Yes, it’s violent. Jim Carrey’s withdrawn his support, and co-creator Mark Millar has been all over the media defending the blood and guts and stabby-ness. What’s received less attention is the fact Kick-Ass 2 is one of the sharpest action movies we’ve had this summer.
Two years on from the first film, street superheroes Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) are back in action. But while the former’s having fun with his new super-team (headed by Carrey’s Colonel Stars and Stripes), the latter’s struggling under the watchful gaze of her concerned guardian. Meanwhile, Kick-Ass’s old rival Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is making plans to become the world’s first super-villain.
Kick-Ass 2 strips the “comic book” from “comic book violence”: the excessive gore is both the point and the gag. While The Wolverine, Man of Steel and Iron Man 3 are happy to have people burnt, shot and crushed, Kick-Ass shows violence to be violent. People suffer nerve damage and trauma, and end up in hospital. It’s splatter comedy in the tradition of The Evil Dead.
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel Watchmen has long been the go-to model for deconstructing superheroes: all flawed psychologies and fucked-up personalities. Kick-Ass makes a break from that, linking superheroes to the self-mythologisation of the Facebook generation: the way we write our own legends through social media, and enjoy a simulation of fame through YouTube hits and retweets. It’s not that Kick-Ass is any less noble than, say, Spider-Man; he just realises he can have the anonymity and the adoration.
The bad guys are the Long Island aristocracy: the Made In Chelsea crowd who think they can buy their way into being street, but couldn’t be less appreciative of the reality from which it comes. Mintz-Plasse’s archness drifts into Schumacher-era Batman territory, but the annoyance helps to make him all the more dislikeable and perverted.
Carrey’s performance stays just the right side of comedic. He’s more enjoyable as a straight actor than comedian and this is closer (relatively speaking) to the dramatic roles in which he excelled a decade ago. While his boycott is understandable, it’s a shame people will be talking about that and not his encouraging shift back towards meatier roles.
But the heart of the film is Moretz. While the rest of the cast go for varying frequencies of screeching in their performance, she is brilliantly natural. She plays a 15-year-old with all the insecurities, fibs and fire of the real thing. Fangirls are an increasingly vocal part of youth geekdom and Hit-Girl’s a reflection of that: one of the few female heroes not drawn from male fantasy. Enjoy Moretz’s talent for the next couple of years, before she hits 18 and Hollywood forces her onto diets and lingerie photoshoots.
The swearing and violence will be what the Daily Mail remembers about Kick-Ass 2, but that’s part of the gag: the film’s aimed at an intelligent, self-aware youth demographic who have an ironic appreciation of the ridiculous. It’s big, it’s loud, it’s screechy, but it’s also smart. If the performances are unbalanced, each at least works on its own terms. Somewhere in there, there might even be a moral – but it’d rather you took that as read and just had a hell of a time.
Kick-Ass 2 is in cinemas 14 August