We make excuses when we’ve done something wrong, and Kick-Ass 2 is full of excuses. It thinks it can excuse its misogyny because it has Hit-Girl. It thinks it can excuse its misguided notion of heroism because the costumed characters occasionally do a non-violent good deed. It thinks it can excuse the juvenile antics because it’s occasionally morose and “serious”. And the action is a poor excuse for what director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn provided in the first movie. Kick-Ass 2 writer-director Jeff Wadlow is all too happy to seize upon the violence and quirks of Vaughn’s film and discards anything that played up the joy of playing a superhero.
Dave Lizewski / Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is ready to take his superhero game to the next level, and he wants Mindy Macready / Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) to train him. Their paths diverge when Mindy’s guardian Marcus (Morris Chestnut) asks her to give up her sociopathic crime fighting, and try to live as a “normal” high school freshman, which means trying to fit in with the popular girls. Without a partner, Kick-Ass teams up with a bunch of new superheroes led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). Meanwhile, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is out for revenge against Kick-Ass, and adopts the supervillain alter-ego, “The Motherfucker”. He then proceeds to build a team of supervillains to take down Kick-Ass and his costumed cohorts.
Wadlow sets out to up the ante of the first movie without understanding that Vaughn’s film was a balancing act. Wadlow seems to think that the reason the Kick-Ass was popular was Hit-Girl, the irreverent humor, and the violence. To some extent, that’s true, but their execution was key. Hit-Girl worked because of the juxtaposition of a pre-adolescent girl performing spectacular feats of violence. The irreverent humor came from sharper comedy that wasn’t just a collection of vulgarity, but a nice mix of insanity like putting a guy inside a microwave or using the The Dickies’ “Banana Splits” while Hit-Girl massacres a room full of thugs. And the violence works because of the staging, editing, and choreography.
All of that skill and understanding is absent from Kick-Ass 2. Rather than trying to fix any shortcomings of the first movie, Kick-Ass 2 lowers the bar and still manages to get some laughs and thrills, but it mostly negates the strengths of Vaughn’s movie. Hit-Girl doesn’t work because Moretz is now a teenager, and her sociopathic tendencies are no longer adorable (it would be like if Eric Cartman got older). The comedy rests on stuff like giving characters names like “Night Bitch”, throwing in a lot of swearing, and a “sick-stick” that can make people vomit and have violent diarrhea the same time. As for the fights, Wadlow subscribes to the “shake the camera as an excuse for the inability to stage decent fights” school of thought. There are some decent hits and decent laughs (I am not immune from the concept of the sick stick), but everything pales to what Vaughn accomplished.
The sequel badly wants to emulate Vaughn’s film, but Wadlow doesn’t have a fraction of the talent or understanding to do so. Vaughn’s movie is childish in the extreme, but it also has a child-like joy emanating from Kick-Ass. There’s nothing in the sequel like Dave trying on his superhero outfit and play-acting in front of the mirror. Carrey’s Colonel Stars and Stripes doesn’t match Nicolas Cage’s “Big Daddy” because Big Daddy had a real relationship with another character whereas Wadlow thinks that all we need is a goofy actor playing an outsized superhero. Carrey’s not bad, but he doesn’t hold a candle to Cage being burned alive and screaming, “Now switch to kryptonite!”
Kick-Ass may start from the point of “Why aren’t there superheroes in the real world?” but it quickly develops to the point of having the comic book world changing our reality rather than claiming that reality still exists. Vaughn, co-writer Jane Goldman, and the cast all understood this. But Kick-Ass 2 still thinks the real world exists. At multiple points, characters reiterate that this is the real world with real stakes and that their costumed antics have no place in it. Keep in mind, this is a world with a taser-like weapon that makes people projectile vomit and have explosive diarrhea at the same time. Reality hasn’t just left the building in Kick-Ass 2. It was never there to begin with.
Except Wadlow thinks that if he can add in heavy moments like characters dying in ugly ways, he’s added gravitas to a movie where a character named “Mother Russia” (Olga Kurkulina) can snap people’s necks between her muscular thighs. That’s not gravitas or reality. That’s an excuse to try and makeup for nihilistic, childish antics. It’s having Kick-Ass walking down an alley, and narrating, “Maybe Night Bitch was right…” without a trace of irony or self-awareness. Wadlow’s movie does have self-awareness, but it’s in the worst way when, rather than actually try to fix what’s wrong, it lets the flaws stand and then tries to throw up an excuse.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the film’s treatment of women. Kick-Ass 2 thinks Hit-Girl is the “strong woman” that can repudiate any claims of misogyny. Rather than showing how Hit-Girl is “stronger” than the mean girls at her school, Kick-Ass 2 feels like Wadlow is carrying out a vendetta against all the women who have rejected him. I don’t like getting personal against filmmakers, but the movie has a pervasive attitude of “All women are the same” that only comes from being spurned by women who wouldn’t give you the time of day. Hit-Girl may be able to take down rooms full of thugs, but she’s no match for a dreamy boy band. “It’s biology, bitch,” the queen bee mean girl tells Mindy in one of the year’s most stomach-churning lines. The film seems to settle on “All women are bitches, but there are cool bitches like Hit-Girl and Night Bitch.” Not only is this dim-witted, but Hit-Girl is more killing machine than young woman, and Night Bitch is more Kick-Ass groupie than superhero. Also, when Dave gets dumped by his girlfriend early in the movie because she thinks he’s dating Mindy, it turns out his girlfriend was cheating on him. If Kick-Ass 2 wants to end Dave’s relationship with Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca), that’s fine. It doesn’t have to call her a cheating bitch on the way out.
I will now proceed to point out one of the most misogynistic, awful scenes that basically sums up Kick-Ass 2 in a nutshell [Stop reading if you don't want this rotten moment "spoiled"]: The Motherfucker finds out Night Bitch’s true identity, and goes to her house. There, he attempts to rape Night Bitch except…he can’t get it up! HAR HAR HAR! You see, attempted rape is funny if the rapist is impotent and has a tiny dick. It’s not a scene against a woman (who is then beaten, and possibly raped, off screen by one of The Motherfucker’s goons at the supervillain’s request); it’s a scene criticizing the bad guy! Don’t you get it?
Kick-Ass 2 shows Wadlow is the one who doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand you have work harder than mean-spirited, vulgar jokes with a heaping side of violence. His movie looks at characters like Batman and Spider-Man and says, “Oh! Heroism comes from inner pain!” Kick-Ass saw superheroism another way. It said “In the real-world, people can’t fly or shoot lasers from their eyes, but here’s a jetpack and some Gatling guns. Go nuts.” That’s not an excuse. That’s an explanation of taking the bizarre nature of comic books and their relationship to violence, and then playing it for excitement and laughs. Kick-Ass 2 can’t be excused, but it can fuck off.