“Kick-Ass” (2010) had a homespun feel, which made it a nice alternative to the usual big, flashy superhero fare. In “Kick-Ass 2,” the product is slicker and more star-lined. Lost in the changes is a solid movie, raucously entertaining and heartfelt, a highlight in a summer movie season where the explosions have mostly fizzled.
Two years have passed since the teenage title character donned a wetsuit and Timberlands to rid New York City of crime. Now our hero (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, returning with Channing Tatum’s torso) is back to living life as frizzy-haired high school student Dave Lizewski. Bored with his normal life, he’s soon training with his old ally, Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), who prefers practicing roundhouse kicks to living life as ninth grader Mindy Macready.
Kick-Ass has to look for another cohort when Mindy’s guardian (Morris Chestnut) forces her to pursue a childhood that doesn’t include throwing stars. (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t take.) He finds a group of fellow homemade superheroes, led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). The good times don’t last for long. Kick-Ass’ old nemesis, Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), has rechristened himself The Motherf—ker and has built an army of bad guys with vaguely racist monikers.
The title character is Kick-Ass. Hit-Girl, a foul-mouthed, violent Lolita whose inappropriateness is celebrated without apology, is clearly the star. “Kick-Ass 2” isn’t big enough for two characters and their teenage concerns, frenemies, and parents-just-don’t-understand blues. Even when we wonder why the movie is revisiting “Mean Girls” or why Dave’s dad is suddenly so concerned about his son’s midnight maneuverings, we never get stuck in a corner because writer-director Jeff Wadlow keeps things moving. The diversions never become an issue.
Wadlow also doesn’t stray from the “real people are heroes too” element that made the first movie relatable. Yes, Mintz-Plasse’s Chris D’Amico is on a never-ending quest to model his villains after 1970s glam rockers; Kick-Ass still has a remarkable ability to get his own ass kicked. But Wadlow smartly increases the self-depreciation. It turns out Hit-Girl isn’t impervious to the smooth-chested charms of boy bands. Tickets to “The Book of Mormon” are a valid excuse to skip your superhero duties. A heartfelt pep talk concludes with a request to get a pair of pliers so a bad guy can start spilling secrets. And poor Chris can’t get anyone to share his hatred of Kick-Ass, the guy who killed his father with a bazooka. A bazooka!
It’s hard to dislike a movie that winks at its own absurdity or features actors enjoying themselves so much, including Carrey (who has since distanced himself from his participation in the film) and a blessedly calm John Leguizamo, who plays Chris’ bodyguard and only friend. The action scenes are kinetic and possible to follow, a rarity in most action films with bigger budgets and more serious intentions.
“Kick-Ass 2” is by no means a perfect movie. But it is frothy and fun and, most importantly, underneath all the gore, its heart is in the right place. Growing up is hard. Accepting additional responsibility, with or without a mask, is doubly hard.
Rating: W W W
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