Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why It Doesn't Work: Kick-Ass 2

Kick-Ass is a film that is very dear to me. It was released in 2010 and - along with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Tangled - it proved that a movie could exist as entertainment and as a work of art. I was less than a month over seventeen that April and Kick-Ass was the first R-rated movie I attended without a parent. 2010 was the year that I finally decided to become a Film major in college, so I was inevitably hyper-critical of the sequel when it opened in 2013. Unfortunately, Kick-Ass 2 does not in any way live up to the legacy of its predecessor. A strange paradox is present in the sequel, a movie that can't decide whether it wants to be a clone of the first film or a different beast entirely. It fails on both fronts. Some argue that it is very similar to the comic book source material (it is), which would be acceptable only if it were not also meant to function as a sequel to the excellent (and comics-deviating) first film.
            A lot of series have specific styles. In every James Bond film, he will get in a fight, drive a fancy vehicle, and sleep with a sexy woman. Every Twilight movie has multiple minutes of people staring ( and each installment of The Lord of the Rings features a battle. Kick-Ass is a hyper-violent action comedy and this is not an easy genre crossover to master, though writer Jane Goldman and writer-director Matthew Vaughn manage it with technique to spare. The sequel places all of the characters in the shaky hands of writer-director Jeff Wadlow and his success with the subjects is dicey at best. His grasp on the darkness of the comics' story is steady, yet his visual flair does not reflect the meticulous color-coding of the first film.
            In Kick-Ass, villain Frank D'Amico has an orange office and bright tie to match. In 2, Chris D'Amico's lair is all gray. This lack of splendor permeates the film, even down to the costumes. In the first film, Hit-Girl's wig is bright violet and fits with the overall vibrancy. In the sequel, her wig is a washed-out duller purple and an unintentional indicator of the movie's general lack of excitement.

Kick-Ass strikes a somewhat uneasy balance of action and humor and usually comes off as successful in both arenas, by making the violence simultaneously realistic and heightened and portraying the characters as funny in dark and geeky ways. Everything feels likely while ringing as amusingly artificial. Kick-Ass 2 is gory though the combat is mostly uninspired and the fight scenes would seem right at home in any generic action picture of the last thirty years. In 2, you will find no bazookas, no magically locking semi-auto magazines, and next-to-no humanity.
            Audiences last saw Mindy Macready, a.k.a. Hit-Girl, ready to knock out the school bullies at the end of the first installment. In the second, she is picked on for absolutely no reason by a crop of Mean Girls wannabes. In the biggest deviation from the source comics, Mindy does not threaten her tormentors until after she has already been publicly humiliated on a fake date. Mindy has done nothing to draw ire from these teenagers. She is not shown to be a loser or a misfit, just a regular high school student. It is as if Jeff Wadlow was preparing her for her role as Carrie and simply forgot to give her any undesirable characteristics. Likely coincidentally, Carrie and Kick-Ass 2 have eerily similar shots of Chloe Grace Moretz's eyes unnaturally dilating. 

On the other hand, Kick-Ass 2's fatal flaw is not in its divergences from the first film; 2 fails in its misguided desire to essentially be a clone of its precursor without replicating the wit. The first scene in 2 is a nice homage to the first movie, but the attempts to duplicate should really have ended there. 

Instead, we get numerous repeats:

Chris gets a weapon and costume from one of his parents.
There is a brawl scene set to a hyperactive cover of a classic song. 1 uses "Banana Splits" while 2 utilizes "When the Saints Go Marching In".

Kick-Ass plans a meet-up with another online hero, because that went so well the first time.

Hit-Girl interrogates someone in a junkyard.

Kick-Ass fights Chris while Hit-Girl encounters an oversized opponent.

The denouement involves the heroes meeting on a rooftop post-battle as the sun rises.

Perhaps the worst offense is the use of "In a House - In a Heartbeat". In the first Kick-Ass, the cover of John Murphy's theme for 28 Days Later... underscores the vengeance of hero Big Daddy. In the second Kick-Ass, the piece is used over the murder of Colonel Stars and Stripes, thereby altering the entire meaning and the music's perceived alliance in-universe.

In closing, who wouldn't have rather seen the movie this costume goes with instead?

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