A Conversation About "Kick-Ass 2"

Director Jeff Wadlow's sequel fails to pack a punch as jarring as the original.

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Complex Original

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Director: Jeff Wadlow
Stars:  Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey, Clark Duke, Lindy Booth, Morris Chestnut
Running time: 103 minutes
Rating: R
Score: 6/10

A follow up to 2010's Kick-Ass, Kick-Ass 2 follows the young hero Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and young heroine Hit-Girl as they join forces with a new crop of homemade heroes, including Jim Carrey's Colonel Stars and Strips, to take down local villains. However, the evil they have on their hands turn out to be far greater than anticipated, as the Motherfucker (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) assembles his own army to retaliate against the hero who bazooka'd his father to death.

The Complex Pop Culture staff writers—Tara Aquino and Matt Barone—saw Kick-Ass 2 earlier in the week, and chatted about the anticipated sequel. If you're a fan of the original, try not to lose your shit. 

Matt Barone: It's been two days since we saw Kick-Ass 2, and I'm still in the mood to brandish some homemade weapons and beat the hell out of annoying NYC subway riders. But I've also been thinking more and more about the fact that Chloë Grace Moretz is leaps and bounds better than everyone else in the movie. By a lot. And the fact that, as much fun as I had watching Kick-Ass 2, Moretz is the only reason I'd want to watch it again. Do you feel differently?

Tara Aquino: It's definitely a movie that will inspire you to beat the shit out of injustice. However, would I see it again with my friends if they wanted to do a movie night this weekend? No. I'd wait wait for it to air on TBS. As fun as it was the first time—and you're right, Moretz is the best thing about it—I don't think it would hold my attention for a second viewing. What do you think was wrong with it?

Matt: It's too one-note. At first, I thought I enjoyed it more than the first Kick-Ass, but now that I've dwelled on it, I prefer the original. One problem I had with Kick-Ass 2 is that it's too frantically paced, which is weird to say since the movie is damn near two hours long. But at least the first movie had a sense of control; there was a story being told, and patiently, at that. Here, it's a case of a filmmaker succumbing to the urge to make a sequel that's a supercharged version of its predecessor. We're introduced to all of these new superheroes, like Donald Faison's Dr. Gravity, Lindy Booth's Night Bitch, Jim Carrey's ringleader character, Colonel Stars and Stripes, and others I don't remember anything about, but they're never given any room to breathe.

And that's the problem: They're all interchangeable, and I didn't care about any of them outside of Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl. Speaking of which, considering all of the pre-release fuss Jim Carrey made about Kick-Ass 2's violence and what-not, he's quite forgettable in the actual movie. I'm not even sure why he's there in the first place, other than stunt-casting.

Tara: I think the frantic pacing helped me forget that the movie was two hours long. I think that's why I had fun with it the first time, because it was one hit after the other. But that's not to say that Kick Ass 2 presented anything new amidst all that chaos. The other heroes do fall flat, and their motivations feel so contrived. Obviously, Jim Carrey was just a replacement for the weirdo-with-a-big-name hole Nic Cage left behind. Half way through the film, I couldn't take their preachiness either, which is another problem of the movie. It veered toward an after-school special with all the kumbaya-ing the self-proclaimed "good guys" do.

Matt: Good point. It's hard to take that kind of preachiness seriously when, minutes before the preaching starts up again, there's a gratuitous, unnecessary scene where a bunch of high school girls get prodded with a stun-gun that makes them vomit profusely on each other, with one even shitting herself. That's the moment where Kick-Ass 2 stopped being shameless, complete dumb-fun and made me get extra critical. It also made me appreciate how well a similar moment was handled in Bridesmaids, but that's beside the point.

It's interesting—movies like Kick-Ass come along, offer something weird and subversive amidst a larger movie trend (i.e., the surplus of comic book movies at the time), and feels fresh, alive, fun. But then comes the sequel, trying to repeat that feeling, but ultimately feeling somewhat stale, and, in the case of scenes like the one I just mentioned, lazy in its efforts to be "edgy."

