Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Screw the Critics, Kick-Ass 2 Kicks Some Ass

KICK-ASS 2 Review:

- Critics are being way too harsh on Kick-Ass 2. On one end of the spectrum, you've got the same stodgy old-folks who didn't get Kick-Ass 1, swiftly condemning its sequel. On the other end of the spectrum, you've got the geek reviewers who appreciated the first movie as a cult-ish, vulgar oddity, but are now too cool to sing the praises of its sequel. Well, I'm here to tell you to forget the critics and listen up, fanboys and fangirls and appreciators of fun: KICK-ASS 2 is actually pretty freakin' kick-ass, one of the most fun films of the summer of 2013, and a must-see for anyone jonesing for a rock n' roll action flick that pulls no punches.

I know I'm not the only one out there who thinks this way - I've seen the odd review on the web that speaks my language, acknowledging the pure entertainment value to be found in this unlikely sequel. And in talking to friends, it feels like most, if not all, of my like-minded movie-going pals have similarly high praise for the film. So where's all this hate coming from? I think it stems from a variety of things: increasing pressure to dismiss violent and/or subversive action films, weariness with the creative output - as well as with some ill-advised public comments - of Kick-Ass creator Mark Millar, and general fatigue with summer action films at this late point in the season. But, hey, whatever - for me, Kick-Ass 2 is the kind of gleefully absurd movie that you've got to love. Not an Oscar winner, not a box-office champion. But a movie that just plain hits that sweet spot of action, comedy, and character that so many movies miss entirely.

In KICK-ASS 2, everyone's favorite green-and-yellow-suited not-quite-hero - aka Kick-Ass, aka Dave Lizewski - is back, and ready to take his superhero career to the next level. He decides to join a newly-formed superhero team - Justice Forever - a ragtag group of real-world vigilantes led by the square-jawed, straight-laced (but possibly-deranged) patriot known as Colonel Stars and Stripes. Kick-Ass has been training with teen ass-kicker Hit-Girl, and looking to improve his fighting skills. But Hit-Girl soon decides to give up superheroing, in order to honor the wishes of her guardian - police detective Marcus Williams - and those of her late dad. As Dave finds a new family - and a new romance (with the scantily-clad and hilariously-named female hero Night Bitch) - Hit-Girl embarks on her most perilous mission to date: attempting to fit in with the cool girls in her new high school. Meanwhile, hero-turned-super-villain Red Mist lurks in the background, gathering an army of pissed-off, evil-inclined followers and rechristening himself as The Mother$%@#er. Yep, you heard me. In his new guise, now decked-out in pseudo-bondage gear, Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl's dorky-yet-dangerous nemesis plots revenge on Kick-Ass for offing his mafioso father in the first film.

Let's put this out there first: Chloe Moretz stole the show in the first movie, and she does so again here. Her performance as Hit-Girl is sort of phenomenal, in its own way. Sure, now that she's in her teens, the character loses some of its initial shock-value. But Moretz makes up for it with another totally fearless, completely fantastic turn. In some ways, I almost like teen Hit-Girl better, because it gives the character a certain punk-rock, teen-angst edge that she didn't have before. And Moretz is able to go from foul-mouthed avenger to sweetly-naive high school outcast in a way that few, if any, other young actresses could hope to replicate. Bottom line: Moretz positively kicks ass as Hit-Girl, and it's the kind of actor/character match-made-in-heaven performance that I don't think I could ever tire of. If there's any justice in the world, we'd be able to check in with Hit-Girl every couple of years and see her transition to badass college student, ass-kicking young professional, deadly super-mom, and eventually, retiree with an axe to grind.

