Thursday, August 22, 2013

Review: Kickass 2! (Take 2!)

Capey posted his own review below, but here's my alternative take on Kick Ass 2...

Kickass 2 is a film that wants to have its cake and eat it too. And this is problematised by the fact that, although director Jeff Wadlow has a slew of wonderful ingredients to choose from, he doesn't really know how to combine them to make said cake in the first place. What I'm trying to get at with this belabored cake analogy is that Kick Ass 2 is tonally all over the place, a film that wants to be silly but also wants to be serious, alternating between angst-ridden characters very grimly informing each other that this is "real life" and "isn't a comic book", followed by scenes of stylized, ridiculous, comic book action, largely devoid of real world consequence. Characters inconsistently shift from lowbrow, two-dimensional slapstick comedy violence to nasty acts of real world violence without any real thought beyond what would look "cool" at this particular moment. It's kind of a mess.

A surprisingly entertaining mess. I'll clarify all these thoughts and more... after the jump!

One of the first things you’ll notice is that Kick Ass 2 is relatively light on story. Hit-girl, Red Mist (who becomes The Motherfucker) and Kick Ass himself have three separate storylines for the most part that only intersect occasionally before finally crashing together at the end. Hit-girl is the most fleshed out of the three (and the highlight of the film) as she decides to put away the mask and cape to honour the wishes of her dead father. She struggles to fit in with the regular high school girls but finds it difficult to suppress her nature. Meanwhile, Kick Ass longs to be part of a superhero team, and Red Mist/Motherfucker wants to become a supervillain, all because the story needs both of them to do... well... something! Neither motivation is particularly compelling and you can’t help feeling that this movie exists because someone was really desperate to make a sequel, not because there was an incredibly amazing story brewing that needed to be told. At times it feels less like a full-fledged feature film and more like a solid episode of a Kick Ass television show.

That said, it’s the first part of the film that I found the most entertaining, largely due to the strength of the performances. Moretz shines as always, and there is something very likeable about Aaron Taylor Johnson as Kickass, even though his character is a little limp this time around. Christopher Mintz-Plasse probably has the most difficult role as it’s never really clear how we’re supposed to feel about him. Left to his own devices for the most part, his acting style feels almost like he’s in a separate film, playing very broad and comedic for the most part, and yet occasionally having to commit to some pretty dark deeds. Are we supposed to find him funny and ineffectual? Or twisted and evil? Are we supposed to like him? Hate him? The movie can’t decide.

And the supporting cast are particularly strong, especially when Kick Ass joins a team of like-minded vigilantes led by Jim Carrey as the grizzled Colonel Stars and Stripes. It’s not a massive role, but he is a strong lead for the bizarre lycra-clad ensemble, and he has a lot of fun while still managing to show some admirable restraint. He may have recently and publicly denounced the film for its violent content but he should at least be content with the fact that he’s one of the best things in it. His character is one of the most consistent and has the clearest moral compass. His slapdash team all rise to the occasion, with special mention to Clark Duke’s expanded role as Battle Guy, and the wonderful concept of Tommy’s Mom and Dad.

So I actually quite enjoyed the first half of the film, despite how inconsequential it often is, as it really was fun to reunite with these characters and ease back into their world. But, without any significant story to hook all these interesting things to, as we raced toward the inevitable clusterfuck of a conclusion the film began to outstay its welcome (how do we resolve these three stories? I don’t know... everyone can just fight each other?). For every great scene (and there ARE great scenes) there’s then some leaden angsty hypothesizing, or something that is supposed to be shocking or awesome but falls flat on its face.

Because inevitably we have to touch on the morals/message of this film, and they are definitely muddy, despite any pat messages that the characters attempt to tack onto the end. I don’t want to pass judgement on the violence, language etc - I think we know what to expect going into it in that regard - my bigger problem is that it tries too hard. Contemporary comics have often had the negative stigma of being crude, gruesome and misogynistic for the titters of adolescent fanboys, and Kick Ass 2 often reminds us that there’s a writer behind-the-scenes guffawing at the “shockingness” of his own jokes. It’s not organic and rarely feels character driven. And I’m certainly not opposed to adult content in comics aimed at adults - I’m a big fan of Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga which is full of sex, gore and swears, but it’s also a brilliant, sweeping narrative packed with fully realised characters and ideas. Kick Ass 2 simply doesn’t have anything close to that quality of story and so it flounders around. The more gross or shocking scenes are simply there to shock or gross us out - there’s no real cause or effect or greater context. If it all actually meant something in the end then it would be great, but the truth is that it doesn’t.

But you know what? Even after saying all that, I was rarely bored. I’ll probably never watch it again, but it’s an intriguing romp the first time around. It’s just so uneven. It’s not as ambitious as the first one and it feels like it’s more contained, BUT, you know what, it is actually a pretty good looking film. In fact while Jim Carrey and his team were doing their thing I was looking at the screen and consciously thinking just how great the film looked and I was getting swept up in it all. But then there’s an action scene atop a vehicle which has the most egregious use of green screen in a contemporary film. It’s like Luke in the rancor pit all over again. Kick Ass, make up your mind!

So I’m going to conclude by by somewhat splitting my vote. I think if you’re someone who wants to see a fun, gritty, clever and subversive take on superheroes then you may be disappointed at how light and adolescent this actually is. But if you’re the sort of person that actually buys reads these kinds of comics and doesn’t give a shit about the wider ramifications, then I think you’ll have an absolute blast. I also think you’re in the minority though. Nowhere near as strong as the first.

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