The Content and the Message

'Kick-Ass 2' is still a fairly entertaining romp, but it’s also still kind of empty inside.

More than once in Kick-Ass 2, characters talk about how they aren’t in a comic book or in a movie, how their actions have consequences, and they likely aren’t going to be able to just shrug them off as they head into a sequel. As with the first film, this sequel pays lip service to the idea that putting on a mask and trying to fight crime wouldn’t actually be as cool in the real world as it is in the comics. And then it goes into the kind of over-the-top action that can only be found in fiction. The film is inherently at odds with itself, weirdly more prone to outsized spectacle than the actual comics it’s based on. It’s still a fairly entertaining romp, but it’s also still kind of empty inside.

Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has been lying low since the events of the first movie. But he can’t resist the call of the mask for very long, especially with all the people he’s inspired to become superheroes. He asks Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) to train him, and he’s soon hitting the streets as Kick-Ass again. He soon joins a group of other masked vigilantes calling themselves Justice Forever, and together, they set out to make the world a better place. But Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) hasn’t forgotten what Kick-Ass did to his father, and he sets out to become the world’s first supervillain. Meanwhile, Hit-Girl is made to give up her vigilante ways, and tries to adjust to being a regular high school girl.

Though there’s no jetpack to be found anywhere in the picture, this sequel still manages to increase the bombast. Though the first film was already explicitly pop-oriented, it began on a lower key, exploring a grittier milieu of low-stakes crimefighting. This film largely plays things for laughs right from the start, and uses that thrown-off attitude to guide the rest of the picture. As a whole, the sequel is more prone to the excesses of the comic medium that it mocks, creating an uneasy dichotomy between content and message.

And so while a lot of the movie is just fun and enjoyable, there are quite a few moments that feel a little off-key. The film vacillates wildly between deconstructing the fantastic aspects of its inspirations and embracing them wholly. It will make the point that ordinary people have to pay a price for taking on this particular responsibility, before disregarding the consequences of their actions. The film is more interesting when it explores the human side of the equation, when it deviates from the normal rhythms of the superhero genre. But in the end, it’s the superhero stuff that rules.

The film gains much from its three returning primary players. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s inherent boyishness lends itself well to the lead role, his performance making the eventual growth of the character fully palpable. Chloë Grace Moretz continues to be the main attraction as Hit-Girl. The young actress is really meant to be a star, exerting visible skill in both comedic and dramatic capacities. And Christopher Mintz-Plasse also shines as the villain of the piece, playing it with a sort of petulance that’s completely reprehensible but still somehow relatable. The three are able to achieve a weird sense of realism within the outsized milieu, giving it human appeal.

Kick-Ass was a movie torn between two impulses. It aimed for blockbuster bombast while trying to subvert the tropes of the genre. What resulted was a deeply flawed film that eschewed its own drama in favor of climactic jetpack heroics. Kick-Ass 2 largely follows in this vein, but it’s actually a little more committed to providing outsized action entertainment. In the balance, it works out about the same. Though the dichotomy between content and message is larger than before, the sheer spectacle of the outré humor and over-the-top action even things out.

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