Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Kick-Ass 2 (2013) – Review

Review: Kick-Ass 2 is an entertaining blending of teen gross-out comedy and action, though lacking the style of its predecessor.  The film is about Dave and Mindy moving on with their lives after the events of Kick-Ass. Dave still feels the need to help people and teams up with a group of average people putting on costumes to fight crime and help their community. Meanwhile Mindy struggles to fit in as a high school freshman, growing up previously in an abnormal environment. However, Dave and Mindy must once again team up after Chris D’Amico puts together a band of killers to take revenge for his father’s death and goes on a rampage.

There are many things that writer-director Jeff Wadlow does right. Chiefly, he does a great job digging deeper into the characters. This film resonates to a higher degree as a result. Wadlow spends much of the narrative exploring Dave and Mindy and their dramatic journeys. Mindy’s is especially effective, as it plays on awkwardness of being an outcast in high school – something many viewers can relate to. While this narrative is nothing new, Mindy’s story still works because she is a character the audience is already completely invested in after stealing the first film and she brings something different to the narrative: she has the ability to not only stand up for herself but completely destroy her adversaries (which plays out in a funny/gross scene). With Dave, the audience sees that he really does just want to help people – that is why he is Kick-Ass. Regardless of how ridiculous Wadlow wants to take the action or comedy, these characters ground the film and the audience is invested in them, which is ultimately why the film works.

Matthew Vaughn’s film was great because it blended graphic violence, shocking comedy, and a polished stylistic panache, aimed at giving the film a very comic book friendly feel (like a love letter to comics and the films based on them). Wadlow tries to bring the same mix to Kick-Ass 2. It is funny, but more in a teen gross-out comedy fashion (akin to the films of the Farrelly Brothers). There is not as much wit and it does not play as a commentary on violence in popular culture, instead more so as just a straight hyper violent film (that is violent just to be violent, you know for entertainment). The violence does not feel startling here. Everything just feels a little more juvenile.

Stylistically, Kick-Ass 2 does not compare to the first film at all. Wadlow does keep the comic book-like transitions, but overall it is just lacking the same aesthetic flash. This speaks to Vaughn’s skill as a director and Wadlow not being of the same caliber visually. In some ways, it feels and looks like the B-movie or made-for-television version of Kick-Ass. While the action set pieces themselves are good and engaging, the staging often looks cheap – which can be said for much of the production.

But again, the film is still very entertaining despite some of its shortcomings thanks to its characters. The narrative also introduces a number of new characters (particularly Dr. Gravity and Colonel Stars and Stripes) that bring fun moments to the film. Kick-Ass 2 in direct comparison to Kick-Ass is certainly weaker in terms of writing and visual style, but as a standalone summer film it accomplishes what it sets out to be: it is a funny, engaging action-comedy with characters the audience can get behind.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: When Jeff Wadlow was announced as the writer-director of Kick-Ass 2, I was disappointed. I had seen Never Back Down and was not impressed. Plus, Kick-Ass is one of the films I most enjoyed in 2010, so I was excited for the sequel when Matthew Vaughn was slated to return. Now having seen Kick-Ass 2, I can say that Wadlow does a good job. Yes, he is not as talented as Vaughn (not even close), but he does well with the characters. In fact, this film is probably better dramatically from a character perspective. Assuming Fox wants X-Force to be a lower-budget X-Men spin-off, Wadlow will probably do well with it.

Composers Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson deliver a good score. It musically references the themes of Kick-Ass, while also bringing a different tone to this film, fitting Wadlow’s style. Cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones’s lighting is fairly straight forward stylistically. However, the film does have sort of a grittier feel and look (compared to the slickness of Kick-Ass), which comes out in Russell De Rozario’s production design. Chris’s warehouse lair versus his father’s penthouse filled with cool pop-art and Colonel Stars and Stripes’s decrepit headquarters versus Big Daddy’s decked out apartment are two examples.

The cast is fun throughout. Donald Faison and Claudia Lee are good in small supporting roles. Jim Carrey creates one of his most interesting characters in recent memory with Colonel Stars and Stripes. Carrey, surprisingly, plays him fairly straight and not for exaggerated comedic effect, which works really well.  Christopher Mintz-Plasse is the last person anyone would ever imagine as a villain, but he plays Chris as a bratty rich-kid who is psychotic, making his alter ego The Motherfucker a compelling and fitting villain. His exchanges with John Leguizamo are funny as well. Chloe Grace Moretz is very good as Mindy. She gets to play much more of a fully fleshed out character this time as a lead, and the character and film greatly benefit. She does a great job mixing her girlish charm with Hit-Girl’s demented killer persona. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is also very good as Dave. He does a strong job playing both the everyman and the film’s real hero.

Summary & score: While Kick-Ass 2 does not quite succeed to the same extent as Kick-Ass, it is in its own regard a funny and entertaining action-comedy. 7/10

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