I had real problems with how far the first Kick-Ass drifted from Mark Millar's source material enough that I don't like the film – a recent rewatch confirmed it – so I didn't have very high hopes for the sequel. But once I started to see some of the trailers and other tidbits my curiosity was piqued a little more than when I first realized there was a sequel in the works.
This review will do two things, one it'll review the film, and two, which will appear way below, will review the reviews of the film I've read at the IMDB.
The bulk of my complaints about the first Kick-Ass were that it veered so far from the themes in the book that it was almost like Mark Millar Kick-Ass fanfiction. Gone were all of the very prescient rumination on fandom, and on growing up and out, and realizing that the world is a hard, merciless place. The changes to Big Daddy's ending, especially, giving his death, and therefore his life, meaning, ran completely counter to what Millar had written into the books.
I won't even mention the idiotic jet pack stuff.
Suffice to say that I've gone back to the source material dozens of times for pleasure, and I rewatched the original film once just before the opening day of Kick-Ass 2, and I probably could have gone without that viewing.
Millar expanded the Kick-Ass story into two more runs of comics, Kick-Ass 2 and Hit Girl, and the film takes elements from both to fill out the continuing tale of Dave Lizewski and Mindy McReady – ala Kick-Ass and Hit Girl respectively. The film picks up at least a year after the events of Kick-Ass, Dave still lives at home with his Dad (Garret M. Brown), he's still dating Katie Dauxma (Lyndsy Fonseca), he is still best friends with Marty (Clark Duke) and Todd (Augustus Prew). All of the cast from the first film is here, and that's a nice touch as all of these roles probably could have been filled by other people and it wouldn't have made much difference, but they weren't and I was glad to see familiar faces in the roles that were familiar.
Hit Girl is, again, played by Chloe Grace Moretz who appearently ages at twice the speed of Dave Lizewski, and by the time this film begins is a 15 year old high school freshman where at the end of Kick-Ass she was 11. Time warps not withstanding, she is a little less fun as Hit Girl this time around because the novelty of her being an 11 year old killing machine is considerably less than that of a 15 year old killing machine. I suppose since she was the one really good element of the first film it was natural for them to have her back for the sequel, but were I producing I'd have found another 11 year old. The script sort of addresses this too in that the side story for Mindy, taken from the Hit Girl comics, is her desperate attempts to fit in with her classmates and the inability of her killing skills to translate into any sort of social skills in the murderous world of high school popularity. It also addresses her growing maturity in that she begins to be sexually attracted to things, in this film it's her first experience with a boy band called Union J.
The plot can't exist without a villain and what we get here is again Chris Genovese/Red Mist (Christofer Mintz-Plasse) still boiling for revenge against Kick-Ass for killing his father, and now rich beyond his wildest dreams after the semi-accidental death of his mother. He decides to put together an army of super villains that will find and destroy Kick-Ass. In the mean time we get Hit Girl's semi-forced retirement, Kick-Ass joins a super team called "Justice Forever" when Hit Girl drops out of the limelight, and pretty much all of the plot elements of both the Kick-Ass 2 and Hit Girl comics with a few minor changes roll out in the same way and at the same pace as in the comic. There are a few minor changes to suite the medium, Instead of Colonel Stars and Lieutenant Stripes we get Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carey), Kick-Ass gets into a relationship with The Night Bitch, Remembering Tommy look idiotic, and the whole putting the city at risk part of the villain story is completely abandoned. We get plenty from the Hit Girl run too, we get all of Mindy's attempts to fit in with Debby Foreman and her crew, we actually get more of it than is in the comic, with, to me, a less satisfying ending to that little story. Still, these changes work to drive the plot of the film around some of the obstacles that can be written through in the comic and for the most part it didn't bug me.
All that said, Kick-Ass 2 is way closer to the source material than Kick-Ass was until the last five or so minutes, and if you are the kind of person who can't deal with any significant deviation from the denouement such as, say, the main character flying into the finale in a jetpack with twin chain guns strapped to it, then Kick-Ass 2 definitely has the potential to leave you cold.
At the end of the Kick-Ass 2 comic, Kick-Ass throws The Mother Fucker off the roof of his waterfront warehouse after beating his ass. The Mother Fucker breaks his neck and lies twisted up on the alley floor thirty feet or so below. He begs Kick-Ass to call an ambulance, which he does. Hit Girl, who got a lucky break during her beat down at the hands of Mother Russia manages to cut the giant Russian psycho's head off. She meets Kick-Ass on the roof and now that the cops are closing in on everyone fighting in Time's Square (since they realized that the fertilizer bombs were a decoy) and are now arresting everyone in costume, she leads the cops on a chase so that Kick-Ass and as many of the heroes as possible can escape. She is caught. She goes to jail for over 100 murders. Her last words in the book are "It was a pleasure to serve you."
The point being that Mindy McReady/Hit Girl was a psychopathic killer and irrespective of her motives, was going to do time. She was also the only character (except for Big Daddy who was murdered in the first Kick-Ass) to actually kill anyone.
She goes to jail.
