At The Picture Show
Justice league of idiots
'Kick-Ass 2' gives us a crop of wannabe crimefighters fighting for nothing in particular
Director: Jeff Wadlow
Screenplay: Jeff Wadlow, based on the comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Morris Chestnut, Clark Duke, John Leguizamo, Donald Faison and Jim Carrey
Rated R / 1 hour, 43 minutes
August 16, 2013
(out of four)
I suppose now is as good a time as any to talk about the morality of superhero movies. And vigilante movies. Which, for all intents and purposes, are the same thing. Kick-Ass 2 demands this conversation because it proves so incapable of understanding it, while trying so hard to do so.
It begins with a story about vigilante superheroes and the cold-blooded violence with which they engage their enemies. Then it wants to cloak that violence in a veil of moral ambiguity, questioning the characters' definition of justice and putting the onus on society at large to be better human beings. It's a spectacularly disingenuous sentiment on the part of writer/director Jeff Wadlow, who seems blissfully unaware of his own movie's content (or context).
No matter how thoughtful a film of this kind might be, and no matter how much it questions the impact of its heroes' actions, there's always an implicit justification of those actions simply because the hero wins and the bad guy loses. Ends justifying means, etc, etc.
Kick-Ass 2 can't offer the same rationale because - and this is what the movie never seems to grasp - its heroes are entirely responsible for all of the film's death, mayhem and destruction. Dating back to the first movie, if no one had ever donned a makeshift costume and decided to hit the streets to "fight crime," none of this would have happened. None of it. The world they live in may be unjust and messy and violent, but it's even worse when Kick-Ass, Hit Girl and their cohorts are on the scene. You could almost make the argument that these movies are virulently anti-violence, anti-revenge and anti-vigilantism, but are just too dumb to realize it.
In this needless sequel (to a movie that wasn't very good to begin with), there is no terrorist or terrifying villain, no massive threat to humanity, no dark forces that require the assistance of masked crusaders. It's just a bunch of little brats fighting and killing a bunch of other little brats. The spoiled teenager formerly known as Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and briefly known as the crimefighter Red Mist, is angry at his former ally Kick-Ass (nee Dave Lizewski, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) for killing Chris' crime-boss father. And so Chris re-brands himself as the world's first official supervillain. Using a moniker I can't repeat in this family publication (let's just call him "Mr. F"), he gets set to wage all-out war on Kick-Ass and his pals - in the name of his deceased father, and in the refashioned S&M clothing of his deceased mother.
Rarely has a personal vendetta meant or accomplished so little.
Many superhero movies have an element of that somewhere, but there's always something more at stake than petty, half-hearted resentments. We tend to ignore all the collateral damage because the conflict is painted in black and white. We know, because the movie has left no doubt, that the bad guy is a menace who must be stopped ... well, not quite at all costs, but at plenty.
In Kick-Ass 2, though, there's nothing but collateral damage. No one is fighting for anything. Nothing is at stake. That goes for Kick-Ass' new allies, too. He teams up with an underground
gang group of fellow crimefighters (dubbed "Justice Forever"), all of whom have sob stories that propelled them into the vigilante business. Led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), a born-again former mob enforcer, they patrol the neighborhood every night, get to know each other a bit, and occasionally take down a prostitution ring or two. Until they eventually run afoul of Mr. F and his hired guns. Meanwhile, Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) is trying to resist her impulse to join Justice Forever, instead trying to assimilate at her high school and just be a normal kid for once. Her story is the only one that has any substance, but it's so disconnected from that it feels like an unwanted extra appendage.
Eventually and inevitably, she's roped back in, and the film can proceed with its empty cacophony of violence, Kick-Ass and Friends facing off against Mr. F and Friends. And so they fight, beat, stab, maim, gouge, dismember, burn, bite and shoot each other, with nary an objective or a point to any of it. Just a bunch of idiots running around fighting, leaving mass destruction in their wake, "good" guys and bad guys alike. Sure, the villains' actions are more heinous, but the end result of everyone's behavior is the same - lots of destruction, lots of death, and not one principle fought for, not one life saved, not one tragedy averted, not one obstacle overcome. It's all entirely meaningless. And to make matters worse, Wadlow proves himself a thoroughly inept director of action, so its nihilism can't even be taken as a guilty pleasure.
I was no fan of the original film, but at least it understood - on some level, at least - that its superheroes' very existence was absurd. It understood that Nicolas Cage's "Big Daddy" was a lunatic. This time around, only Carrey seems to be in on the joke. The rest of the film is entirely tone-deaf about both its comedy and its message.
Read more by Chris Bellamy