Thursday, January 23, 2014

KICK-ASS 2 (2013)

The first Kick-Ass came out of nowhere, it seemed. It was a sharp stab at the over the top seriousness of so many modern superhero movies. We were introduced to characters we hadn’t seen before, like Big Daddy and Hit Girl, who were psychotics in costumes, arbitrarily fighting on the side of “good.” Hit Girl was only a child, spouting cursings as she cut down gangsters and other assorted baddies without conscience. The film was a commentary on the superhero movies, like Batman, by questioning the very nature of being a superhero: what kind of person dons a pair of tights and a cowl? Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel, Watchmen, asked the same questions in a much more provocative way back in the 1980s, but Kick-Ass felt like just the right movie for the millennial generation. It felt designed to make them think about the comic book movies they were weaned on.

Unfortunately, Kick-Ass 2 is a horrible sequel. Where the original knew exactly what kind of film it was – a satirical take on superhero movies – the sequel has no idea what it wants to be. At times it is an action flick, filled with extreme action sequences saturated in CG blood. Other times it is a satire, picking at an American culture that has no trust for authority and is in love with violence. And, strangely enough, it also tries to be a coming of age story involving emotionally manipulative scenes composited from a variety of high school movies. And it never gets anything right, failing on all counts.

The sequel picks up a while after the original ended. Dave (Aaron Johnson) is still playing at Kick-Ass, but wants a partner. He is trained by Hit Girl (Chloe Grace-Moretz), who has been ditching school to train and fight crime as a tribute to her dead father. Eventually, Hit Girl is forced to leave the vigilante life behind, so Kick Ass joins a team of wannabe heroes (inspired by his exploits in the first film). He meets several new heroes: Night Bitch (Lindy Booth), Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison), Battle Guy (Clark Duke), and Colonel Stars N’ Stripes (Jim Carrey). They join forces, but their efforts are matched by the emergence of a new supervillain. The character of Red Mist from the original movie finally accepts his calling as a bad guy and rechristens himself the Motherfucker (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). He buys himself a team of villains to which he bestows ethnically insensitive names like Mother Russia, Black Death, and Genghis Carnage. Together, they seek to find and kill Kick-Ass.

As an action film, the movie is piecemeal, with each set piece feeling off in some way. This is especially true of the scenes involving the Motherfucker’s ruthless squad of villains. Their action scenes feel squeezed in, and don’t make much logical sense. They feel like excuses for carnage, and to show off the effects of CG blood work. I’m not sure if the movie uses any practical effects, outside of blood make-up. Even scenes involving Kick-Ass don’t seem to work. He does lots of training early in the movie, but that training seems to do little to help him, making all the groundwork seem pointless. Despite Hit Girl’s efforts, Kick-Ass feels like just as inept a fighter, even when he finally squares off with the even more pathetic Motherfucker, who realizes he would rather pay people to fight for him than actually learn any hand-to-hand skills outside of cheap shots.

The satire that made the first movie so much fun is so hit-and-miss here that it could almost be non-existent. What is the intended target? In the first movie, you often felt the movie was not just satirizing comic books, but also the legions of fanboys who practically jerk off to their vigilante dreams. With that point already made, Kick-Ass 2 just seems repetitive. It never quite hits the satirical points it is aiming for by comparing high school culture with criminal culture, and it completely whiffs on its use of Colonel Stars N Stripes as an indictment of the way the U.S. military pushes our young men into false ideas of heroism founded on love of weapons, dehumanization, and brotherhood. Instead, the movie wastes a great performance by Jim Carrey and turns his character into a useless cliché. Part of this is due to sequel-itis; the original was so sharp and effective that any attempt to tread on the same ground would invoke the law of diminishing returns and come across as derivative. Frankly, the novelty of Kick-Ass wore off once the movie opens on a scene involving Hit Girl shooting at Kick-Ass in the same place her father shot her. It’s a call back that immediately reminds us of a better film.

But, personally, it is the high school material that gave me the most trouble. This is mainly because it is where the movie struggles to most to find a footing. Part of Kick-Ass’s success was the way it approached Dave’s life in high school and with his friends. Every character felt honest in a way that they ring hollow in this movie. First and foremost, this has to do with the fact that Hit Girl is suddenly a major character instead of merely a colorful minor one. Jeff Wadlow, the writer/director, seems to think that the best way to help her story along is to give her typical high school problems that she has to try to solve in Hit Girl fashion. This leads to a funny, but troubling sequence in which Hit Girl gets angry at a group of snobby girls in the cafeteria that seems to suggest she is doing mankind a favor by being a horrible human being to other horrible human beings. Like the heroes, she is rewarded for her efforts with the satisfaction that she is a do-gooder. None of these high school scenes ring true – seriously, the writer/director thought it was a good idea to try to put Hit Girl into scenes in which she is trying to fit in with the more popular girls. And none of her efforts to fit in amount to anything on a narrative level. The movie wastes no time cutting back to the more action packed adventures of Kick-Ass.

Normally, I wouldn’t want to write so much about a movie like this, but Kick-Ass 2 reaches so hard to create something poignant and awesome that it forgets to be a real story. Instead, it’s just a collection of disparate parts sewed together like the Motherfucker’s hideous S&M outfit. It adds nothing to the ideas introduced in the first film, and to some degree makes an even uglier case that human beings are just awful and really should all be dead. The movie wants to celebrate individuals and real heroism, but instead it is really celebrating violence for its own sake. It is misanthropic, hopelessly cynical, and – most importantly – no fun.

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