Tara: Yes, exactly. Not to mention, the story kind of buried Kick-Ass himself (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson). I had no attachment to his character. I didn't root for him nor care for his conflict with Christopher Mintz-Plasse's villain, "The Motherfucker" (really, that name? OK). I just wanted to fast-forward to Hit Girl's parts. Come to think of it, this film would've stepped it up had it been more of that Mean Girls meets Kick-Ass shtick that was sort of half-assed with her character's storyline. I mean, they certainly seem to be hinting at a part three, so maybe redemption is possible. And I'd watch part three. A part of me is still attached to the promise of this series, despite how ultimately disappointing this sequel ultimately was. What is that? Maybe I' just a sucker for underdog kids blowing shit up.

Matt: Have you seen James Gunn's Super? It came out around the same time as the first Kick-Ass, revolved around a similar premise (average Joe turns himself into a superhero without any superpowers), and handled the premise much better, I think. The reason, for me, is that Super has a lo-fi, everyman feel; there are moments of over-stylization and exaggerated violence, but it doesn't feel like a fanboy's overindulgence like the Kick-Ass movies often do, particularly Kick-Ass 2. There's no gargantuan Russian woman who's seemingly indestructible—there are just inept mobsters with guns. A premise like normal-teen-becomes-powerless-superhero would benefit from feeling less heightened and more grounded.

Tara: That one with Ellen Page and Dwight Schrute? No, I haven't. But you're right. Less heightened and more grounded in a tangible reality is the way to go; otherwise, what differentiates it from every other superhero movie out there?

Matt: Exactly. That's what makes those few scene where Hit-Girl—non-superhero name: Mindy—is trying to fit in with the Mean Girls ripoffs work so well for me. She stops being a one-note badass and becomes an actual character, and Moretz is a strong enough actress to earn the audience's sympathy. Those scenes feel real. I almost didn't want her to turn back into Hit-Girl, though I'd imagine we'll get more of that "social outcast" performance in the Carrie remake later this year, only bloodier and much more awkward. What is it about Moretz in these Kick-Assmovies that works so well for you?

Tara: That she's kind of like a female Peter Parker without the spider bite. She's sassy and intelligent, far beyond her peers and she knows it, yet there's a real, deep-seated loneliness natural to growing kids that you can feel her dealing with, which makes her feel so familiar to me.

Matt: Definitely, it makes me want to watch Let Me In for the umpteenth time tonight. She's amazing in that movie; that's another one (second shameless plug in this conversation for a movie I love and deserves more notice) where she conveys this loneliness and internal despair while also being believably threatening. She's the real deal, for sure. And, more importantly for Kick-Ass 2, she looks and feels like an actual high-schooler who, yes, could be a loner.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson, on the other hand, hit the gym way too hard in between Kick-Assmovies. He's no longer believable as a goofy teenager who also happens to be a hero—he's a few arm curls and shoulder presses away from being the next Captain America. He looks like Moretz's gym teacher.

Tara: He's like Clark Kent trying to hide that he's Superman. He's a great actor that people should definitely pay attention to, but he's grown out of this—literally.

I mean, it's understandable why he got so jacked. He did Anna Karenina (he's naked like 50% of the time) and Savages. He couldn't remain the scrawny nobody he had to play in Kick-Ass.

Matt: I think you nailed it by saying that he's "grown out of this." Hopefully, for his sake, there's no Kick-Ass 3, or at least not one that's about, you know, Kick-Ass himself. Which brings us back to the point about us wanting a solo Hit-Girl movie. When Kick-Ass 2 works, and it does in spots, it's because of Moretz—she's a less-awesome version of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. You want her on screen.

If there needs to be a third installment, that's the obvious way to go. Plus, it'd fill the void for a strong female-geared superhero movie, since it doesn't seem like we'll get a Wonder Woman movie anytime soon, and Marvel's keeping Black Widow/Scarlett Johansson in supporting player duties for the foreseeable future.

Tara: Yo, Hit Girl, Summer 2015? I'd buy my midnight screening tickets for that, like, yesterday. Let's just hope she doesn't hit the gym too hard in between movies.

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