As for the rest of the cast, they are universally a lot of fun. Aaron Johnson manages to play Dave as still-a-dork, but also a more experienced hero who is coming into his own as Kick-Ass and in general. Christopher Mintz-Plasse is just a hilarious ball of evil nerd-rage as The Mother$%&#er. He consistently cracked me up during the movie. Some have criticized his character's vulgarity and political incorrectness - but, come on, that's why the character is so great. It's a hopeless loser's vision of what a villainous badass is supposed to be like, and the discrepancy between the image he wants to give off, versus how he actually does come off, is pretty damn funny, if you ask me. I'll also mention Jim Carrey, who really nails Colonel Stars & Stripes. Carrey plays him as that sorta-cool uncle who you suspect might also have some mental issues lurking behind his upbeat exterior. The Colonel positions himself as a squeeky-clean do-gooder, but clearly, there's an element of sadistic thrill behind why he does what he does. It's a shame that Carrey disassociated himself from the movie's PR campaign. He should be proud of the character work he does in this one.

Where Kick-Ass 2 suffers a bit in comparison to the first film is in the directorial department. Director Jeff Wadlow (who also adapted the screenplay from Mark Millar's comic book) pulls out a couple of neat tricks over the course of the movie, but he doesn't give you quite the same level of awesome that Matthew Vaughn brought to Part 1. Unfortunately, a couple of the movie's big action scenes feel a tiny bit low-rent - like Hit-Girl's moving-car battle that feels slightly disjointed. But to Wadlow's credit, what he lacks in wow-factor, he makes up for with sheer competency. At the least, the action in Kick-Ass 2 is refreshingly straightforward, with a couple of stylistic flourishes thrown in on occasion. But mostly, there's a nice simplicity to the movie that, I think, suits it.

Plus, the surprisingly un-flashy direction is bolstered by a pretty excellent script. Having read all of Mark Millar's Kick-Ass comics, I actually really like what Wadlow did here. Millar is a writer whose work I'm always interested in, because he's a writer who rarely goes to the same story well twice, and is always trying outside-the-box ideas. But Millar's biggest flaw may be that his writing sometimes feels more like the work of a carnival barker or a showman than of a guy who just wants to tell the best possible story. Meaning: Millar will sometimes go for shock value at the expense of his story. And said shock value often leaves to jarring and uncomfortable tonal inconsistency. Case in point: Millar's version of Kick-Ass 2 has some scenes that I found to be far too dark and disturbing for what is, mostly, a more satirical and over-the-top book. But in the film version, Wadlow softens a lot of Millar's rough edges. He gives Hit-Girl more heart, and crafts a surprisingly touching relationship between her and Kick-Ass than what we've yet seen in the comics. And he wisely tones down just a bit of the shock value to create a more tonally consistent movie. Wadlow's Kick-Ass still has tons of great gags, gross-outs, cartoon-violence, and over-the-top characters. It's still packed with grin-inducing "holy-$#@%" moments. But whereas Millar's version feels stuck in a sort of adolescent darkness-for-darkness' sake, this version embraces the light: balancing some legitimately dark moments with scenes of overt humor and levity, knowing playfulness, and yes, heart. Reading the comics, it was more with a mindset of "what crazy thing is going to happen next?" I still got that same subversive rush with this film, but I also genuinely cared about the characters in a way that, to me, elevates the movie above and beyond the source material.

KICK-ASS 2 is one of the most straight-up entertaining films of the year so far - full of memorable characters and over-the-top humor. I think a lot of the criticism comes from a place that's inconsistent with what these movies are trying to do. Upset that the movie purports to be about real-world superheroes, but is actually super over-the-top and comic-booky? Umm, I think that's sort of the point. Embrace the candy-colored craziness of it all. One of the oh-so-refined, hipster-geek critics who on one hand calls the movie tame, but on the other picks apart certain scenes for any sign of offensiveness? Dude, imagine if that methodology had been applied to the great over-the-top cult films from back in the day, from Evil Dead to They Live, from Dead Alive to Battle Royale? We need more, not less, movies that dare to be a little rock n' roll, and hell, maybe even a little bit offensive. Nothing wrong with that. The fact that Kick-Ass 2 manages to be vulgar and perverse and semi-insane, while still having heart, and still managing to be uber-likable and infectiously fun? Man, that to me is pretty remarkable and praiseworthy. Dare I say it? I do: sure, this may not be a masterpiece or a new classic, per se, but Kick-Ass 2 does, indeed, kick some ass.

My Grade: B+

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