Saturday, 31 August 2013

Kick-Ass 2 (2013)

Kick-Ass 2 (2013)
Directed by Jeff Wadlow; Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloƫ Grace Moretz

Rating: 2/5

Awash in a summer of sequels and comic book movies comes Kick-Ass 2, sequel to the well received cult classic of three years ago, and based on the Marvel published comic book series by Mark Millar and John Romita. But where Man of Steel or The Wolverine take themselves seriously (though nobody could accuse Iron Man 3’s Tony Stark of taking anything too seriously), Kick-Ass offers something of a deconstruction of the superhero genre, whilst fulfilling every comic book fan’s fantasy of donning a costume and taking to the streets.

The vast majority of the cast return, Aaron Taylor-Johnson topping the bill as Kick-Ass himself, though looking a little too old to play a high school senior. Though he ostensibly holds the title role, Kick-Ass takes a back seat to the continuing development of breakout character Hit Girl (ChloĆ« Grace Moretz), who after vowing to hang up the cape after her father’s death, must now become plain old Mindy MacReady and deal with the trials and tribulations of puberty and fitting in at high school.

Christopher Mintz-Plasse, the immortal McLovin, returns as Chris D’Amico, who shelves his Red Mist costume to assume a new identity as the world’s first super villain. The son of a mob boss, he was at first a sheltered rich kid, who wanted nothing more than to fit in with Kick-Ass and his team. But after witnessing his father murdered by his former hero at the end of the last film, he swears that Kick-Ass will pay.

Though revenge is on the agenda from the beginning, the gawky and unassuming D’Amico is pushed over the edge fairly quickly, first by the death of his mother, who meets her demise in a manner more befitting a Final Destination film than a supposedly light-hearted superhero flick. But that’s not really what Kick-Ass is. It’s lewd, crude, and graphically violent, and the worst is still ahead. There’s something disturbing about a teenager dressing up in his deceased mother’s bondage gear, especially considering the moniker he swiftly adopts. It’s all played for laughs, of course, but perhaps it highlights just how unhinged and lost the character has become.

The next ultimatum is delivered by D’Amico’s Uncle Ralph, who has become the new head of the crime family. Still in prison, he steals his only scene with all the ruthlessness of The Sopranos’ Richie Aprile. In retaliation, D’Amico ups his game, using his financial status to hire a motley crew of mercenaries: MMA fighters, Triads, and ex-KGB. D’Amico gives new monikers to his villainous team: a series of racist stereotypes which he defends as “archetypes”.

It was hard to watch this film without a certain amount of trepidation, always bracing for the next brutal slaughter. The protagonists are likeable, and you are concerned for their survival, but the butchering of otherwise despicable goons is grim enough to stay the unconditional rooting for the good guys. The brutal massacre of ten New York police officers by a six foot Russian cannibal was particularly unpleasant. I’m not sure anyone in the cinema was laughing along with the comically fast paced Russian national anthem that played throughout.

This is not an abject condemnation of violence in film. Tarantino’s great, it’s easy to sit through Django Unchained or Pulp Fiction, and many a plot has been moved forward when the death of a character ups the ante. I’m not going to join the Parents’ Television Council and deride every new episode of Family Guy for bringing us one step closer to the devil. There was just something about this film’s attitude that did not resonate, and is there ever an appropriate time for comedy rape?

This is all true to the source material, and the comics go much further in the sadistic displays committed by some characters. The comic is sold on the back of sickening violence and crude language, and that’s just the way the fans like it. They’ve even complained that the original story’s integrity has been diminished by these omissions. This is a film review, but perhaps everything that’s wrong with the plot is wrong with the comic, and regurgitated by the filmmakers’ faithful adaptation.

The narrative is split between the three leads, and Kick-Ass, looking to get back on the streets, joins a league of superheroes calling themselves “Justice Forever”. They are led by Colonel Stars & Stripes, in a fantastic turn by Jim Carrey. Unfortunately, the film suffers from a character dump at this point in the form of the bland members of “Justice Forever”, all of whom are utterly eclipsed by Carrey.

 I’m a fan of Carrey’s work, but I haven’t seen him in anything since the very average Yes Man (2008). Though his versatility is sometimes called into question by misguided projects such as The Number 23 (2007), and the sheer amount of times ITV insists on repeating Liar Liar, Carrey excels here, and is sadly under used. It’s worth noting that after production, which wrapped up only a month before Sandy Hook, Carrey had a change of heart and decided to refrain from promoting the film.

Hit Girl spends most of her arc locked in a generic high school movie. Treading the water at a saccharine slumber party, popular queen Brooke at first takes Mindy under her wing; exposing her to the heady delights of British pop music (I was surprised to find out that “Union J” are real – at first I thought they were a cheap One Direction clone created for the film or comic).

The tide swiftly turns when a nervous Mindy uses her Hit Girl skills to unintentionally upstage Brooke at a dance try out, resulting in a disproportionate retribution of soul destroying (for a teenage girl) proportions. Revealing her true colours, Brooke is almost as detestable as D’Amico, and is treated to a crude comeuppance that seems weirdly out of place. Yet this high school coming of age story, whilst reasonably well crafted on its own, seems like small potatoes compared to the extremity of the other challenges faced, and is diminished as a result.

I’m not a huge follower of comic books in general, but I enjoy the aesthetic, and in this, Kick-Ass holds true, with its bright colours, fast paced action, and satisfyingly euphoric soundtrack. Scene changes are greeted with comic book style panel inserts (“Later that day…”) and a scene involving a Chinese prostitution ring is cleverly subtitled using speech bubbles.

Perhaps I misunderstand the appeal of Kick-Ass. Maybe I do, and it’s just not for me. The original, violent and thoroughly enjoyable film stirred none of these sentiments. Maybe it has something to do with the replacement of director Matthew Vaughn, frequent collaborator with Guy Ritchie and director of Layer Cake (2004) with the relatively unknown Jeff Wadlow. Yet Vaughn remains as producer. You can’t expect two films called Kill Bill to end without someone called Bill biting the bullet, and you can’t expect to watch a film called Kick-Ass (or even Kick-Ass 2) without some asses getting kicked. Much ass kickery is therefore necessary. But we’re not watching Cop Slaughter or Hand Amputation 2 either.

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