2010 delivered a stunning dash of originality with Kick-Ass, a fully realized comic book adaption that floated above the sea of the washed up cinematic failures, despite the existence of a fair number of narrative cliches and archetypal traps. It did so because it featured charismatic and memorable characters, a plot grounded in believable motivation, startling emotional depth, and it had the feel as if the film itself was ironically winking at you. Kick-Ass 2 while not sinking in the washed up sea, was content to float in it.
The main problem (though not the only one) was that the concept was misconceived. The original sin was to not make it clear at the outset that it was either Hit-Girl, or Kick-Ass’s story. Jeff Wadlow endeavored to do both and therin lies the root of the problem. Hit-Girl stole the previous film, and Hit-Girl was who audiences wanted to see. The studio knew that and that is why they engaged in their misjudged fiddling with the screenplay, to try to lessen Hit-Girl’s abrasiveness and take her on a journey through stereotypical high school girlhood. The reason ostensibly was to better reflect her older age. But that’s not what we wanted. We fell for the Hit-Girl who puts a blade through a thugs chest and then addresses the four remaining thugs as ‘cunts’. Fortunately we were not entirely deprived of the old Hit-Girl and Chloe Moretz is as brilliant as ever in her fight sequences. She even did her best with the banality of the material she was given in the conformity storyline.
The issue with that particular narrative soiree is that the idea of debutante style popular girls running the social gaol of high school, is a fiction to most people. I have never met an inmate of an American high school who says that a similar state of affairs exists at their institution. This is important because in holding up a stereotype for Ht-Girl/Mindy Mcreedy to conform to and ultimately reject, weakens the strength of her character, and it reduces all supporting characters around her to a single dimension. We like Hit-Girl because she is so radically different from us. By rejecting a place in a construct mired in cliche, she makes the same choice we would (that of refusing to conform) and becomes more similar. Thus she looses some of her power.
In basic terms the difference between Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl is the same as Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. As viewers we really want to be Han, but we feel more like Luke. We may not want to be Hit-Girl in quite the same way, but she is the bad-ass we admire. Kick-Ass is who we are.
Compounding the difficulties of the aforementioned story is that it plays out in tandem with the character development of Dave Lizuski aka Kick-Ass. First of all he is far less interesting than Hit-Girl, secondly his power as a character is he reflects us the viewers. He never really had a motivation to don the wet-suit and mask beyond that he was tired of petty thugs mugging with impunity, and the vague frustration that no-one before had tried to become a super hero. The makers of this film (I am not sure whether to accuse director Jeff Wadlow since the studio did interfere with calamitous results) decided it would make sense to give him one. Not content with this they chose to kill off his father to achieve a Bruce Wayne style dedication to the punishment of crime. As buttock-clenchingly cliched as this is, it serves to distance the audience from its ambassador, and waste the versatile talents of actor Garrett M. Brown. The abbreviated nature of his death deprived it of much of the emotional impact the film desperately needed. Nicholas Cage’s death scene as Big-Daddy in Kick-Ass pulled this off superbly, and Chloe Moretz desperate fight in the strobe light as Big-Daddy burned was an absolutely stunning piece of cinema.
With the character development mishandled the final confrontation felt contrived, entertaining though it was. Again Moretz deserves high praise for her physical performance, Aaron Tailor-Johnson was also much more convincing in the physicality of his role. He clearly worked very hard to get into shape, and the lean, tough shape his character suggests. All the performers were exemplary, it is a very great pity that they were served with such drivel and expected to exceed the success of the first film. I hope I do not convince anyone to not see the film who otherwise would (it seems a trifle arrogant to believe I ever could do that), it is very entertaining and the action is of a high standard. Just don’t expect the glory that was 2010 Kick-Ass, as we now know that really was one of a kind.
Post Script: On the off chance that a Universal executive reads this, if you do greenlight a sequel please for the love of all that is holy make it focus on Hit-Girl! That’s the movie we wanted, with as many cuss words as possible.