Back in 2010, Kick-Ass' potty-mouthed, kinetically violent and tabloid-baiting brand of super-heroism was a breath of irreverent fresh air. Adapting from Mark Millar/John Romita Jr’s have-a-go-heroes comic, Matthew Vaughn was able to carve out a new niche in an already over-crowded genre, delivering a capes-‘n’-tights romp that managed to screw with comic-book conventions as much as it celebrated them.
Yet while KA2 manages to tick all the OTT boxes (Naughty words! Decapitations! Gimp costumes!), it also suffers from an undeniably super-powered sophomore slump, and a tone every bit as imbalanced and crazily questionable as its protagonists.
Picking up weeks after the original’s jetpack-tastic, bazooka-blasting finale, it finds its characters facing a world where more and more civilians are fancying themselves as masked vigilantes. Dave/Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) divides his time between buffing up and hitting the streets with budget super-team Justice Forever (led by an imposing Jim Carrey’s Big Daddy-alike, Colonel Colonel Stars And Stripes).
Blaming Dave for his dad’s rocket-related demise, Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) adopts a subtle new alias – The Motherfucker – and embarks on a road to super-villainous revenge with new team in tow (the equally subtle Toxic Mega Cunts). Meanwhile, Mindy (an unavoidably older, but just as electrifying Chloë Grace Moretz) is forced to give up her hardcase hi-jinks as Hit-Girl in favour of a Pinocchio-like quest to become a 'real girl'.
Relative newcomer Jeff Wadlow (2008’s Never Back Down) proves an adequate choice to take over the writer/director reins from Vaughn, bringing a similarly vibrant energy that sustains the pace despite three decidedly separate sub-plots.
While there's memorable spectacle and some fun set-pieces (a suburban attack led by Olga Kurkulina’s Brigitte-Nielsen-on-crack Mother Russia is a highlight), Wadlow's helped massively by a returning lead trio who can confidently juggle comedy, drama and down-and-dirty ass-kickery.
Shame, then, that KA2 is tripped up by its wonky tone. For cleverly observed satirical barb or gritty, real-world dilemma, there's an equivalent, jarring misstep into lazy cliche. Case in point: Mindy's fun, super-bitchy Mean Girls-esque mini-adventure promises subversive smarts, but culminates with all the comedic originality and intellectual depth of a Grown Ups fart gag.
And while the original revelled in exploring the pathetic, rib-cracking realities of street-level superhero-ing, its sequel too often drifts into the staples its predecessor mocked (training montages and dead-parent-inspired character growth both get a look in).
Still, if some of the shock value’s gone, this is witty, wild and wired enough to be far from a super-zero.
A fun if sporadically schizoid return to one of the brighter, brasher comic-bookers of recent years. Now, about that Hit Girl spin-off...