In the film version the big end fight takes place at Mother Fucker's warehouse evil HQ, but he and Kick-Ass still fight up on the roof, only instead of throwing him over, Kick-Ass tries to rescue him when the skylight on which Mother Fucker stands gives way. Mother Fucker, preferring to be a martyr to evil struggles free and drops to his death. All of what's left of Justice Forever (Doctor Gravity, Night Bitch, Remembering Tommy, Battle Bug, and The Insect rush up to join Kick-Ass on the roof. Meanwhile Hit Girl has her fight with Mother Russia, and using a nod to a discarded element from the first film, manages to kill her after a shot of synthetic adrenaline. She too rushes to the roof, joins them all in a shout of Justice Forever, then they all go home. Hit Girl and Kick-Ass make out. And Hit Girl runs away?
The whole point of these books, as insane with violence as they are, is that there is a cost to all that mayhem. But if Hit Girl doesn't get caught then the whole theme is 180 degrees opposite of what the preceding 110 minutes of film have shown us, and all of what the previous film, flawed as it is, tried to convey. In fact, that's something missing from tons of action/adventure movies, consequences. The Kick-Ass series, for all its flaws, always labored under the expectation that there would be consequences, not just the ones that the film labors over like youtube hits or twitter followers who can be asked to dress up like superheroes and have a huge throwdown. In the books, when Sergeant Stars is decapitated and left with a note from The Mother Fucker, the whole city shuts down the superhero craze. Masks get banned. Everyone gets questioned. And when, at the end, all of the heroes defy the law and come to Times Square dressed and ready to fight, the cops begin arresting heroes and villains alike.
None of this happens in the film. Kick-Ass and Doctor Gravity beat some dues and no one cares, no police investigate, nothing. Hit Girl nearly kills a bunch of muggers and there's no mention of it anywhere and no consequences. She kills Mother Russia. She kills a bunch of hit men. She kills a lot of people and has killed a lot of people and none of it has any meaning.
The film does manage to capture one major flaw that Mark Millar manages to get into all of his writing (sorry man, but this is the truth) in that none of his characters learn anything, none of them change, none of them grow because of or irrespective of their adversity. The way you see Kick-Ass and Hit Girl at the beginning of the movie is exactly how they are at the end as if the preceding film didn't even take place.
I liked Kick-Ass 2 much more than Kick-Ass. The acting is about as good as you'll get from this cast, and all of them have the chops to pull off this material, the age of Chloe Moretz not withstanding – We get a couple of nice cameos too. Jim Carey as Sergeant Stars And Stripes is good and chews the scenery with abandon, and John Lequizamo is criminally underused in the plot, but when he's on he's very good.
The direction by Jeff Wadlow never gets in the way of the storytelling. Action sequences make visual sense and can be easily understood visually. Much of the film looks like Kick-Ass, the first film, which is at least consistent. Wadlow uses music the same way, though not as well, as Kick-Ass, and even the sets are mostly the same. Wadlow also wrote the screenplay and anyone who's read the comics will see plenty from both the Kick-Ass 2 and Hit Girl comic series in here. There were a few dialogue cues I was looking forward to but didn't get, like "Avengers fuckin' assemble, asshole." That probably didn't make it into the script for franchise reasons, or Mother Russia's whole beat down speech to Hit Girl. I am not sure why that didn't make the cut. It was probably redundant but it would have harkened back well to Big Daddy. Anyway, these are little nits and probably don't amount to much.
If you liked the first one you'll more than likely enjoy this one. It doesn't try the deconstruction stuff that Kick-Ass flirted more successfully with, but it hones in much more closely to the source material and that goes a long, long way with me. The ending though? The ending sucks.
A Note to the 73% Who Revile This Film on Rotten Tomatoes
I am not sure if any of the major reviewers out there are aware that this film is based on two comic series, of 6 and 5 issues respectively, it would have been nice if, in at least one of the negative reviews our there managed to mention it. But none of them did, instead describing Kick-Ass 2 as wholly derivative, bankrupt, low rent, going for easy shock value, coasting on what little goodwill was in the first film etc... None of them at all bothering to look at the film on the screen and consider the source material.
Imagine if someone had made a film of, oh, I don't know, Jane Austen's "Emma" but changed the setting to contemporary high school, you can bet every single review would at the very least mention that it was based on a piece of literature. That film, if you are wondering, was Clueless, and was the only good work that Alicia Silverstone has ever done. A competent reviewer would at least compare some of the theme changes that had to be made to make the story fit a mid 1990's high school rather than an English manor house. None of the myriad negative reviews I read managed to even get that far with Kick-Ass 2. I guess because it's the end of blockbuster season, we've had a bunch of superhero movies this summer, and who knows, maybe because Kick-Ass 2 wasn't marketed (honestly, when did you see a commercial for this?), or who knows what. At any rate, I understood the negativity in the reviews now as people so offended by the admittedly shocking level of violence, but completely oblivious to the source content and thus unable to at least credit the film as a very good adaptation of Mark Millar's gravy train. It ain't Austen, but it ain't bad.