1.5 stars (out of four)
Numerous ironic references to “the real world” in the appalling overkill that is Kick-Ass 2 come like a boot to the head.
They’re intended to remind us, as if we needed it, that the ultra-violent material we’re watching hails from the realm of comic books.
Writer/director Jeff Wadlow (TV’s Bates Motel) hopes critics will give this vile and scattershot movie sequel the same break many of them gave to the 2010 original, directed by Matthew Vaughn, which starred Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the title vigilante and a pre-teen Chloë Grace Moretz as his violent ally Hit-Girl.
I was one of those admiring critics back then, writing that Kick-Ass “succeeds as a violent fantasy about our perilous and fretful times, where regular citizens feel compelled to take action against a social order rotting from within.” I thought it had something to say about modern fears and obsessions.
I can muster no such enthusiasm this time for a franchise that now appears to be rotting from within and lacking any defence of satire or social commentary. It no longer seems very smart (the YouTube and texting references are so 2010) and it’s also not much fun anymore.
Indeed, while watching the escalating atrocities in Kick-Ass 2, I found myself playing a little game. I wondered what exactly in the film had prompted the co-starring Jim Carrey, now an anti-gun crusader in the wake of last December’s Sandy Hook school massacre, to recently tweet his disdain for and disassociation from the film. He said he “cannot support that level of violence.”
Was Carrey disavowing his ex-military, ex-mob character Colonel Stars and Stripes, a God-fearing avenger with a mouth full of metal and a penchant for pistols, clubs and testicle-gnawing dogs?
Was it the massacre of 10 NYPD police officers by a steroidal female psychopath known as Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina)?
Was it the sight of purple-haired Hit-Girl clubbing and slicing street toughs?
Or was it the attempted rape of one character by another, a man who vows to show a woman what evil penetration feels like?
Carrey presumably read the script to Kick-Ass 2, which is based on the comic book series by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. He might also have seen the first film. There should have been no surprises for him.
But figuring out Carrey’s frame of mind is ultimately as futile as sorting out this misbegotten enterprise, which never settles down into a consistent tone, least of all one that could justify the extreme violence.
At one point, it bizarrely tangents into a strange and ugly remake of Mean Girls.
The first Kick-Ass had the almost-plausible narrative of lonely and bullied New York teen Dave Lizewski (Taylor-Johnson) using his superhero fantasies, a homemade costume and a viral YouTube action video to become a celebrity vigilante he called Kick-Ass.
His antics brought him allies: an ex-cop Batman wannabe called Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his foul-mouthed and fleet-footed accomplice Hit-Girl, played by his pre-teen daughter Mindy (Moretz).
There were also enemies: mob leader Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), who considered Kick-Ass a bug who must be squashed, and Johnny’s spoiled son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who created his own vigilante character he calls Red Mist.
Much has changed for the sequel. Big Daddy and Johnny G are out of the picture, due to previous events, and the completely unhinged Chris has switched to playing a fetish-attired super villain he calls The Mother F—er.
He leads a nasty group of hired thugs who include the aforementioned psycho Mother Russia, with his only connection to his past being his reluctant staff guardian Javier (John Leguizamo).
Dave, meanwhile, has gone back to his bookish ways: “I gave up being a superhero because it was way too dangerous.”
Mindy, however, is having a tougher go of it. She’s trying to settle into being a regular high schooler, as her policeman guardian Marcus (Morris Chestnut) demands, but she can’t put away her Hit-Girl mask and outfit. She feels it’s her duty and destiny to keep fighting crime.
But motivations are tangled this time, as both the “good” vigilantes and the bad villains revel in bloody mayhem that goes beyond settling scores and into the realm of sadism.
Bad writing and direction waste the talents of many good actors, among them Taylor-Johnson, Moretz and Carrey.
The only part of the film that works is the Mean Girls interlude, wherein Mindy/Hit-Girl tries to fit in with her school’s bitchy cool clique.
She involuntarily (and hilariously) reacts like a regular teen girl when shown a video of British boy band Union J, which actually is part of the real world.
Then everything reverts to form and a cascade of vomit (and worse) adds to the tide of blood that flows like an evil river through Kick-Ass 2.
Can we really blame Jim Carrey for having second thoughts about this?
Peter Howell is a syndicated Toronto Star movie critic.