(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)
Once again, Greg, we see ordinary people kicking some not-so-ordinary ass.
It’s time for round two of everyman superheroes.
Kick-Ass 2 begins three years after the first installment of the series. Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is now a high school senior and has retired his superhero persona. Mindy (Chloë Grace Moretz) has grown into a freshman and is still Hit-Girl, although she is careful to conceal this identity from her guardian Marcus (Morris Chestnut).
When Marcus discovers that Mindy is still a superhero, he makes her promise to give it up and become a normal teen girl. Inspired by other ordinary citizens becoming superheroes, Dave re-assumes his Kick-Ass identity and joins the “Justice Forever” team of superheroes. Meanwhile, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) seeks to avenge his father’s death by vowing to destroy Kick-Ass.
And we’re off… 2010’s Kick-Ass was a story about how an ordinary guy had a positive effect on his community by becoming a superhero. It had a nice message: we’re already super – costume not needed. This year’s Kick-Ass 2 has a bit of a confused message. Mindy attempts to give up her Hit-Girl persona and become a typical high school teen. In fact, this thread of the story looks a lot like 2004’s Mean Girls. The popular girls adopt Mindy and just as quickly turn on her leaving Mindy to wonder who she really is.
Meanwhile, Dave (as Kick-Ass) joins a burgeoning group of superhero do-gooders led by Captain Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). The Cap’n gives the team their moral core and acts as a mentor. This team of masked misfits goes around town performing community service and busting up child pornography rings. Things are going pretty well until D’Amico decides to create his own group of super-villains from the ranks of the city’s worst criminals. That’s when the tides turn and being a superhero becomes a risky undertaking.
Earlier this summer, when reviewing Red 2, I noted how difficult it is for a sequel to re-capture the charm of the original film. Kick-Ass 2 is no exception. The filmmakers know that we want to see the same characters recreate the former magic, but that’s a tall order when Aaron Taylor-Johnson, cast as Dave, is obviously far too old to play a high school student but must play one anyway if we are to have a sequel.
Kick-Ass 2 is a darker film than its predecessor, with even more stabbings, dismemberments, and decapitations than the original. In addition, the emphasis has changed from Kick-Ass as the lead character to Mindy, who is caught in the moral dilemma of either honoring her commitment to Marcus or honoring her true self. Mindy’s inner struggle is central to the movie, and an argument could be made that while this is a buddy-hero story, she may actually be the main hero here.
And therein lies the confused message. Mindy is struggling with her identity as a crime fighter versus teen girl. While Dave is … not struggling at all really. He goes through the hero’s journey and in the end it’s Mindy who has the revelation. There isn’t much interaction between the two heroes in this story and it is like two movies in one. A bit of a retread of Kick-Ass (the first) and Mean Girls (with attitude).
We don’t really get a good reason for Mindy’s conversion to the ordinary life. Marcus tells her to be a good girl and she says “Okay.” It’s not a convincing plot point. Dave has an uncharacteristically savage attack on his father (played good-naturedly by Garrett M. Brown) when he tells him “You haven’t amounted to anything. Nobody will notice when you’re gone.” It is an abrupt rebuke when all interactions between the two had been chummy up to that point. These unexpected character eruptions seem trite and contrived.
I agree, Greg. This movie didn’t quite know what it wanted to be. Kick-Ass 2 essentially has the same confused identity that Mindy has. But having said that, there is one aspect of the film that I truly liked. The strongest and most competent superhero is a woman, and the strongest and most competent super-villain is also a woman. Female heroes and villains are a rare breed in Hollywood, and so I found this aspect of Kick-Ass 2 to be refreshing.
Also, I liked the way that Mindy becomes transformed as a character. She grows to understand that she is in quite a bit of emotional pain, and we witness her becoming aware that as with any superhero, she needs to use that pain to do the right thing. Kick-Ass himself has a far less dramatic transformation; he realizes that people need not don capes and masks to do good. Ordinary citizens just need to make the right choice. A good message, yes, but this is not as psychologically interesting as Mindy’s self-insight.
You make a good point, Scott. We haven’t seen such a great female hero since Disney’s Brave. I love the scene where Marcus is warning Mindy to be careful on her first date and she reminds him that she “knows how to kill a man with his own finger.” Awesome. And Olga Kurkulina (the Ukrainian female bodybuilder as Mother Russia) was a fierce villain, in contrast to her lame male counterparts.
I’m also impressed with your ability to extract those two messages from this film. It wasn’t as easy for me. There didn’t seem to be a central theme to this film and that left me confused and unsatisfied at the end. For a fun roller-coaster ride with a good bit of action and a decent female hero, I give 3 Reels. But for a confusing hero story I give only 2 Heroes to Kick-Ass 2.
I’m surprised you gave the film as many as 3 Reels, Greg. If I could give a film two-and-a-half Reels, I would, but since I can’t, I’ll be a curmudgeon and award Kick-Ass 2 a meager 2 Reels out of 5. The film is a bit of a contradiction in that it is both sweet and endearing yet brutally violent. It is also clear in its message that we should all do the right thing, yet murky in the way it takes us to that message.
As for the hero story, I was also disappointed by the film’s muddiness. Chloë Grace Moretz is an utter delight in her role as Mindy, and we do witness her evolve nicely as a character. But as you noted, Greg, we aren’t really sure who the main hero of the story is, and the hero journeys themselves were a bit muddled. For that reason, I’ll be a miser and give the film only 2 Heroes out of 5.