Apparently, no one involved with “Kick-Ass 2” actually saw “Kick-Ass 2.”
The subjective quality of art allows for a bevy of valid opinions on a finished film. But for those involved with selling a major summer tentpole, opinions are tinted through the lens projection. In the case of “Kick-Ass 2,” it's all about violence. Swirling around the sequel to Matthew Vaughn's 2010 original is a collision of contradictory statements. Costar Jim Carrey, an ardent gun control activist and pacifist, thinks the movie treads into dangerous territory with its depiction violence. Mark Millar, creator of the “Kick-Ass” source material, agrees, but couldn't be happier to tout the “extreme” bloodshed — a defining feature of the series and its underlying commentary. But the final cut of the film proves both parties wrong. Try as it might, “Kick-Ass 2” shoots blanks.
“Kick-Ass 2” is a paint-by-numbers example of Hollywood functioning in the Internet age. Paint your movie with buzzy chit chat, then deliver a movie right down the middle that can't be grilled for much of anything. In June, Carrey notoriously withdrew his support of the film, citing on Twitter that, “I did Kickass a month b4 Sandy Hook and now in all good conscience I cannot support that level of violence.” He felt bad about it, following the dismissal with an apology to the cast and crew. “I am not ashamed of it but recent events have caused a change in my heart,” he said.
As writer/director Jeff Wadlow toiled away in the editing room, putting the final touches on his “Kick-Ass” follow-up, comic writer Millar took to the web to play defense. ““I’m baffled by this sudden announcement, as nothing seen in this picture wasn’t in the screenplay eighteen months ago,” Millar said. “Yes, the body-count is very high, but a movie called 'Kick-Ass 2' really has to do what it says on the tin.”
If only it did.
Back when Carrey threw his PR curveball at “Kick-Ass 2,” I wondered if the potential of off-putting violence could actually push the movie to find an identity. “Kick-Ass” is a wishy-washy action movie that desperately wants to comment on violence and comic book movies while inevitably embracing the tropes and pitfalls of the genre. The movie wanted us to believe that Kick-Ass, a mild mannered high schooler, and his hero friends felt every punch, every kick, and every cut to the chest. But it was presented in cartoonish fashion, with limbs flying and blood splattering across the frame. Mark Strong's villain character is blown to bits with a bazooka in the grand finale. This is not a film concerned with reality.
Which brings us to “Kick-Ass 2,” a movie with the potential to correct the schizophrenia of the first film. Carrey's initial commentary would have us believe that was the case. In the trailers, his character “Colonel Stars & Stripes” flails a handgun in the face of a thug while preparing his dog to bite the guy's privates off. One expects the mayhem to be grisly, but Wadlow doesn't go there. In fact, “Kick-Ass 2” is downright tame. There's little action, even less blood, and nothing that feels remotely connected to the events of Sandy Hook. “Kick-Ass 2” has gender politics issues — misogynistic language floods even Hit-Girl's dialogue and Christopher Mintz-Plasse's “The Motherfucker” nearly rapes a lady hero as a form of punishment. But the film flies well below the original in terms of gore. Popping squibs in “Iron Man 3” exploded with as much blood as the severed body parts in “Kick-Ass 2.”
It works in “Kick-Ass 2's”favor. Carrey might be overly sensitive to the violence, but Wadlow's style is more level-headed than Vaughn's. “Kick-Ass 2” could steered closer to James Gunn's “Super,” a frightening look at DIY heroism. Instead, it backtracks and owns the comic book aesthetic of Hollywood's PG-13 rated companions. There are splatters of blood to earn a coveted “R” rating (“Kick-Ass 2” wants us to perceive ferocity, of course), but in the end, this is more about fight choreography and clever scenarios than soaking the cinema in red.
Colonel Stars & Stripes is a gun-toting Born Again Christian, but is pistol doesn't have bullets in it. In fact, the only memorable moment involving a firearm comes from The Motherfucker blasting away the glass of a bodega refrigerator. Hit-Girl fires a gun while on the roof of a speeding van, but who can tell? She quickly throws it away in favor of some acrobatic stunt work. When Carrey's German Shepherd goes to town on the junk of his enemies, we don't see blood there either. Only Hit-Girl, replicating her sword play from the first movie, chopping off one guy's hand. Tame, for the better.
The lack of violence makes Millar and the “Kick-Ass 2” crew's continued retaliation against Carrey's Twitter comments baffling. This week, Millar told New York Daily News that “‘Kick-Ass’ isn’t really about the glorification of violence the same way that ‘Die Hard’ or ‘White House Down’ or even (‘Man of Steel’) where 300,000 people get wiped out in Metropolis in the end.” Wadlow supported idea that his film is all about repercussions. “We’re showing that violence has consequences,” he told the Daily News.
Surprisingly, Moretz is on a different page. “Kick-Ass 2” is not a contemplative examination of what might really happen if normal people donned costumes and fought crime. No, this is 100% circus antics. “It's a movie. If you are going to believe and be affected by an action film, you shouldn't go to see ‘Pocahontas' because you are going to think you are a Disney princess,” she told the UK Sun (confirmed by The Wrap). “If you are that easily swayed, you might see ‘The Silence of the Lambs' and think you are a serial killer. It's a movie and it's fake, and I've known that since I was a kid.”
The violence in “Kick-Ass 2” and its predecessor aren't effective because no one is clear on exactly what the violence should be. Is it reprehensible in the way that Carrey alludes to? No. Is it unveiling Hollywood's obsession with casual death and showing what really happens when a person is beaten to a bloody pulp? No. Moretz seems to have the best understanding, but she's working against her collaborators, who want it both ways. “Kick-Ass 2” fizzles out as it frantically chooses a road to go down. Based on the original film, maybe we should have known that is what is written on the tin.