You can’t take three steps this year without tripping over a superhero sequel at the box office, and that makes it the perfect time for a follow up to Kick-Ass, the superhero-skewering action movie that was part-homage, part-parody, and all-brilliant. Three years have passed since the original, and although still produced by Matthew Vaughn, it now has a new writer-director in the shape of upstart Jeff Wadlow. But has it retained what made the original great?
For the most part, yes. It’s at least as violent and satirical and funny as the original, and at times it’s actually more shocking. But rather than just remake the first film, Wadlow has done something a little different with Kick-Ass, producing a film that’s far more character-focused. It’s a risk, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s also necessary: Kick-Ass was a firework of a movie: bright and fast and ending just at the moment you were most impressed. Wadlow’s task was to turn the ashes of that into something new, and what Kick-Ass 2 lacks in spectacle, it makes up for in heart.
The film, set a little while after the first, revisits the exploits of Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) aka Kick-Ass, as he continues to fight crime armed with little more than batons and a wetsuit. Meanwhile, Mindy Macready (Chloe Grace Moretz), aka Hit-Girl, has been adopted by her late father’s former partner, and sneaks out to train Dave using the techniques developed by Big Daddy. At the same time, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) aka Red Mist (now calling himself The Motherf**ker) gets back on the path to supervillainy, desperate for revenge against the costumed crime fighters who killed his father.
There’s no question that Hit-Girl was the breakout star of the original, and her role is wisely beefed up this time around. The essence of the character has definitely changed, thanks to Moretz’s advancing years, but this allows her greater range. Originally a character with one (admittedly hilarious) note, the sequel sees a more subtly-written Hit-Girl, uncertain of her place in the world and pulled in multiple directions by her new, more complex obligations to both her friends and adopted parent. As she struggles to fit into high school, hers is an arc seen in a thousand teen movies – but the broad social satire that made the original Kick-Ass so identifiable is still there, preventing it from becoming trite or predictable.
It’s still Dave’s superhero name in the title, though, and he’s continuing to fight the good fight, his enthusiasm buoyed by the imitators who’ve followed in his footsteps. He’s soon inducted into the super-team Justice Forever, a group of Kick-Ass-style heroes led by born-again Christian Captain Stars (Jim Carrey). The diverse characters can’t quite match the show-stealing genius of Hit-Girl and Big Daddy, but they’re still great fun to spend time with, thanks in no small part to the affable nature of Carrey, Lindy Booth (“Night-Bitch”) and Donald Faison (“Doctor Gravity”).
Some have speculated that the original’s British sensibilities made it less palatable to a wider American audience, but if that was true, there’s no evidence that the sequel has been toned down as a response. If anything, Wadlow has made the humour more extreme. Mintz-Plasse is fantastic as Chris D’Amico: petulant, dim-witted, borderline crazy – and yet somehow sympathetic in his simple desire for parental approval. Together with aide Javier (John Leguizamo) he gets the best jokes of the entire film.
While Kick-Ass 2 is certainly no less funny than the first, it is, by virtue of being a sequel, less novel. There are sequences which nod and reference the original – a scene featuring villainess Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina) fighting to the folk song Korobeiniki is particularly overt in making a direct comparison with Hit-Girl’s mobster-rampage from the first – but Wadlow wisely avoids getting too close to the first for fear of making it into a retread.
What this means is a sequel which takes the rare decision not to engage in a war of escalation with the first. The fights are bigger because there are more characters involved, but this means less space for the energy and stunt-work that made the originals so stunning. Still, if they’re largely less spectacular, then at least this time around you care about every punch that lands.
The focus on character undoubtedly makes the film feel more intimate, but it also makes it more complex. The victories have a cost, and it you’re looking for the simple, triumphant highs that the first delivered, you’re unlikely to find them here. Instead, you get a film that’s actually about something: about finding yourself, about trying to be who you want to be, and about how you know when you get there.
Whether this is what the fans of Kick-Ass will want is another matter. There’s a danger that those who loved it the first time around will want it to be crazier, more violent, less grounded – but although they don’t deliver that, Wadlow and crew can be sure they’ve made a great sequel to one of the most original superhero concepts around, and done so in a way that’ll make anyone accusing them of delivering “more of the same” look foolish.
It’s maybe not the sequel Kick-Ass fans will have wanted, but it’s the one that the story deserves.
Kick-Ass 2 is out on the 14th August in the UK.
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