The Sequel that Kicks Ass

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[Those of you who have not read About, please do so before continuing the review.]

Kick-Ass 2 is a comic-book action movie about people inspired to live out their comic book dreams in real life.  It is one of the rare pleasures in cinema these days: a film that surpasses the original in every way.  A true sequel, every theme from the original film expands and grows on film.  Kick-Ass 2 is an adult comic book, an escapist action-adventure romp full of foul language, sexual jokes, and gratuitous violence, but don’t let the content fool you.  This is one of the best-made movies I have seen in a long time.

Director Jeff Wadlow, and whoever designed the previews both deserve congratulations for the story’s opening.  Perhaps ten seconds of the previews weren’t drawn from the opening moments of the movie, so I had an entire film to enjoy unspoiled.  This treat was only the first of many.  Wadlow’s screenplay is rife with wit, and humor flows both high-brow and low, a feat that is rarely tried successfully.  Let the pretentious beware, but Shakespeare and Simon R Greene are two writers I think of first who manage such broadly based banter in single works.  Even the profanities occasionally reach beyond standard usage in innovative ways.
I know that at some point between the opening scenes and the final moments I stopped laughing, but I have no clear memory of doing so.  The variety of wit meant that I never grew tired of the humor.

Comic-book wannabes or not, the characters achieve the holy grail of action movies: genuine personhood.  For Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) this means that the ultimate super-heroine must undertake a journey into unfamiliar territory of High School society, and she approaches the path with all the courage and integrity that she showed as an action hero.  It was a real treat, not the least of which the dance team tryouts, a scene that illustrates the difference lost on so many these days, that dance and imitation prostitution can and should be remarkably different things.  For Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) this is the journey from wannabe high school student to a genuine hero and leader.  Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mitz-Plasse) makes a journey to genuine sociopath through a journey of unexpected loss.Kick-Ass 2 is rife with unexpectedly strong characterizations.  Tommy’s Mum and Dad, the crime-fighting bereaved parents stand beside Insect Man, a solid supporting choice as a bullied homosexual vigilante.  Jim Carrey’s Col. Stars and Stripes, the born-again Christian reformed mafia enforcer, turns in a solid performance as mentor to the vigilante group.

Goodbye, Red Mist, and Chris D’Amico assembles a collection of villains as aggressive as their names are deliberately offensive.  But that’s part of the fun of the Kick-Ass films, their romp through the fields of offensive actions to go with their names.  Mother Russia, played by Ukranian Israeli Olga Kurkulina, nearly steals the second half of the film with her great physicality.  One of the great mechanisms that I enjoy from Jungian archetypes is the idea of the Shadow.  This is a fancy way of saying that a good bad-guy or opponent has something about them that the hero either hasn’t achieved yet, or has rejected when it could have been part of their makeup as well.  These characterizations really shine, and the Hero/Shadow relationship between Mother Russia and Hit Girl makes what could have been an irritating romp through teen drama (Hit Girl follows a Pinocchio-style journey into being a real girl at school without losing herself to the evil ways of those around her) into a truly important part of the story.  Mother Russia is what Hit Girl might have become if she never learned humanity.  Mother Russia is a living killing machine, every bit as spectacular as Hit Girl (who stole the last movie) but soulless and cruel.  Their final fight is as important as it is spectacular.

Kick-Ass and The Mother—-er play another great set of Shadows.  Both lack any real talent apart from belief in their own missions, both refuse to let their lack of ability stop them.  They train (Joseph D’Amico’s training mostly takes place off-screen until the final moments), gather allies, and follow their vision.  That’s the kind of courage that’s worth seeing.i can’t finish a review of this film without mentioning the fight choreography.  By the middle of the film I realized that I was seeing something gratuitous and excellent.  Every character in this film, down to the smallest bit part in the background, has a distinct fighting style that fits their character, their build, and their self-image.  With leads as strong as this movie has (and don’t confuse romping style for a lack of skill in film-making), fight choreographer Mike Lambert did not have to do this.  Almost no one does this any more.  The Matrix films are the last example I can think of.  But this labor of love is so downplayed that I think few will notice.  Perhaps they do not need to.  I fully intend to go through the fight scenes frame by frame when I eventually own this movie, and I expect it will be delightful.

There are some errors in this film.  Kick-Ass’s special powers in the first movie were a lack of nerves and a reinforced skeleton.  In the first movie he shrugged off beating after beating and kept trying, and three years older, now a senior, the same would-be hero spends a few too many scenes cowering on the floor while others do their work.  Christopher Mintz-Plasse is an accomplished actor, but if he was to play a vengeance-obsessed son who wants to “kill Kick-Ass with my bare hands” someone should have sat on the young man and made him do at least two push-ups.  Perhaps he might even have trained for the role.

Jim Carrey distanced himself from this film, and that sums up my condemnation of the actor, but that does not touch on the excellent work he did in the movie.  The character of a violent killer turned force for good, however unrefined, was sincerely played, with some nice nonverbal nuance in his scene with Mother Russia.  I admire the work the actor did to make the physical transformation into a believable vigilante whose past is always lurking just slightly behind the surface, but still commands the attention of all through a sort of peace with himself, even if it means going to war with his old world.It’s slightly sad that only in movies blatantly offensive (as this film embraces) can Hollywood have a Christian leader who lives by his faith with some integrity.  I also noticed a Jesus poster on Kick-Ass’s bedroom wall.  But I will take it. It’s one more brush-stroke of genius in a film that no one will recognize because it’s about foul-mouthed comic-book imitators, but the perceptive eye will see.  That says nothing about some genuine self-sacrifice, characters with true integrity, and non-sexual love between allies of the opposite sexes that surprised me in this film.

Make no mistake about the content here.  Kick-Ass has violence, nudity, profanity, a torrent of foul language, and a juvenile spirit entirely in keeping with its high concept.  If you cannot handle these things, this is not the movie for you.   The movie is largely incomprehensible if you haven’t seen the first one.  But if you’re willing to accept the flavoring, and you even partially enjoyed the original, this movie is a meal worth seeing.

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