While Matthew Vaughn's inventive and hilarious spin on superheroes in "Kick-Ass" was a nasty delight, the sequel suffers from the loss of him. The cast is as game as ever, but the film itself feels like a hollow attempt to build on a franchise by giving us an awkward combination of over-the-top violence, vulgar humor, and squeamish seriousness. It's as if the new man in charge - Jeff Wadlow ("Cry Wolf") - took what worked in the first film and tried to grind those moments into a script that is missing the fun of the original.
It is six-months after the first film ended. Dave "Kick-Ass" Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has decided to pack up his Kick-Ass suit because, well, it's too dangerous. Mindy "Hit-Girl" Macready keeps sneaking out at night despite the insistence by her guardian Marcus (Morris Chestnut) that she stops trying to be a superhero and just be a fifteen year old girl. And when she almost gets caught after kicking and punching a gang of homophobes (and then slicing a guy's hand off) Marcus gives her a sob story about her dad and she decides he's right: Hit-Girl should be put to bed. So she hooks up with the school mean girl Brooke (Claudia Lee) in order to become an official teenage girl. That, in typical high-school cliché, means watching boy band videos and trying out for cheerleading.
This, itself, is ripe to be its own movie, but on the other side of town we have Dave putting his suit back on and teaming up with a group of Super Heroes headed by Colonel Stars and Stripes (a prosthetically-enhanced Jim Carrey). The group also includes Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison), Night Bitch (Lindy Booth), Insect Man (Robert Emms), as well as Tommy's Dad (Steven Mackintosh) and Tommy's Mum (Monica Dolan) - a crime-fighting couple doing it to get over the death of their son. There's also Battle Guy, who Dave discovers is actually his best friend Marty. Everyone in the group has his or her sad backstory that makes for a perfect superhero -- except for Battle Guy, who totally made his up.
When word of this group gets out and Kick-Ass is seen patrolling the streets, his ex-partner-in-non-crime Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) aka "Red Mist," is incensed. Dave, if you remember, was responsible for Chris' dad's death at the end of the first film, so he decides he wants revenge. He transforms himself into a Super Villain named The Motherf****ker and, along with his family's long-time guardian Javier (a wasted John Leguizamo), he creates a team of his own including Black Death (Daniel Kaluuya), Gengis Carnage (Tom Wu) and Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina).
Eventually the two teams face down and do battle, but will they do so with or without Hit-Girl? You see, Hit-Girl is in an entirely different movie, as she deals with trying to fit in at high school. When she does, she feels the wrath of her mean girl bestie and things go sour. It's oddly reminiscent of Stephen King's "Carrie," in which Moretz will soon star in the remake. There are clever moments here and there like when her new frenemies show her a boy-band video and suddenly she starts having unusual feelings (down there) toward the boys on screen. This is a good bit and could have been an entire subplot of a girl suddenly discovering her girlishness while trying to round-house bad guys in the face.
To be fair, this side plot is fairly entertaining (mostly because of Moretz) but it tends to stumble and slows down the pace of the rest of the movie. In fact, Hit-Girl should just have her own movie because she's the most interesting and complex character. Wadlow's script, based on the comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., tries to give Dave his own moral quandary, but it comes late into the second act and is almost too serious and depressing for this type of film.
That is pretty much the problem here. The original "Kick-Ass" created a dizzy parody of the super hero genre by asking, "What if someone without any super powers were to actually try to fight crime?" The answer was hilarious and deliriously offensive with graphic cartoon violence and snappy dialogue that had bite. Here, the one-liners and attempts at naughty humor fall as flat as a Frat House B-movie. Vulgarities are there just to be shocking (they aren't) and purposeful racist comments meant to show a character's ignorance and aren't even that racist. The action sequences fare better, but they also fall victim to the filmmakers trying too hard to one-up themselves with graphic carnage. It all ends up looking a bit stale and desperate.
This is sad, because the first "Kick-Ass" film was a lot of fun and the actors are terrific. Aaron Taylor-Johnson has upped his star power considerably since the first film starring in movies like "Savages" and "Anna Karenina." As a result, it's funny to see him try to play nerdy when we've seen how much of a leading man he can be. But he pulls it off. (And thankfully we get at least two shirtless shots in for the gays and gals.) He also injects what depth he can to an underwritten part and manages to make us still care for this kid trying to do good in the world.
Chloe Grace Moretz is fantastic as always. She kicks butt while adding her usual dose of acerbic humor. Having aged a bit since the last film, she is turning into a lovely young woman and the filmmakers use this especially in a slightly uncomfortable kiss between her and her co-star. But it's a small complaint when this girl can clearly carry a picture on her capable shoulders.
Christopher Mintz Plasse is fine, but his character is one-note and spends most of those notes screaming at everyone around him. It's tiring. Jim Carrey - notoriously avoiding publicity because he is now offended by the violence in the film - is almost wasted here. He doesn't do anything that really makes him stand out, and as a result he's barely in the film.
The best parts of the movie are the crazy characters on both the hero side and the villain side. Mother Russia is a trip and has a terrific fight scene with Hit-Girl. Many of the others are amusing, just underutilized. There's a gay superhero that joined the team to protect other kids that are bullied for who they are. Nice touch, but barely shown. Instead, the film meanders through the sometimes funny and over-the-top to get to the more serious aspects of the film giving it sort of a split-personality. There are moments that work and a handful of laughs, but it pales so much to the original, that it just makes you long to go back to it.