Kick-Ass 2 review: the mask is empty
Like a Comic-Con cosplay event gone horribly wrong, this poor excuse for an action comedy has nothing to say beyond a few expletives and nothing to offer but a shocking lack of appreciation for its own awful irony.
I’m “biast” (pro):
I hoped perhaps Jim Carrey would bring something intriguing
I’m “biast” (con): hated the first film
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Blink and you miss it, but in one scene in Kick-Ass 2, high-school wannabe superhero Dave “Kick-Ass” Lizewski sports a T-shirt with “I HATE REBOOTS” emblazoned across it. This is among the many desperately unfunny things that pass for humor in what purports to be an action comedy. This particular thing is desperately unfunny because it appears to miss its own irony: Kick-Ass is itself little more than a reboot of the classic graphic novel Watchmen. An accidental reboot, of course; to call it a reboot is to be kind, and to avoid calling it a pale imitation that has nothing new to add to the metacriticism of superhero stories but thinks it’s being hip and cool by dolloping on some calculated-for-cruelty ultraviolence and rampant crudity.
If the first film appeared blissfully ignorant of its own state of being, No. 2 revels in it. (Yes, I said “No. 2.” A shit joke in aid of criticizing a shit joke of a film that itself thinks shit jokes are funny is no crime.) It’s difficult to determine, however, whether Kick-Ass 2 is unironically enjoying being a lousy, uninteresting Watchmen knockoff, or whether it is attempting to be ironically meta about it (evidence: Dave’s T-shirt), or whether it is entirely unaware of how ironic it is.
I’m guessing the latter. For there is all too much earnest sincerity in how Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson: Anna Karenina, Nowhere Boy) and his fellow wannabe superhero Hit-Girl, aka ninth-grader Mindy Macready (Chloë Grace Moretz: Movie 43, Dark Shadows), engage in their plot-padding game of trading aphorisms about how none of what they get up to in their masked costumes is a comic book, this is real life, real people are dying, etc. The trading of earnest aphorisms is required because Dave and Mindy are taking turns deciding to “retire” from masked avenging, and need to be alternately reminded that their masked-avenging alter egos are who they really are, and the high-school stuff is the real mask, so, no, wait: they’re back on the night patrol. They shift sides on this debate unconvincingly as required to keep a roundrobin of cartoonish violence going.
Oh, yes: Irony. Gotta be unintentional for Hit-Girl and/or Kick-Ass to be Oh So Serious about real people dying while at the same time screenwriter-director Jeff Wadlow — no, you’ve never heard of him — is gleefully having the villains dispatch a small army of anonymous NYPD officers just doing their jobs, showing up to a call for help, in creatively inventive and very very bloody ways. Sure, it’s the bad guys — or one particular bad girl, Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina) — doing the terrible deeds, but it’s plain that Wadlow hopes we’ll find this violent and egregiously antisocial mayhem clever and amusing. Even though those are, we’re also meant to believe, real men dying. (Or maybe we should be grateful that this pointless bit of awfulness may have replaced the gang-rape scene from Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s original comic book as the Illustration of Evil? The one that even Christopher Mintz-Plasse [This Is the End, Pitch Perfect] — as the supervillain with a name so juvenile yet “shocking” it cannot be mentioned in polite company — was relieved he didn’t have to act out? Nah, I’m not grateful. Someone needs to be smarter about depicting villainy.)
And how are we to take it when Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, A Christmas Carol), leader of a new superhero vigilante group operating in the city, delights in training his German shepherd to attack a man’s testicles, and then sics the dog on a bad guy, and then cackles, “Yeah, there’s a dog on your balls!” This would be a real man’s real balls, would it? And the Colonel would be one of those people who are trying to take their pain and do something good in the world (as one of Dave and Mindy’s unpersuasive pep sessions would have it)?
Kick-Ass 2 has nothing interesting to say, except — perhaps — around its outermost and glossed over edges. Because there’s apparently nothing kick-ass about masked avengers volunteering in soup kitchens (this happens here, onscreen for maybe five seconds) or battling homophobia, as in the brief line of dialogue when one avenger eschews his mask because “it was too much like the closet.” That’s pretty cool. Too bad that’s not what this movie is about.
Mostly, this flick appears to be about getting two posses of masked idiots into one big room so they could fight it out, heroes versus villains, like a Comic-Con cosplay event gone horribly wrong. What I don’t get is this: all these people in mask and capes mostly don’t know one another and don’t know which allegedly badass costume indicates good and which evil, so how, in the midst of the melee that Wadlow thinks is awesome is mostly just a mess, does anyone know whom they should be beating the crap out of?