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Does this movie indeed Kick-Ass again?

By Kevin Jahi Johnson

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KICK-ASS 2 is the latest from producer Matthew Vaughn (X-MEN: FIRST CLASS) and director Jeff Wadlow (NEVER BACK DOWN), and bears the distinction of one of the few sequels to movies based on indie comic books. Indie comics usually have a different agenda than your usual superhero comic, and as such can maintain a higher degree of creativity and integrity. So, despite all the oddball characters and send-up of genre conventions, it’s a bit of a shock that Kick-Ass 2 comes off as stock as it does, especially compared the first Kick-Ass film directed by Vaughn.

Wadlow adapts both of Mark Millar’s “Kick-Ass 2” and “Hit-Girl” comics, and while his efforts don’t rise up to Vaughn and Jane Goldman’s scripting on the first film, the demented ferocity of the source material shines through, as does the returning cast of Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. (It goes to show just how important casting is to franchises like these; Vaughn’s casting on the third X-Men movie saved it from being a complete waste.)

The movie looks oddly uncinematic, with questionable lighting choices. It looks like USA Network’s Kick-Ass: The Series, albeit an R-rated version. Once you get past certain technical faux pas, Kick-Ass 2 still has a few chuckles left in the tank and a couple of moments that pack an emotional wallop. Wadlow and co. don’t shy away from the insanity of dressing up like heroes/ villains and committing acts of extreme violence, and thank goodness. You can’t make a movie like Kick-Ass 2 if you’re in any way embarrassed.

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Perhaps he had something to prove, but by upping the action quotient in Kick-Ass 2, Wadlow makes the sequel more monotonous versus the signature set-pieces in the first Kick-Ass. To be fair, it’d be unrealistic to show Taylor-Johnson arching from wimp to hero all over again, and Wadlow does a great job of covering the action beats. Regrettably, save for one standout scene with Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina), you’ve seen all these beats before.

The cast is bolstered by the addition of Jim Carrey as Colonel Stars & Stripes, turning in a fully-committed performance as the former hitman leading ‘Justice Forever’ and filling the void of Nicholas Cage’s gonzo turn as Big Daddy. I completely understand Carrey’s recent remarks concerning guns; this is one of the most violent films of the year. But at least it’s rated properly! That’s more than I can say for a handful of this summer’s “PG-13” blockbusters.

The tone of the violence wavers from cartoonish to achingly brutal, and while there’s room for both shades in a film such as this, Wadlow has difficulty modulating between the two. These Kick-Ass films are a tightrope, especially when one of your leads plays a 13-year old murderous assassin getting the crap beat out of her. Vaughn laid out a perfect blueprint with the first film, and Wadlow does what he can with the material, surpassing my own meager expectations. It’s just that Kick-Ass 2 is a standard action sequel, cut from the cloth of diminishing returns.

If you enjoyed the first Kick-Ass, this one is moderately enjoyable enough to catch in theaters, at the very least to see how the cast have updated their characters. Plus, I favor films that show the gore and lasting consequences of violence. Still, if you want, just watch Kick-Ass again, and wait for numero dos on the good ol’ Redbox. There are far worse sequels out there, and this one does earn its moniker.

Rating: [imax/matinee/DOLLAR-SHOW/redbox/netflix/skip-it]

KJ might be the tallest film critic in the world, follow him on twitter and find out.