In one of the most dramatic series drop-offs in recent cinema, Kick-Ass 2 plays like a bizarro, nearly unrecognizable version of its solid predecessor. Dave/Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Mindy/Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), and Chris/Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) may all be back, but their continuing adventures are missing nearly all of the pros that made the first time around an edgy treat. With Matthew Vaughn ceding writer/director duties to Jeff Wadlow, the sequel forfeits creativity and vision, unintentionally highlighting the material’s underlying crassness that Vaughn’s chops rendered tolerable. Coasting solely on the original’s cult reputation, this soulless rehash is both directionless and in dire need of substance, leaving series fans wondering how a good thing could be ruined so quickly.
Whereas Kick-Ass built its appeal through a refreshing, commentary-laden origin story with clear purpose, the follow-up struggles to establish a focus. Set a few years after the first film ended, Kick-Ass 2 posits the abstract factor of boredom as its characters’ motivation and things only gets worse from there. Joining with fellow average people that he inspired to suit up and fight crime, Dave wanders the streets with righteous goals but minimal freshness. Without the threat of crime boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), whose son Chris’ lame revenge quest is a poor substitute, these amateur masked men and women are simply filler, empty shells that open the door for the rotten filmmaking to come.
Vaughn’s sleek, stylistic visuals and brilliant use of The Dickies’ “Banana Splits” made his film’s graphic violence palatable, while the overwhelmed Kick-Ass (as an audience stand-in) was legitimately freaked out by the carnage around him. Without his sobering reactionary shots in Kick-Ass 2, such bloody behavior comes across as wholly acceptable and barely interesting. Under Wadlow’s guidance, the close range action is poorly staged, the large scale set pieces feel offensively cruel, and simple sights like Hit-Girl riding her motorcycle look cheap. Likewise diminished is the film’s handling of teenage cursing. Whipped up in Kick-Ass’ assured energy, a heap of wildly foul language fit right in, yet when these words are trotted out amid the sequel’s laziness, the purportedly funny content draws attention to itself and lands with a thud. With such acts deemed appropriate, it’s only natural for a group projectile vomiting scene to follow, with a little sprayed defecation tossed in, suggesting that when Wadlow gets desperate for laughs, his desperation knows no bounds.
Lost in this extreme tastelessness is Jim Carrey’s Colonel Stars and Stripes, the leader of Kick-Ass’ citizen hero progeny Justice Forever. Sporting mossy teeth and mobster patois, it’s one of the actor’s better recent creations, and other than a strongly satirical sequence resulting in Mindy’s sexual awakening, it’s the film’s sole accomplishment. The rest of this mess keeps stumbling along until it culminates in a crowded fight scene that gives Grown Ups 2 a run for its money in the Horrible Choreography department. Such a low comparison seemed nearly impossibly in the wake of Kick-Ass, but it’s a sadly apt one and indicates just how far this saga has fallen.
Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, crude and sexual content, and brief nudity.
Kick-Ass 2 is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.