Kick-Ass 2 (2013)

Review first appeared in Sight & Sound, October 2013

Review: Imagining – like Peter Stebbings’ Defendor (2009), James Gunn’s Super (2010) and of course Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass (2010) – would-be superheroes and supervillains in a recognisably real world, Kick-Ass 2 thrives on an overt self-awareness of all its most questionable qualities. If aspirant archnemesis Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) draws nommes de guerre for his crew from uneasy racial stereotypes, he is expressly called out for that. If the maiming, sometimes murderous justice meted out by the film’s ‘superheroes’ is decidedly rough, even psychotic, that too is expressly thematised (“You’re the fucking bad guys!”, our heroes are told – by a human trafficker!) while also being played for uncomfortable laughs. If 15-year-old Mindy (Chloë Grace Moretz) seems inappropriately sexualised, especially in her fetish get-up as Hit-Girl, paedophilia is duly referenced (“15 gets you 20!”). If characters repeatedly insist, “This isn’t a comic book,” then the presentation of captions in corner boxes and of subtitles in speech bubbles suggests otherwise – as does the adaptation from Mark Millar’s graphic novel. Even the film’s status as follow-up is brought into ironised focus. “If I was even thinking about a Kick-Ass sequel,” comments Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) in voice-over, “I had to get serious” – and later he wears a shirt with the slogan, “I hate reboots.”

So these cake-eating hipster heroics are wilfully naughty, like a child constantly swearing for effect – and in case we miss the point, Kick-Ass 2 has one of those too. “You’re gonna need a bigger jar,” says Mindy of the receptacle into which her guardian (Morris Chestnut) insists she pay money every time she cusses – and if her line sounds like a mangled reference to Jaws (1975), a man-eating shark will also later figure. As sadistically bloody as the original, this sequel from Jeff Wadlow (Cry_Wolf, Never Back Down) once again glamourises its hyperviolence, deconstructs the glamourisation and glamourises the deconstruction. Whether all this postmodern knowingness immunises Kick-Ass 2 against its own heavily foregrounded faults is down to the individual viewer, whom the film slyly aims to titillate and outrage in equal measure.

New here is a focus on adolescent rites of passage, and the desire to belong. Amidst allusions to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Heathers and Mean Girls, Mindy navigates the perils of being a highschooler as though it were just another vigilante mission – imagining a dance-team audition as a high-kicking street fight, and reassuring her fosterfather as she leaves on her first date, “I can kill a man with his own finger.” Rather disturbingly, Mindy resolves her daddy issues (a hangover from the first film) by enjoying her climactic ‘first kiss’ with the older Dave while he wears her father’s old costume. Just as tellingly, mamma’s boy Chris fashions his villainous disguise from his late mother’s leather bondage gear. As all this twisted Oedipal cosplay suggests, the road to adulthood for these not-quite-super kids is bound to remain troubled in an inevitable second sequel.

Synopsis: NYC, present. High-school senior Dave Lizewski finds a renewed sense of purpose by secretly re-teaming and training with ninth grader Mindy Macready, as Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl. Caught in costume by her policeman guardian Marcus, Mindy promises to give up vigilantism. Dave turns to a team of costumed vigilantes (‘Justice Forever’) for companionship and community service, as Mindy struggles against a clique of ‘evil’ girls at school. Meanwhile rich kid Chris D’Amico accidentally kills his own mother in a tantrum, and reinvents himself as ‘supervillain’ The Motherfucker, assembling a crew of ‘psychopaths and ex-cons’ to help avenge his late mobster father against Kick-Ass.

Chris’ killers attack members of Justice Forever as well as several policemen. The police retaliate by rounding up all masks. Dave’s father pretends to be Kick-Ass, and is arrested. After getting Dave to promise to abandon his costumed crusade, Mr Lizewski is murdered in the police lock-up by Chris’ thugs. More thugs abduct Dave from the funeral, but Mindy rescues him. In full costume, Mindy, Dave and an assembly of masked avengers confront Chris and his crew in the supervillain’s lair. Dave tries to save his nemesis from a fall, but believing himself immortal, the megalomaniac Chris lets himself drop, and is eaten by his own shark. Having killed six villains with a policeman’s gun, Mindy becomes a fugitive after her ‘first kiss’ with Dave. Dave starts dedicating himself seriously to becoming ‘a real hero.’ Chris survives, legless.

© Anton Bitel