Sunday, September 15, 2013

BOP Review: Kick-Ass 2


As an avid comic book reader, I've rarely - hell, probably never - put down a comic or refused to finish it based off of one scene. That changed whenever I read the second issue of Mark Millar's Kick-Ass 2, the comic that this movie is somewhat loosely based off of. There was a scene in it that I found to be so incredibly tasteless and so unnecessarily cruel that I just decided I'd had enough right then and there, put down the title, and never read any of it's subsequent issues or the sequels that followed - including Kick-Ass 3, currently out, and the Hit-Girl miniseries that the film is also supposedly based off of. For the film adaptation of Kick-Ass 2, which is as much a sequel to the Matthew Vaughn original as it is a straight adaptation of the comic, I'll give it this - unlike my experience reading the source, I never had my "I'm done" moment.

But this film goes a long way to prove that even if you necessarily manage to improve on the source material, that doesn't always make it good.
No, what Kick-Ass 2 the movie does isn't offend you to your core and spark a sense of outrage that can only be attributed to the idiotic style of writing from the shock-jock of the comics' medium, Mark Millar. What the movie does instead is make you want to roll your eyes. Trading the off-putting and intentionally written ultra dark subject matter for lame gags about vomiting, dick jokes, and female puberty, Jeff Wadlow manages to turn an often fun and insightful statement on the nature of taking to the streets as a costumed vigilante in the real world into yet another forgettable "was this really necessary?" sequel to a movie that had already set itself up for one. That's right, a comic book movie that promised a sequel gets a sequel that makes you regret that the first one did. Who would have thought that would ever happen in this day and age?

Firstly, let me get the positives out of the way. Because despite Wadlow's attempts to derail the movie with a schizophrenic scene-to-scene tone and infantile humor about bodily functions, there actually were some legitimately good moments that are worthy of the first film's legacy. Kick-Ass 2, both the movie and the comic, did at least manage to establish a good setup for a sequel: having inspired a myriad of costumed crime-fighters to take the streets in the same fashion as he once did, Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) finds himself soon joining a group of vigilantes led by the enigmatic Colonel Stars And Stripes (Jim Carrey) in order to help promote Kick-Ass' goal of making his city/neighborhood/maybe even world a better place to live. But as real-life superheroes begin to pop up by the dozens, a separate movement is taking place to establish real-life super-villainy in the same fashion. Led by Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the son of the first movie's villain and originally The Red Mist, he now calls himself The Motherfucker in a bid to extract revenge against Kick-Ass for killing his father. All the while, Kick-Ass is trying to convince the only costumed vigilante to legitimate fighting prowess, Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), to both train him and join the fledgling group known as Justice Forever - but after attempting to rejoin the life, Hit-Girl finds herself duty-bound to honor her surrogate father's wishes to live a normal life.

There's alot of great material here that could be mined, and for some of the important beats, there's a semblance of a good movie here. Chloe Moretz once again takes the movie and makes it her own, getting you to feel genuinely sorry for her character's attempt to be a normal young girl and the devastation she feels when it blows up in her face, despite the by-the-numbers script she has to work with. The idea of Justice Forever, even in the comics, makes for the most fun that the entire story has to offer and it pays off quite well in the movie's initial scenes. Seeing the team actually do some good is a rewarding experience for both the audience and Dave, who's finally left to believe he's making a real difference. The scenes between him and his fellow superhero, Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison), are genuinely entertaining and the supporting cast that make up the team do well to liven up the mood. Especially Clark Duke, who returns to play Dave's best friend, now fellow superhero Battle Guy.

But unfortunately, the mood itself is a big problem. It's not that it's overly dark, like the comic and many other recent superhero films that have left audiences wanting more. It's that it doesn't know what it wants to be. One minute, we're witnessing Dave drop to the floor in anguish because he's realized that his father has just been murdered, and worse, it's his fault for becoming Kick-Ass in the first place. The scene proceeds with necessary drama... up until The Motherfucker's henchmen arrive at the gravesite before they even put the coffin in the ground and launch a bazooka onto the scene, kidnapping Dave and thrusting the movie into an action sequence. This jarring turn of pace makes absolutely no sense in the context of tone, but hey, we've got to show Hit-Girl beat people up again. There's no time for that "character development" nonsense.

Speaking of character development, the film also fails to live up to the first's balance of treating each character like they mattered to some degree. While Kick-Ass/Dave is given some good material to work with and Johnson does the best that he can, his character arc in the movie ultimately feels flat compared to Hit-Girl/Mindy Macready's. Infact, every character's feels flat compared to Mindy's. At least with the first movie, Nicolas Cage's Big Daddy gets a good backstory and plenty of showcasing in order to establish the somewhat twisted relationship with his daughter. In this one, the replacement character in Jim Carrey's Colonel Stars is bafflingly made to be the first victim of The Motherfucker's wrath before you can really get to know him. And once he's killed off, one scene quickly addresses it and he's pretty much forgotten. Which might make sense if the villain were the slightest bit intimidating, but Mintz-Plasse doesn't quite pull off the "rich kid being a villain" angle as well as he did the "rich kid pretending to be a superhero" angle. He's wholly a step down from Mark Strong's mobster character of the first film.

It's stuff like this that often plague a flawed movie, but Wadlow takes what fails the script and amps the flaws up to eleven by introducing the lowest common denominator humor imaginable. Even Hit-Girl mocking someone for using homophobic slurs come across as embarrassingly dumb, given that her line is to the effect of "Cut the homophobic shit out, it makes you look gay." And that's not even getting into the dumbest moment that the movie has to offer, where Mindy takes her revenge on some high school cheerleaders by introducing a gadget that induces vomiting and diarrhea in the victims. And while a better director would simply allude to what happens next, Wadlow decides to indulge in disgusting detail, having the girls comically vomit into eachother's faces and even have one visibly defecate.

Sorry, yeah. But no thanks. There was a good movie here and the characters lend themselves to much better material, commenting on the nature of comic book heroes versus real life and offering parallels that could be both emotionally gripping and enjoyably fascinating. Instead, we get a poop joke and alot of sequences that aren't pulled off even nearly as well as the choreography in the first movie. Infact, alot of things aren't pulled off nearly as well, even independent of the script. The green screen backgrounds are noticeably fake to the level of laughably bad, the blood effects are replaced with badly rendered CGI gore, and even the gunshots sparking off of objects look cartoonish. This isn't a movie made by a competent filmmaker, but rather someone who should stick to DTV.

In short, the first Kick-Ass lived up to it's title and commanded respectability. The second makes that same title seem like a cheap joke.

- MB