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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Kick-Ass 2



Justice Forever

In Kick-Ass 2, writer-director Jeff Wadlow (Never Back Down) takes over the reigns from the original's director (now producer) Matthew Vaughn and writer Jane Goldman. Glad to say, Wadlow doesn't Schumacher it. Or Ratner it. If Wadlow doesn't quite transcend the material, which he adapts almost warts and all (a rape scene and a dog killing are wisely excised) from the graphic novels "Hit-Girl" and "Kick-Ass 2" by comic book maestros Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr., or bring much shocking and new to the Kick-Ass movie universe, he admirably maintains the same ribald, downright offensive joie de vivre that made Kick-Ass the best and most shameless superhero surprise of 2010. The ending of Kick-Ass screamed for more Kick-Ass. Kick-Ass 2 is the More Kick-Ass we wanted.

Kick-Ass 2 continues the misadventures of the eternally naive and earnest Dave Lizewski (an impressively buff Aaron Johnson), the green-and-yellow wetsuited boy wonder the world knows as the superhero Kick-Ass. His exploits to rid New York City of the crime lord played by Mark Strong in the original has inspired others to take up the noble cause of spandex and protect New York City from evildoers. Which is great, because after all the ass-kickings he's endured, being a lone crusader fighting crime on the mean streets terrifies Kick-Ass. He's better equipped to kick some ass this time around; he's been trained by the deadliest and greatest superhero alive, Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz, now a taller teen and owning the movie every second she's on camera). This training includes Hit-Girl gleefully shooting him in the chest and in the back. But that's no more than she herself endured from her beloved daddy, the late Big Daddy, who, Hit-Girl is proud to point out, is the true first superhero of this world, not Kick-Ass like the public believes.

Meanwhile, Kick-Ass's hilariously unhinged arch enemy Chris (the scenery-chewing Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the former superhero Red Mist, has reinvented himself as The Mother Fucker, the world's first supervillain, clad in his late Real Housewives of Long Island mother's black latex S&M accoutrements. The Mother Fucker's sole goal in life is to spend his vast inherited fortune to kill Kick-Ass, and also destroy the city, because that's what a supervillain does according to all the comic books he's ever read. To wit, The Mother Fucker charges his personal Alfred John Leguizamo ("Did you just call me your butler?") to help him assemble a cadre of murderers he can outfit in garish supervillain costumes, complete with race-baiting codenames, which Leguizamo scolds him about to no avail. The Mother Fucker's greatest find is Mother Russia - imagine a female Ivan Drago from Rocky IV but wearing a revealing red leather bikini and more than willing to brutally massacre a dozen police officers.

Kick-Ass finds the camaraderie he seeks when he is recruited into Justice Forever, the world's first superhero team, banded together in the New York City warehouse basement of their leader Colonel Stars and Stripes (a subdued Jim Carrey flawlessly translating the upright character from the comic books). These harmless do-gooders include Dr. Gravity (neither a doctor nor a master of gravity, played by Donald Faison), Battle Guy (revealed to be Kick-Ass's nerdy high school chum Marty, played by Clark Duke), and the fetching Night Bitch (Lindy Booth), Kick-Ass's sexy new squeeze. Kick-Ass and Night Bitch's back alley sexual liaisons (masks always on) recalls Spider-Man's rooftop romps with The Black Cat. (Kick-Ass's girlfriend Lyndsy Fonseca is quickly written out of the sequel after a misunderstanding, but I believe she is brutally murdered in the comic book, so she thankfully got off easy here.) The world's greatest superheroes Justice Forever are not, but they do somehow manage to effectively fight crime and they have a really cool logo emblazoned on their headquarters' meeting room table.

Hit-Girl, however, can't be part of Justice Forever, as she attempts to assimilate into normal high school life at the urging of her kindly guardian, played by Morris Chestnut. Moretz more or less headlines her own movie within a movie, a Kick-Ass parody of Mean Girls, as Hit-Girl makes a genuine attempt to become one of the Plastics of her high school. (One of the side effects Hit-Girl discovers of being a normal teenage girl is a sudden, unexpected attraction to guys with smoldering pouts and ripped abs, a sexual awakening Big Daddy never trained his favored child for.) Facing down an alley full of thieves and murderers is no problem for Hit-Girl, but the bitches bullying her in high school is a new dilemma she can't solve with martial arts and samurai swords. Luckily, Hit-Girl has other wonderful toys at her disposal to teach the Queen B and Wannabes a lesson.

The specter of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage, sorely missed) hangs over Hit-Girl as Kick-Ass 2 plumbs new themes of living up to your parents' wishes for its three primary characters. Hit-Girl is torn between fulfilling the destiny her father trained her for and following her ersatz father's wishes to attempt to have a normal life free from spandex and killing. The Mother Fucker's entire existence is all about getting revenge on Kick-Ass for exploding his father with a bazooka (his fearsome uncle imprisoned in Riker's Island played by Game of Thrones' Iain Glen is introduced, setting the stage for Kick-Ass 3). Meanwhile, Kick-Ass himself deals with his own father discovering his crime fighting secret and then protecting his son from The Mother Fucker's vengeance, at the cost of his life. In the end, Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl, and The Mother Fucker are all orphans, as all classic comic book characters must be. Kick-Ass 2 also directly asks the question of what good superheroes actually do in the real world ("If we're trying to make the world a better place, why is it so much worse?") Kick-Ass 2 reaches the reasonable conclusion.

While the gleeful novelty of the original Kick-Ass and viscera-soaked shock value of eleven year old Hit-Girl somersaulting around and dismembering bad guys while cursing like a sailor is unavoidably lost, Kick-Ass 2 succeeds in its escalation of the world and the stakes therein.  The final balls to the wall superheroes vs. supervillains showdown - West Side Story in spandex - is appropriately ultraviolent, with Kick-Ass and The Mother Fucker leading the charge in the fight of their lives. The super smackdown between Hit-Girl and Mother Russia (Hit-Girl scoping out the baddest dog in the yard and taking her on personally) is actually more brutal and satisfying than both times Batman fought Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Everything in Kick-Ass 2 is more personal for all of the main characters. Without Nicolas Cage and Mark Strong's sturdy anchors, Johnson, Moretz and Mintz-Plasse rise to the occasion and take full ownership of the franchise; three masked teenagers hellbent on tearing shit apart and shoehorning themselves into a world that doesn't actually need them, except to save it from each other.