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Kick-Ass 2, while stuffed with wall-to-wall over-the-top violence, lacks the energy and punch of the first installment.

Carreying On

Two new heroes: Night Bitch and Dr. Gravity
Two new heroes: Night Bitch and Dr. Gravity

The first Kick-Ass was a pleasant surprise. That sounds a little odd considering it’s also a mighty violent movie, but the violence is wrapped in a veneer of comic book gloss and cheesy visual effects. In terms of controversy, the violence was matched by the jaw-dropping potty mouth of a little girl and the relationship between her and her child-endangering father, an ex-cop with a Batman fetish.

For those who missed it, though, that relationship fed the soul of the movie and there was actually a healthy amount of heart beating behind the do-good characters.

This time around, the controversy, such as it is, surrounds this sequel’s totally, completely and utterly gratuitous violence and one cast member’s post-production reaction to it. In the wake of the Sandy Hook killings, Jim Carrey backed out of all promotional interviews and activities related to Kick-Ass 2. Whether he’s sincere or hypocritical can’t be judged on this one instance alone. What will matter are the movies he makes going forward.

There is quite a bit of irony to be had, though, in Carrey’s radical reaction. His character, Colonel Stars and Stripes, is a former mobster turned born again Christian. He presents himself as a rigid military man with distaste for foul language and he carries a gun with an empty cartridge (don’t tell anybody, he advises a motley crew of super heroes, it’s a secret).

So there’s that. In this flashy, splashy, trashy comic book movie that lacks the huggability of an Iron Man, Carrey plays a character who carries a bullet-less gun. And, whilst skimming through the end credits in anticipation of a post-credits tease (yes, there is one), it’s interesting to see line items like “Mr. Carrey’s Chef” and “Mr. Carrey’s Trainer.”

Oh. And all that fuss is over a very small role, to boot.

High School Crush

Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz, Hugo), the potty-mouthed girl born as Mindy Macready, once again serves as the focal point for the movie’s soul. Sure, Kick-Ass is the lead character, but in many respects this series – and a trilogy isn’t out of the question – is every bit as much about the character arc of this young girl raised by her father (her mother died while giving birth to her) and inescapably attracted to fighting crime.

As part of that arc, a little too much time is spent on a Mean Girls high school motif in which Mindy’s guardian tries to steer her into a normal life, one of dating, boy bands, skirts, cheerleading, and all those pressures of being accepted into the cool girls clique.

It’s a setup for a will she or won’t she drama as Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Savages) attempts to recruit her back into the crime-fighting league. While the dramatic effect is only so-so, the situation does make way for some solid messaging around the importance of staying true to a pledge and the need for real heroes rather than super heroes.

It’s a neat trick to parody a source of inspiration while at the same time telling a story within that very same genre; both Kick-Ass movies (based on a series of graphic novels by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.) work as a parody while also adding to the genre’s canon. But Kick-Ass 2 falls a little short; it’s a dark sequel and it’s not quite as much fun as the first. And it’s certainly much more violent than its precursor.

Mean Times

Kick-Ass and Hit Girl disguised as mere mortals
Kick-Ass and Hit Girl disguised as mere mortals

Picking up where the first movie left off, Kick-Ass and his brazen attacks on crime have inspired all manner of wannabes. It’s Watchmen Lite as the streets fill with characters like Insect Man (a gay nerd fighting for equality) and Night Bitch (no explanation needed). Colonel Stars and Stripes recruited them into a nascent real-world Avengers of justice-seeking comic book geeks.

They found the right guy for the lead; Taylor-Johnson perfectly mimics Tobey Maguire’s voice-cracking Peter Parker and he hides his bulky frame under loose-fitting sweaters, curly hair and wire-rimmed glasses. In reality he has two children with his wife, Sam Taylor-Johnson, 23 years his senior, who’s set to direct the film version of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Carrey once again does well as a character actor in a minor role; he hides behind loads of makeup to the point of being barely recognizable as the guy who used to be one of Hollywood’s most bankable comic actors.

The trouble is, while the movie has fun with outrageous characters donning colorful monikers like Mother Russia, Genghis Carnage, Black Death, The Tumor, and one name that won’t be printed here, it boils down to a spoiled brat – Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad) reprising his role as Richy Rich gone totally wrong – and the havoc he wreaks in an attempt to avenge his father’s death at the hands of Kick-Ass – and a big ol’ bazooka.

That part of the story isn’t even remotely compelling and it nearly derails the good will cultivated by Taylor-Johnson and Moretz. Given this sequel seemed unlikely after Kick-Ass failed to kick butt at the box office back in 2010, maybe there’s enough gas in the tank to yield a third chapter and another shot at capturing the energy and fun of this exceptionally off-kilter comic book’s world.