s Mindy/Hit-Girl’s movie all the way.
Kick-Ass 2 is not just a good movie – it’s one of those rare sequels that improves vastly upon its predecessor. While the original film shocked and entertained us, this movie looks into the teenage heart of darkness, often blurring the lines between the real world and the fantasy world bubbling just underneath; it asks so much of its characters, and the actors playing them give it their all. It’s a deeper, more resonant film than the last, and it winds up actually breaking your heart in some ways. It may not be an Oscar-winner, but Kick-Ass 2 has definitely earned its place as a great superhero movie.
(Personal note: the original Kick-Ass film was the first movie I ever reviewed professionally. Special thanks goes to Dean Rogers at The Rogers Revue for the opportunity.)