In 2008, a comic book with an intriguing premise hit the stands—what if a kid, Dave Lizewski, donned a mask and acted the tough-guy hero about town? But the story never flew with its 21st-century-vigilante premise, dragged down by leering violence and orifice-obsessed, Tourette's-Syndrome dialogue. Then the 2010 movie spin-off kicked nearly $100-million worth of ass at the box office, so here comes the sequel.
Magnifying the comic's problems on the big screen, while sidelining a main character, Mindy Macready aka Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), for lulling stretches, Kick-Ass 2 flops on its faux-adolescent flippancy. It pretends to offer emotional realism for Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Mindy but its high school and street worlds—and all other characters—are crudely cartoonish. The story flirts with notions of vigilantism in a YouTube and Twitter age for about as long as it takes a tween today to text a message. And for all its babble about maturity and the “real world,” what this flick's channeling is a coarse, mock-teenage sense of life as flatly, shruggingly sado-masochistic: villain Mother Fucker wears a modified gimp suit; Kick-Ass and co. get their asses kicked as much as they beat up others; cops are killed by bad guys without consequence. UFC-style melees (accessorized with fancy weapons) meet school-ground insults; there's almost no scene here that isn't capped with a sneered “bitch” or “dick” or a thrown punch or kick.
And instead of parodying or playing with comic-book tropes, the story imitates them, ticking off the formula's boxes: hero's cool motorbike; suit in plexiglas case; swelling music; character close to the hero gets killed; villain's lair; hero evading bullets; character-integrity speeches; pat quips. But with all the flips and shrugs, any mind- or heart-tugs get lost. So, Peter Parker's “with great power comes responsibility” schtick, after his Uncle Ben's killed, is much easier to both enjoy and take seriously than the similar moments here. Kick-Ass 2 drops its coldly cynical characters into “our world” so casually and childishly they soon seem more like poseable action-figures than any Spider-Man toy.