Friday, August 16, 2013
Kick Ass 2
Right off the bat let me say that there was no way that the sequel could live up to the magnificence that was the 2010 Best Movie of the Year (At least here on My site). The original Kick Ass introduced my favorite character in movies in the last ten years or so, and it featured a deliberately off the wall, in an appropriate way, Nicolas Cage performance. It had the most insane style and over the top characters and a solid hero story at it's center. The pacing and the whole comic book milieu was mixed in pretty perfect proportions. Kick Ass 2 would be lacking the touch of the original director, Matthew Vaughn, and Nic Cage's character doesn't make it out of the first story so you knew he was not going to be back. So how can you possibly try to match that first experience. The answer is that you can't. So you just try to make the best movie that you can out of the pieces that remain from your origin story. In my view, Kick Ass 2 manages to be a successful action comedy, that does nothing to embarrass the first movie and still entertains the heck out of those of us who love the characters.
One way that the story tries to compensate for the loss of the surprise factor in the first film is by introducing novel new characters to fill in some gaps. Mark Strong was a great villain, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse returns as Chris D'Amico, the son of Strong's character and the double crossing hero named Red Mist. Mintz-Plasse is never going to be anyone's nightmare villain. He doesn't have the look or the muscles to carry it off. In an early scene where he tries to make his new super villain, "The Mother F*****" a more viable adversary through training he gets pounded by his ring opponent. The screenwriter knows that he can never be the physical equal of the Dad, and tells us so right then. The "MF" is going to have to rely on hired muscle to extend his power and take vengeance on Kick Ass. Enter a series of nasty criminal types who are drafted into his crazy army of evildoers. The most memorable of which is a female former KGB agent that he dubs "Mother Russia". The mob that made up his Dad's enforcers is mundane compared to the nut jobs he tries to replace them with. The plot has a bit of a role reversal. In the original, the Cage character "Big Daddy" is the insane vigilante that the gangsters can't comprehend. Here, Chris and his evil army are the insane ones. They are not motivated by the average gangland objectives, they exist only to cause the havoc that the now crazy son is wrapped up in. The frightening part is not in how they dress up, that's just as silly as the hero side. The scary part is the willingness of the crew to kill cops, blow up public spaces and generally do what the nut job with all the cash wants them to do.
Kick Ass himself has matured and grown a little. He settles down into a routine of normalcy that is ultimately unsatisfying to him. The call to do right brings him back to the super hero ranks that have swollen with a lot of everyday people who want to fix the world. Some of them have gifts, some have only dreams but all of them have some determination. Just as the the bad guys have one memorable group member, the group that calls itself Justice Forever has an inspirational leader, the born again mobster who calls himself Colonel Stars and Stripes. Kick Ass connects with these everyday heroes and they try to make the world a better place. Inevitably there will be a clash between the two sides, and as usual, the side without any scruples would appear to have the edge. Dave Lizewski won't be able to retreat back to High School once the lines are drawn. The motivation for the final confrontation is a lot more significant than he had in the first story. It is different and one of the things that makes the tone of the movie quite distinct from that earlier story. Dave's narration of the first movie puts us into a different position as observers. His voice was detached and ironic at times, in the current movie, his character seems much more the Kick Ass at the end of the first film, than the mild mannered geek he was at the start of the process. He has a pretty satisfying story arc considering that it is a comic book movie.
Despite the title of the two movies, Aaron Taylor Johnson's character is not the main hero. The true hero of both movies is little Mindy Mcready, better known as "Hit Girl". Mindy never really retired from the hero business, and when Dave discovers that he wants back in himself. There is another side of Mindy though that gets explored here. When she is taken out of action not by the bad guys but by a promise she makes to follow her Daddy's orders, she learns that evil starts somewhere and sometimes that somewhere is High School. It will seem like the sequences of Mindy discovering the cruelty of high school kids is a side track to the main story, but she has to go through some adolescence angst to mature into a more complete version of herself. That fact that she does so in such humorous, touching and vicious ways makes her character more important than ever. There are a couple of moments when the tough chick we know as "Hit Girl" is also the young and maturing Mindy. Subject to some of the same temptations and mistakes that other girls make. There are no doubt a million young girls out there in the audience (along with their parents) who have a wish fulfillment sequence when the queen bee gets her comeuppance. At that moment we know that the real "Hit Girl" will be returning with a furious vengeance and all will be right again, even if it takes a while. Her character can not have the same impact as the eleven year old killer we met a few years ago had, but she still manages to hold the screen and impress in all of the fight scenes.
A couple of ways the director Jeff Wadlow differs in tone with the movie can be found in the action sequences and the use of music. Vaughn's original film was full of whimsy and visual energy that was at times silly but utterly entrancing. Wadlow stages the action scenes very well but they lack the joyful nonsens in the first movie. The joyful ballet that was "Hit Girl" massacring an entire mob family is replaced with realistic action sequences, that emphasize the drama rather than the visual pyrotechnics of film that were found in the first film. The same thing can be said about the music. The house and rap music used in this film is fine and fits the scenes but it never tickles us in the same way that "The Banana Splits Theme" or the key notes of "A Few Dollars More" that remind us that we are watching a movie. There are not many cultural references in the film to bring in all the geeks who loved those touches in the first movie. They have been replaced by a more straight forward narrative. There are still some pretty over the top bits, like a shark tank or the resolution of Chris's Mom in the story but they are fewer. One of the most effective scenes is when Chris gets a lesson from his Uncle that pushes him completely over. It's one spot where Mintz-Plasse doesn't chew the scenery and actually shows he can act a little.