Jeff Wadlow | 103 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | UK & USA / English | 15 / R
When the first Kick-Ass was released back in 2010, one of the main stories was that it had flopped at the box office. That was poppycock: it opened at #1 in the US, and because it was made for just $30m it more than broke even in the US alone, eventually earning a total of $96m worldwide. It was an even bigger hit on DVD and Blu-ray, with an uncommonly large percentage of home entertainment sales being on BD, helping it earn even more cash.
Come the release of Kick-Ass 2 in September 2013 and the first film was suddenly referred to as a renowned box office hit. I guess the media have very short memories. And it made a good stick to beat the sequel with, when it opened at #5 in the US with just $13m. What a flop! Except it only cost $28m, has gone on to make just over that in the US, and has climbed to a total of $59.6m worldwide. Not close to as big as the first film, but even before the inevitably-successful DVD & Blu-ray numbers that’s a strong performance.
Will we see a third film? That certainly looks plausible. Should we? Well…
Written and directed by Jeff Wadlow, based on two comic book miniseries (Hit-Girl and Kick-Ass 2) by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., the movie of Kick-Ass 2 rejoins the characters a couple of years on. A wave of Kick-Ass-inspired costumed heroes now patrol the streets, though Kick-Ass himself, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), has more or less retired. Mindy Macready (Chloë Grace Moretz) still fights crime as Hit-Girl, hiding that fact from her disapproving guardian (Morris Chestnut). Meanwhile, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) wants revenge on Kick-Ass for murdering his father, but is being kept out of the way by his mother and the remains of his father’s mob organisation… until she dies in a freak accident, when Chris dubs himself “the Motherfucker” and sets about forming a gang of supervillains…
If that sounds like a convoluted setup, that’s kind of how it plays on screen too — and it’s only the start of it. This is a somewhat muddled second instalment, taking time to re-introduce us to various characters and follow all their stories. Whereas the first film introduced elements gradually as they came into contact with the central narrative of a schoolboy-turned-superhero, Kick-Ass 2 picks up each character when they’ve more or less gone their separate ways, then sets about bringing them together again. So rather than one straightforward thread that others naturally emerge alongside, here Wadlow must juggle three disparate tales from the start, before he eventually ties them together.
It feels a little meandering, then, as Kick-Ass joins up with a superhero team trying to do good, the Motherfucker gradually assembles his own team of villains, and Mindy tries to fit in as a regular high school girl. You can see the germs of good ideas here, but how well they function is debatable. Whereas the first film riffed on archetypal characters and plots from regular superhero movies, as such providing an entertaining deconstruction of the genre, the sequel doesn’t feel as focussed. The themes are somewhat familiar — superheroes leading to supervillains, as seen in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, or the assembly of superhero teams, as seen in The Avengers — but it seems these are coincidental similarities, not conscious points of reference, comparison, juxtaposition, or examination.
Wadlow is an inadequate replacement for the first film’s director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn. In fairness he’s working to an even tighter budget (in the deleted scenes, he reveals a whole 30-second action beat in the Hit Girl/Mother Russia fight was cut purely because they couldn’t afford a small patch of green screen replacement in one shot), but that’s not the real problem. There just aren’t as many gags, the action sequences aren’t as viscerally satisfying, the story meanders a bit in the middle rather than barrelling through like the first. In part this is the widely-identified fact that Moretz is now a teenager behaving like a teenager rather than the shocking/amusing pre-teen swearing like a sailor of the first movie, but it’s a more endemic problem than that. Whether it stems from Millar’s original comic or Wadlow’s treatment of it, I don’t know, but on the whole it feels less inventive, less vital, and consequently less exciting (though there are some good sequences) and less funny (though there are some proper laughs).
Wadlow does make welcome changes to Millar’s notoriously nihilistic comic, however: instead of gang-raping Kick-Ass’ girlfriend, the Motherfucker can’t get it up (I guess because Kick-Ass isn’t dating his mother (ho ho!)); instead of murdering Colonel Stars & Stripes’ dog, he remarks that “I’m not that evil!”; and so on. The film version still has its points of offensiveness and some outré ideas, certainly, but the needlessly-harsh edge has been taken off, especially when it comes to punishing characters who are innocent. With the exception of Kick-Ass’ dad, but then that’s a superhero staple… just one that’s more violently executed here than normal.
The quality cast keep the film watchable at all times, and the tight budget doesn’t always stand in the way — some of the green screen work may be shockingly cheap, as seen in the van sequence ever since the trailer, but the action choreography of such sequences is still good — meaning that Kick-Ass 2 remains entertaining for fans of the first outing. But it isn’t as strong a production all round, and doesn’t exceed the original in any regard — indeed, any emotional investment in the characters (and there is some) is carried over from the first film’s groundwork — meaning that those fans may be entertained, but will also be a bit disappointed.
So is Kick-Ass 3 a good idea? Kick-Ass 2 does provide a kind of conclusion to the story… but it also leaves it wide open for more, not to mention that Millar & Romita’s third comic book miniseries (currently running) is supposed to be the definitive final act for the characters. It would be a shame not to see that completed on screen, but perhaps with more care in how it’s executed.
This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2013. Read more here.